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Sat., Feb. 15, 2014, midnight

Teacher tires of hollow praise

I have a request to make. I’d like people to stop lying to me.

Please stop telling me what a “noble” and “underappreciated” and “underpaid” job teaching is. Stop calling it a “vocation,” as if my “calling” to become a high school English teacher should be equated with my personal financial sacrifices for the “sake of the children.” Stop tripping over yourselves to tell me how “important” teaching is within our cultural ethos while, at the same time, we can’t find ways to pay teachers more appropriately for their great importance.

I’m tired of the empty rhetoric.

As a country, the United Sates simply does not value teachers as much as we say we do. For example, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, our country’s teachers spend the most hours per year (1,080) teaching students (when compared to other developed countries); however, we quickly fall to 11th place in terms of average salaries for teachers with 15 years of experience and an embarrassing 26th place when comparing the average teacher’s salary to the gross domestic product per capita. In fact, an American public school educator with 15 years of experience makes a salary that is 96 percent of our country’s GDP per capita, whereas across the OECD, teachers with the same experience receive 117 percent of the GDP per capita.

Those numbers don’t make me feel very important.

And as a state, we aren’t doing much better.

For the past seven years, our Washington legislature has not found it weighty enough to give our almost 61,600 teachers a cost-of-living increase to salaries. Not one single time in seven years, even though the cumulative rate of inflation for those years is 12.4 percent.

However, during that same time frame, our state’s minimum wage has increased 15.5 percent to remain the highest in the nation; therefore, our state feels it is worthwhile to put us at the very top for minimum wages even though we are a paltry 23rd in the nation in terms of average teacher salaries. Moreover, our state’s average of $52,232 per year is actually below the U.S. average of $55,418. So, to summarize: highest in the nation for the lowest paid (generally the least educated), yet 5.7 percent below the national average for salaries for teachers (generally some of the most highly educated). And yet we spout endlessly about the importance of education.

Some lawmakers even want to push our state’s minimum wage to an astronomical $15 per hour (twice the national average!) when they can’t seem to find the money to pay our teachers more appropriately. Shameful, to say the least.

And one other little tidbit: from 2001 until 2012, our state ranked 43rd in the nation when it comes to percentage change in average teacher salaries, coming in at a minus 5.9 percent. Negative! Our state is setting the bar at soaring heights for minimum-wage employees while we allow our teachers’ salaries to drop significantly, especially when one takes into consideration that the cumulative rate of inflation over those years is a staggering 29.7 percent!

According to The Spokesman-Review, Boeing Co.’s new deal with its union employees “drew pleas from politicians who said the deal was necessary to support the area’s economic future;” the “passage of a transportation bill would be the only major business item for the Legislature;” and our local politicians are working hard on a new deal for Spokane police officers, even though these officers have an average yearly compensation that is “87 percent higher than the median household income in Spokane.”

I don’t bring these up to sound bitter, for I’m not; I simply mention them for a basis for cultural comparison, especially with regard to how our politicians are involved in each of these matters.

And their involvement exemplifies what matters to them. Our state’s teachers do not.

There’s a cliché in our culture that states, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Although I tend to cringe at clichés, I find this one particularly appropriate. If our culture values teachers, then our lawmakers should pay us; if our culture doesn’t, then please stop lying to us.

Robert Archer is a Shadle Park High School teacher.

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