Ms. Goldsmith, my kindergarten teacher, likely changed my life. It turns out that students with more-experienced kindergarten teachers tend to have higher earnings as adults. And, as luck would have it, Ms. Goldsmith was a seasoned pro.
Perhaps even more staggering is the fact Harvard economist Raj Chetty’s research also shows that kindergarten tests scores are highly correlated with earnings at age 27. I can’t remember where I stood among my cohort of tiny classmates on exams, but I’m certain that Ms. Goldsmith helped me hit higher scores than I would have otherwise.
If kindergarten teachers — and educators in general — are so valuable, literally and figuratively, to how our kids fare down the road, why do we pay them so little? At a time when we are asking more and more of teachers, why do we continue to treat the profession as just another job instead of celebrating them as the life changers they are?
Oregon needs to step up its game and put its money where its children’s futures are — by paying the best teachers more and recruiting the best students to join the profession. The starting salary for an Oregon teacher — $36,319 as of 2017 — is nearly $3,000 short of the national average. So it comes as no surprise that students thinking about joining the teaching profession often leave for higher paying states or avoid the field entirely, opting for something more likely to help them cover their debts and costs of living.
Another factor that may scare prospective teachers away is the lack of prestige associated with the role — lawyers, doctors and even management consultants scored higher on a global survey of most respected professions.
As COVID-19 continues to force us all to reassess our societal priorities, we cannot miss this moment to drastically increase teacher pay and to reshape how we perceive the teaching profession. One place to start would be to offer scholarships to students that pursue graduate education and pledge to spend three to five years in the teaching field somewhere in Oregon. This scholarship would signal to students that Oregonians value their teachers. It could also become an annual opportunity to celebrate young people entering the education field. These sorts of public demonstrations of appreciation are exactly what’s needed at a time where being a teacher is becoming even more taxing.
Of course, the financial support of the scholarship would help show the appreciation of Oregonians as well. Right now, there’s no good economic reason for a graduate student to start teaching. Data compiled by the Oregon School Boards Association shows that in the Beaverton School District, for example, the difference in starting salary between a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and another with a master’s degree is just $3,800. In the Bend-La Pine District, teachers who have a doctorate merely receive a $500 stipend.
Scholarships that allow graduate students to enter the teaching world wouldn’t be “giveaways” to students merely hoping to get some support for their education; instead, they’d represent investments in our future by investing in our kids. According to research published in Education Next, from scholarships to actual pay increases, boosts in teacher pay are associated with an increase in teachers’ own cognitive skills and, consequently, better student outcomes.
There’s never been a school year like the one that’s weeks away. It’s time to wake up to the reality that our teachers have lifelong effects on our youngsters. Now more than ever, we need to invest in our teachers and celebrate their contributions to helping us all through these trying times.