UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – A new plan for teacher pay

The country is facing a serious teacher shortage, as fewer young people see the profession as a viable career move. And teacher salaries is a key issue. According to Chalkbeat, the average Colorado teacher makes $51,000 a year, though in rural districts the pay can be significantly lower where starting teachers make just $25,000 a year and earn only $40,000 annually after a twenty-year career. In a state with above average housing prices and a high cost of living even before inflation, the challenge to lure young professionals to teaching with lucrative salaries remains a problem.

However, this isn’t a column to complain about teacher pay. As an educator for nearly thirty years, I’ve always been quite satisfied with the living I make. Granted, teachers earn twenty percent less than comparably educated workers in the private sector. The reason is teachers are only paid for ten months of work. Despite what many people believe, teachers aren’t given a year-long salary for only forty weeks of work. Most schools have yearly contracts of roughly 180 days, though districts often disperse pay over twelve months for obvious reasons. The one perk meant to offset the public-private pay gap is a pension system that offers an earlier retirement age than Social Security, which teachers don’t receive.

Many people believe society undervalues teachers and has misplaced priorities. They think it’s wrong that professional athletes make millions of dollars to play a game while some teachers struggle to pay the bills. I completely disagree with that comparison. I won’t fault any athlete for earning as much as they can. I once heard Oprah ramble on about how athletes should make less and “teachers should make a million dollars a year.” That’s nonsense, even if it weren’t coming from a billionaire television personality. Athletes earn millions for one simple reason – they generate that money. It’s all about revenue, especially advertising.

Millions of fans pay hefty ticket prices to watch adults play a game for our entertainment. Millions more tune in to televised games which generate billions of dollars in advertising revenue. Athletes deserve a share of the money they produce. Teaching doesn’t produce revenue. No one is buying tickets for even the most entertaining classrooms. And advertisers are not throwing money at schools and teachers for advertising space. However, perhaps they could. Maybe they should. So, I’m thinking about advertising and endorsement deals for teachers. 

Picture this: a teacher walks into the classroom where anxious students await the lesson or assessment. The teacher announces, “Ok, today we have a quiz on multiplying polynomials … and this quiz is brought to you by Quiznos.” Or Starbucks. Or Nike. Or T-Mobile. Students receive a copy of the test with company logos splashed across the top of the page. At the bottom of the paper is a coupon for ten-percent off their next purchase. It could even be used to incentivize achievement. Students would receive higher discounts, premiums, and perks for better grades. The possibilities are endless. 

As an English teacher reads an intense passage, he might add, “Wow, this character could use an ice cold Coca-Cola.” Business teachers could offer financial literacy lessons, as well as discounted prices for opening an IRA or new bank account. Teachers and schools have a captive audience which is a virtual goldmine of current and future consumers. Why not take advantage of that widely available advertising opportunity? Teachers often wear clothing with school logos, which is nice to support the school, but not remotely lucrative. So, why aren’t teachers sporting company logos and getting a nice kickback from advertisers?

Interestingly, some teachers do make million dollar salaries. Kim Ki-hoon, a popular private tutor and cram school teacher in South Korea earns $4 million a year because his test prep lectures are so popular in the country where high stakes testing for high school and college admissions is even more intense than America’s. And Deanne Jump is a kindergarten teacher who has earned more than a million dollars selling her lesson plans and class materials online. 

So, now that college athletes have been freed by the courts to capitalize on their marketability, perhaps the same courtesy might be extended to educators. Critics of public education have long argued that schools need to work more like the business world. So, why not let market forces work their magic in the classroom? And if not, then maybe teachers could just set a tip jar on their desks.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. Ytou can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com