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Who makes more, teachers or babysitters? You’d be surprised

by Karla Dawn Meier
March 10, 2011


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Courtesy of Deborah Stipek/Stanford University

Teachers, and especially female teachers, consistently make less money than other professionals in the U.S.

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This is the Facebook post that sparked a viral conversation.

Teachers are paid way too much, right? Would you believe less than babysitters?

An anonymous — and extremely sarcastic — chain letter addressing low pay for U.S. teachers that has gone viral on Facebook makes that point, one that experts support.

“It's time we put things in perspective and pay [teachers] for what they do -- babysit!” the post said. “We can get that for less than minimum wage. … Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day.”

The sarcasm of the post only became apparent as it followed that logic to its conclusion.

For $19.50 per day per child, in a classroom of 30 students, a teacher would make $585 a day. Under this rubric, even if teachers were only paid for the 10 months they teach in a year, they would be making $105,300.

“Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries,” the post said.

Paying a teacher with a master’s degree minimum wage, $7.75 an hour per child, would result in a yearly salary of $280,800, the post continued.

Back in reality, teachers average much closer to $50,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which works out to $1.42 per hour per student.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, beginning teachers with a bachelor's degree earned even less, $35,284 on average, in 2006-2007, the most recent year available.

“A very inexpensive baby sitter, and they even educate your kids!” said the post.

Studies show that the more feminized a profession is, the higher the probability that its employees will be poorly paid. Females make up more than 75 percent of the elementary school teacher population in the U.S., according to the National Education Association.

“It is probably based on a devaluation of women, and a sense that they are supposed to provide whatever we need for free or almost so,” said Paula England, professor of sociology at Stanford University.

“Taking care of younger children in nursery and primary school is traditionally seen as an ‘extension of motherhood’ and therefore a ‘natural’ job for women,” according to a study by Education International.

It’s sketchy, but commonplace logic. Because mothers aren’t paid to raise their children, they aren’t paid a healthy wage to do work that is deemed motherly.

“My friends used to say to me, ‘You are great with kids, you are going to be a really good teacher,’” said Ana Arevalo, a first-year assistant teacher at a Chicago elementary school.

“But now that I am in the classroom, I see that that’s really such a small part of it, because they still have to learn at the end of the day.”

Arevalo, who is receiving her master’s in elementary education from Northwestern University, said effective teachers must be trained in several subject areas, be smart about analyzing students emotional well-being, and make the curriculum work for several different learning styles, all at the same time.

“At some point or another, you’re going to have to be able to make something out of nothing for your students,” she said. “The intellect you need for that is high.”

According to England, the value of teaching is hard to pin down by current economic standards, which emphasize and compensate immediate results, because the benefits of good teaching take form over a long period of time.

In her article “Emerging Theories of Care Work,” England writes: “There is no way to capture and turn into profits (or wages, we might note) the benefits that come through social interaction. How could the school teacher, through market forces, get a return from the future spouse or child of her student, who benefits from the student’s enhanced earnings?”

This is one reason that teaching, especially because it is dominated by women, is easily viewed as little more than baby-sitting, and compensated as such, experts say.

The bottom line is, “people underestimate how hard it is,” Arevalo said. “It’s really
demanding, and you have to invest a lot of time and energy.”