To the Editor:
President Barack Obama recently announced plans for changes in overtime-pay regulations, and, for at least a moment, many teachers’ ears perked up. The proposed revision would increase the income threshold below which workers qualify for overtime pay to slightly more than $50,000, a move that, if applicable to them, would place the salary of many new teachers below the overtime cutoff. However, provisions of the proposed rules prevent teachers from seeing any benefit.
While teachers hoping for an extra paycheck may be disappointed, the national conversation on what President Obama calls a “fair day’s pay” should not be allowed to pass the schoolhouse by. It is an opportunity to recognize, and remediate, the fact that teachers in this country are underpaid relative to the requirements and importance of their jobs.
Teachers work on average 10 hours and 40 minutes a day during the school year, according to a 2012 report issued by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Moreover, the teachers whose salaries fall lowest on the pay scale, particularly new teachers, are likely to be those putting in even greater hours as they adjust to the job. Yet, the average starting salary of teachers in nearly every state falls below the proposed overtime threshold.
The call for increasing teacher pay is not new, but if policymakers are ready to acknowledge that a salary below $50,000 necessitates compensation for overtime hours, then we should also recognize that teachers are no exception. We know that who is in front of the class has important implications for student outcomes. It is time that we also recognize that what happens in front of the class is made possible through that person’s work outside the classroom—planning lessons, grading papers, and mentoring students, among much else.
As the nation considers revisions to overtime pay, let us also consider revisions to teacher compensation. Let us recognize that it is only fair for “fair pay” to apply to educators as well as others in the workforce.
F. Chris Curran
Assistant Professor of Public Policy
University of Maryland, Baltimore County