January 7, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—who before her appointment, admitted to having never set foot in a public school—resigned from her position of power. Her swift resignation elicited a raucous celebration from many teachers, public education activists, and parents across the county. With DeVos’s resignation and the removal of Donald Trump from the White House, the assault on teachers and public education will soon be over.
Or will it?
DeVos isn’t the first public official to call striking teachers “elitists,” and Donald Trump isn’t the first politician to accuse teachers of “extreme indoctrination.” The anti-public teacher sentiment is strong in the United States. For decades conservatives and liberals alike have labeled teachers as “overpaid and underworked.” This phrase, often echoed by many who favor private and charter schools, is simply untrue.
The Economic Policy Institute measures what’s known as the “wage gap.” The wage gap measures the wage discrepancy in one occupation compared to the U.S. national average. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 1979 teachers earned 5.5 percent less in pay than the average U.S. worker. In 2015, the teacher wage gap grew to 17 percent. On average, a teacher in the United States will earn about 17 percent less in pay when compared to other occupations.
While wages for teachers in the United States are abysmally low, many states have also cut teachers pensions and benefits. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie in 2014 cut the state's commitment to the teachers pension fund by nearly $1.6 billion. Under Christie’s governorship, state workers and teachers saw their medical benefits significantly reduced. When asked about the cuts on CNN in 2015, Christie responded by calling a national teachers union a “bully” for “demanding higher pay for their members.”
Sadly, this is the story in many states. Cuts are constantly made to education, and the brunt of the cuts falls on teachers. In 2019, Pew Research found nearly 1 in 6 teachers works a second job to supplement their income.
Public teachers have one of the most critically important jobs in the country—they mold the minds of the future. The United States should invest more in teachers, because they deserve better. Teachers are not overpaid and underworked, they are underpaid and overworked.