Paying the Teacher
We may talk as we like about progress in education, but if we fail to spend money for teachers there will be no progress. School boards who take a complaisant attitude about teachers’ pay should read the National Education Association report on teachers’ salaries. They will find there solemn words about the “threatened collapse of the teaching profession,” sensational words used by men accustomed to weigh their utterances carefully.
In the new world of freedom and democracy that is emerging, intelligence, knowledge, and skill will count for more than in the old. Education becomes the chief business of legislatures and congresses representing the people.
In America we measure values in terms of dollars and cents, and men and women have formed the habit of selling their labor of whatever kind in the highest market they can command. It is only through increase of pay, therefore, that we may hope to improve to any large extent the character of the personnel of any profession or trade. It is only by very large increases in pay of teachers that we may hope to improve our schools appreciably. Small increases of 5, 10, or 20 per cent will not avail, for they will not be sufficient to hold in the schools men and women of superior ability. Teachers are now paid less for their work than any class of workmen, and the increase in their pay in the last few years has in nowise been in keeping with the increase in pay of other workmen, or with the increase of the cost of living. While the cost of living has increased approximately 80 per cent—food, 85 per cent; clothing, 106 per cent; drugs, 103 per cent; fuel, 53 per cent; and house furnishing goods, 75 per cent—the salaries of teachers have increased only about 12 per cent. The purchasing power of the salary of the teacher in our public schools is, therefore, only about 62 per cent of what it was four years ago. Mail carriers, policemen, unskilled laborers, cooks, telegraph messengers are paid much higher wages than are teachers. As a result many of the better teachers are leaving the schools and their places are taken by men and women of less native ability, less education and culture, and less training and experience. Many of the places are not filled at all. As an inevitable result the character of the schools is being lowered just at a time when it ought to be raised to a much higher standard.
Students now entering the normal schools to prepare for teaching are not of as good quality as formerly, which means that the standards of the schools must continue to fall. In some normal schools the enrollment is far less than in former years.
The only remedy is larger pay for teachers. If school boards, legislators, and county and civil councils would immediately announce the policy of doubling the average salary of teachers within the next five years and of adding not less than 50 per cent more within the 10 years following the expiration of this period, so that at the end of the 15 years the average salary of public school-teachers would not be less than $1,500—about one and a half times larger than they receive at present—and then take steps for carrying out this policy, much good would be accomplished thereby at once. Such a policy and such a prospect would attract to the schools more men and women of superior ability and would hold them, working contentedly and, therefore, profitably for the children and the public welfare. Such increase in salary should carry with it an increase of not less than 25 per cent in the average length of the school term, which is now less than 160 days.
To those who are not acquainted with past conditions and who have given the matter more intelligent thought, the increase recommended may seem large, but in fact it is not. It would in most states mean a range of salaries from $1,000 to $3,000. No person who is fit to take the time and money and opportunity of the children of this great democratic Republic for the purpose of fitting them for life, for making a living, and for virtuous citizenship should be asked to work for less than $1,000 a year in any community or in any state. No one who is unworthy of this minimum salary is fitted to do this work and no such person should be permitted to waste the time and money of the children and to fritter away their opportunity for education. At present the teachers in the public elementary and high schools of the United States are paid annually something less than $400,000,000. An increase of 150 per cent in salaries of teachers on the basis of the present number would make a total salary expenditure of less than $1,000,000,000. On the basis of the number of teachers that will probably be required in 15 years from now it will be less than $1,500,000,000, which is less than the annual expenditure for purely Federal governmental purposes before the war, and probably much less than half of what these expenses will be 15 years from not.
For the Children
It is not for the sake of the teachers that this policy is advocated. Schools are not maintained for the benefit of the teachers. If men and women of ability are not willing to teach for the pay offered them, they can quit and do something else of a living, as hundreds of thousands of the best do. It is for the sake of the schools, the children, and the prosperity of the people and the strength and safety of the Nation that the policy is advocated.