Bellevue teachers strike represents step toward better education

When I was younger, my dream was to become an elementary school teacher. When I told my mother, she was horrified and quickly tried to dissuade me.

  • Friday, September 12, 2008 2:49pm
  • Opinion

When I was younger, my dream was to become an elementary school teacher. When I told my mother, she was horrified and quickly tried to dissuade me.

“Honey, why don’t you become a doctor like your father? You don’t want to live your life on a teacher’s salary.”

My father’s response was even less encouraging. “How are you going to survive? We can’t support you your entire life!”

To a college student considering a teaching degree, the statistics are appalling. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the annual salary for a starting teacher is a mere $30,377, which is extremely low even when compared to the starting salaries of college graduates from professions with similar training and responsibilities.

Computer programmers start at an average annual salary of $43,635, public accounting professionals start at $44,668, and registered nurses start at $45,570.

And the gap widens more with each year. A report from National Education Association (NEA) research discloses, “Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher.”

Why do teachers get paid so much less than other professions? Is it because teachers work less?

No. Outside of the six- or seven-hour school day, teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, which include grading papers, advising clubs, attending meetings, conferencing with parents, and preparing for the next day’s lesson.

Is it because teachers get summers off?

No. During the summers, teachers usually work second jobs, teach summer school, or take classes to renew certification or to advance their careers. They also need the time to develop the curriculum for the upcoming school year.

Also, many believe the highly unsupported myth that “Teaching is easy – anyone can do it.” On the contrary, teachers are trained, certified professionals. More than half hold master’s degrees, and all have completed extensive coursework in learning theory and educational practice.

In order to rectify the situation, there must be a substantial increase in annual teaching salaries. An increase in salary would generate more respect for the teaching profession. It would attract more young people like me to consider a career in teaching, instead of being weeded out to a career in law, engineering or medicine.

The teacher’s strike for increased wages in the Bellevue School District, which postponed the first day of school for more than 16,000 students, takes us one step closer to a better education system. However, in order for a noticeable change to occur, teachers in more schools across the nation must do the same and stand up for their right to a higher salary.

Camille Zhou formerly attended Newport High School and is a third-year student at the University of Washington majoring in English.