Teaching Profession

Yes, Teachers Want Better Pay. But That’s Not All They Say They Need

By Libby Stanford & Marina Whiteleather — July 06, 2023 4 min read
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More states are getting on board with raising teacher pay, but teachers say they need more than just a salary boost to improve morale and make the profession more appealing to young people.

In response to a recent LinkedIn post that shared an Education Week interview with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona from May, educators said that teachers need to have more say over curriculum, smaller class sizes, more time to plan outside of class, and relevant professional development. In the interview, Cardona agreed with some of these points.

“Teachers, once they get into the parking lot, they’re on,” Cardona said. “They have students in front of them the whole day. Maybe they’ll get half an hour for lunch where they have to make calls and hit the copy machine because it was too busy in the beginning. They have long days. So how do we build into the teacher day time for professional learning, time for reflection, and time to observe another teacher?”

Cardona’s comments come at a time when more states are jumping on board with teacher pay raises. At least six states have enacted laws that raise teacher pay since the start of 2023, and more states are considering bills that would do the same.

However, some of those raises are elements of larger legislative packages that have also expanded school choice, incorporated merit pay bonuses, and prohibited school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks, putting teachers in the tricky position of deciding whether to support legislation with components that many oppose.

And the teaching profession itself has dealt with major blows to morale following the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent survey from the RAND Corp., a nonpartisan research organization, showed that while teachers are feeling happier at work than in previous years they are nearly twice as likely as other working adults to experience frequent job-related stress. And about a quarter of teachers said they were likely to leave their job at the end of this school year—70 percent of whom cited the stresses and disappointments of teaching.

Here’s what educators had to say about what teachers need in addition to more pay.

Having more say in the curriculum

Teachers and school leaders have an on-the-ground understanding of their students’ needs and say they can make the best determinations about what curriculum can best support their growth. But some commenters said their expertise is undermined because they have no say in helping to shape the curriculum they use.

“Why can’t the leaders change the way curriculum is taught for the students? Why can’t students take classes that interest them and provide career opportunities outside of high school? Right now, I feel like we are not preparing kids for anything more than taking a test and there are not a lot of careers out there that require a yearly test. Let’s go back to providing technical skills for students and allowing them to find what they are good at [at] a young age and develop their strengths.”

- Stephanie A.

“It’s more to this than teacher pay! I understand that is the number one reason for teachers leaving our profession, but we have to change the curriculum to meet today’s growing environment! Not every student has to go to college to make it! There are many careers that we should introduce students to for them [to] thrive!”

- Darryl N.

Smaller class sizes and reduced workloads

Putting limits on class sizes is just one element of providing better working conditions for teachers, commenters said. Educators provided more suggestions ranging from extra support in the classroom to more social-emotional learning support.

“I NEED extra support in the classroom and a reduced workload. No amount of pay is worth the stress and workload that keeps compounding year after year.”

- Tina L.

“Smaller class sizes, reducing the age limit of compulsory education, social/emotional education for students AND PARENTS, more skills-based/vocational paths, increasing the budget for special education…I made six figures before I left K-12 education. It isn’t and was never about the money. It was always about the conditions…"

- Heather M.

Reducing classroom hours

Many teachers said they don’t have enough time to properly plan and collaborate with their fellow teachers.

“Good starting points. Teachers need that protected duty-free lunch time and true plan time. Too many meetings are scheduled that could be done in an email. Undermining, gaslighting, micromanaging all need to be put to an end. And support from admin is a must.”

- Jorie M.

“Raise their pay and more. While you are making changes, reduce their class hours and increase their time to collaborate, free teachers from the tyranny of a system that robs them of their agency and hoists every societal ill on them because they are the only professional in the room. Stop the system from taking advantage of their empathy to have them continue to give until they have nothing else left. Increasing pay is just the beginning.”

- Andrew S.

Providing better professional development

Professional development can be a fraught topic with many schools of thought about the most effective approaches. One commenter points to the potential benefits of personalized PD for teachers.

“While educators may be on board with the mission, many are no longer willing to sacrifice themselves to a broken system. Not only should they be respectfully compensated for their expertise, the working conditions and building support need to align. Positive organizational culture, individualized professional development, and administrative support trumps any kind of attractive compensation strategy. Investing in educators will yield positive results for students to thrive.”

- Sabrina M.

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