The American Teacher’s Plight: Underappreciated, Underpaid and Overworked

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The American Teacher’s Plight: Underappreciated, Underpaid and Overworked

I had perfected my routine: wake up, turn on my computer, log into Zoom and turn off my camera for a long day of virtual classes. That is, until I noticed that I wasn’t the only one with my camera off. My heart sank at the sight of my teacher trying to interact with a screen full of black boxes with barely any response, despite his repeated attempts to elicit conversation.

Too engrossed in our own issues, students are oblivious to the plight our teachers have experienced during the pandemic, much less the countless struggles teachers have faced over the past few decades. Teaching in America has become a thankless profession; teachers are unappreciated, underpaid and overworked. But how did we get here?

Before the 1800s, teaching positions were largely held by men, until socio-economic shifts facilitated the entrance of women into the work force. As teaching was one of the few jobs that fit within the feminine ideal, women increasingly took on teaching roles. The feminization of this occupation correlated with a decrease in respect for teaching and in teachers’ wages as schools paid women less for their work. This perception of teaching has persisted: The New York Times finds that today, “jobs dominated by women pay less on average than those with higher proportions of men” and “enjoy less prestige.” Funding for K-12 education has also suffered, as the Center for American Progress found that the “states with the steepest funding declines have seen one-fifth of state education funding vanish.”

As a result, teaching is becoming unsustainable. Teacher salaries simply aren’t enough, as stagnant wages over the last 20 years have forced many teachers to take on extra work to supplement what should be a full-time job.

This ongoing undervaluation of teaching, combined with a lack of education funding, has created a perfect storm for teachers and students alike. Not only are fewer people going into teaching, but lower wages contribute to lower quality teachers. Better teaching quality is the top factor behind increased student achievement, meaning the state of teachers’ salaries is damaging the quality of American education as a whole. In fact, U.S. education rankings lag dramatically behind those of its global counterparts.

How do we fix this education crisis? For starters, we need to increase investment into public education to bolster teacher’s salaries and provide necessary classroom funding. Our political leaders must also heed feedback from teachers, as their voices are often sidelined and ignored, leading to brewing frustration.

As for your roles, my fellow students, the next time you see your teacher struggling during online school, remember the sacrifices they’ve made for the sake of your education, and go turn that camera on.

Works Cited

Boyle, Elizabeth. “The Feminization of Teaching in America.” MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies.

Diliberti, Melissa Kay, Heather L. Schwartz and David Grant. “Stress Topped the Reasons Why Public School Teachers Quit, Even Before Covid-19.” RAND Corporation, 2021.

García, Emma, and Elaine Weiss. “A Policy Agenda to Address the Teacher Shortage in U.S. Public Schools.” Economic Policy Institute, 15 Oct. 2020.

Partelow, Lisette, Sarah Shapiro, Abel McDaniels and Catherine Brown. “Fixing Chronic Disinvestment in K-12 Schools.” Center for American Progress, 20 Sept. 2018.

Ravitch, Diane, and Antonia Cortese. “Why We’re Behind: A Report by Common Core.” Grantmakers in the Arts, 2009.

Rich, Motoko. “Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?” The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2014.

“Why Teachers Are Paid So Little In The U.S.” YouTube, uploaded by CNBC, 10 Dec. 2020.