I’m a teacher. Pay for teachers is often the number one topic gracing the pages of publications. But what is not often talked about are the subtle undertones and expectations of women in this occupation to quite literally give every ounce of themselves to the job “for the kids”. If you don’t, you’re not a good teacher, caretaker and certainly not loyal to your profession.
In a recent article on Known Blog by Seth Nichols called “Why Teachers are Walking Out” he brings gender instead of pay to the forefront of the conversation. I would highly recommend this read. His perspective is one of a male in a pink collar job and he speculates that the rise of teacher walkouts is directly tied to women standing up and being fed up. The profession is taking advantage of women in every way possible because they can and because it has not yet been questioned.
Teaching is a profession, yet so often operates in way that takes advantage of its educators and in the end results in a total lack of professionalism.
Now, one could say this is tied to the school structure. An ancient system that has yet to converge with the new world and ways of thinking. Well, I have also given this some thought and research. Turns out it is both the system and gender that are intertwined to allow for injustice and lower pay in the teaching profession.
A Look Back: Women Introduced to the Profession Equals a Drop in Pay
In the book “The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession” by Dana Goldstein, she outlines the distinct transition of teaching as a male dominated profession to that of a female dominated one. She tracks the growth and transitions in American Public Education from a woman’s perspective and this is something rare to find.
According to Goldstein’s research, in 1800 90% of all teachers were men and by 1900 90% were women. So what happened that caused such a dramatic shift in gender (and not so coincidentally pay) for teachers?
Public education became mandatory and thus we had a huge amount of schools that needed to be started, literally everywhere. In addition to this, we also switched over to paying teachers with tax dollars.
This is when they introduced a pay scale that was segregated based on gender. It was referred to as “the family wage”. The government then decided to focus on hiring women as school teachers because women during this time could be paid half, yes that is right, half as much as men.
Ads went out in all of the local publications for Female Teacher Wanted and we started filling the classrooms with female educators.
Let’s come back to the idea of the “family wage”. This was a term used in government and most businesses in the early 1900s. The idea was that the man needed a salary which was enough to support himself and his family. However, if women were doing the job it only needed to be considered extra income and not a full salary.
Goldstein points out that even though the idea in the 1900s was that women would only work for the ‘extra’ funds, this was simply not true. Many single women or women whose husbands had been sick or injured took these positions. It has never been true that women did not need to be paid equally.
“You start to see that there has been wide scale, nationally accepted inequalities kept alive for decades in the dungeons of school halls, among the nation’s largest female workforce.”- Seth Nichols
Teacher Pay is so much Better: Why are men not flocking to it now?
So obviously current teacher pay is much better than the 1900s. The average teacher salary for elementary school teachers is $57,980 and the average salary for a high-school teacher is $62, 320. This is a decent salary, but do consider that certain states pay much less than others, so teacher salaries should be compared state by state.
What is truly of concern now, no matter which state you work in, is the stagnation of the pay scale. After approximately 10 or 15 years, regardless of the amount of professional development and education plus years worked your pay will not increase.
Men are particularly more sensitive to these issues for several reasons. One of them is a stereotype that men must be the breadwinners—thus making enough money plus some to support the family. The other is that often pink-collar jobs like nursing and teaching are seen as nurturing, caregiving, and require empathy, all of which are not fostered or taught in our societal system as a male trait and can even be seen as weak.
A few larger school districts are, it seems, attempting to solve this issue by bringing more men into the teaching profession and in studies, this typically correlates to higher pay.
However, the increase of men in the profession is actually tied to the push of programs like STEM and CTE, which are programs that center around male-dominated fields like engineering and computer science. This points to an even larger flaw in an even larger system.
Lastly, men are socialized to understand their worth in a way women are not. This means that being yelled at, punched, or spit on without repercussions and having to hold their pee for 4 hours till lunch does not always sound like a position in which they would be valued for being educators.
Instead, it sounds a little like a nightmare—yet it is tolerated by women because we do it out of passion. We do it for the rewarding days. We cling to as a child clings to their doll because it gives us hope of what the profession could be.
A Starting Solution: The Excruciating Weight of Saying No
Saying “no” in education can be one of the hardest things to do. It is challenging because every time we do, our loyalty is implicitly called into question. We must bend over backward and do so smiling, keeping the classroom managed and selling a bit of our soul to the system.
Of course, we often do not turn to our administrator and say no. Instead, I often would say “I can’t because of ________.” Saying “I can’t” is a temporary solution and focuses on circumstances that will change rather than setting a specific boundary. For example, “I can’t chaperone that dance because I have to take my son to soccer” is only a one time answer.
Instead, use the phrase “I don’t”. This sets a mantra and boundary in place firmly. I don’t check work email on the weekends. I am a professional and don’t work for free. I don’t take on after-school programs while pursuing another endorsement. This is much more effective in changing mindset and in communications. Of course, you can phrase these in more context or less, but having this in place will help to change your own work-life as a teacher.
Saying no in a respectful way and leaving work at school will not fix the broken system, but it will give you the first step in regaining that part of your soul you may have sold to it.
Women are asking for more. This is present across the nation and yet the amount of guilt and self-doubt associated with asking for more still has a stronghold in many professions. I hope to challenge this here with the teaching profession. Say no. Take a sick day. Go to the bathroom when you need to. Be an advocate for fairness and a professional environment. Ask enough questions about reimbursement that you have the forms down pat. Use this to help your fellow colleague who just spent $40 at Michaels this weekend or paid for professional development out of pocket.
As a teacher, you are probably a giver, but remember you are also an educated professional who needs to have boundaries on what to give even if the system asks for more.
I will leave with this quote from Seth Nichols: “She is no longer just a glorified babysitter. She is the master of a skilled profession that combines the rigor of brain science with communication skills, data analysis, public relations, and artistic performance. She is a talented professional with the job of shaping minds, and a loving parent-figure with the job of nurturing hearts.”
This list contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, we receive a small commission at no cost to you! For more information, read our full disclaimer.
For some tips on how to ask for a raise or get paid for extended responsibility check out this article by Bravely Go on “5 Fail Proof Ways to Negotiate a Raise: Get Paid What You are Worth”
For those looking to understand how to calculate what you are truly giving to your profession read “Your Money or Your Life” for a study on exchanging your own life energy.
For those who want to find more balance in teaching and take back their soul from the system, a good read is “Leave School at School: Work Less, Live More, Teach Better”
For those wanting to read more about the history of the American school system: “The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession” and “The Death and Life of the American School System”
Also recommended for everyone and anyone looking to be more efficient, and less stressed “The 4 Hour Work Week” is a classic.
This is a very powerful article Bethany. I’m not a teacher myself, but have volunteered in a few classrooms and I see the commitment that teachers put in. I was woman in tech and in a similar vein, women’s voices also tend to get trumped by men’s along with the pay. I totally agree that we have to normalize saying no and asking for more when it comes to getting paid our worth. I didn’t know that particular history about teaching so that was interesting too.
First, thank you for volunteering in classrooms! This is always a need. Second, thank you for reading and your insight. I love that phrase “Normalize saying no”- perhaps that should have been the header- it is something more women (including myself) need to take back as a way to find a presence and make an impact in the work environment.
Amazing how at any level, caretaking positions (usually female ones) require so much more sacrifice to be typical than other more typically male jobs. Here’s to hoping that these discussions continue and things move forward in the future.
Bethany, great article! Thanks for the kind words and checking mine out. I love your “I can’t” vs “I don’t” language- very helpful to me. All of us, male and female alike, are put in situations where it’s too easy to give in and say yes- especially to a superior. I’ve commented to my wife before about how funny it is that if I say I can’t do ___because I’m already busy doing ____, it’s totally accepted – at times as if you’ll get a wink and a fist bump for being an awesome BUSY person. But if there’s no prescheduled excuse for missing, or Im just going to be AT HOME being a GOOD DAD to my kids, the reaction can be like, what- are you lazy?? In this way, we can glorify chaotic lives and separation of families. Obviously, my own insecurity feeds these notions. But I’m learning to be more fully alive and nondefensive. So your words are helpful to me. Thanks.
I am so elated you read my post. As you know your post was a major inspiration for me. I agree with you, being busy has become an invisible boy scout badge of honor we yield, while just being in your home with those you love is considered a luxury and one that we should not partake in often.(This is a generalization- but I think I can safely say this is true for most areas of work) It should be the opposite way, as our work will be better for it. Thank you for reading and commenting- it has been great to hear from you.