Survey shows less than half of school teachers satisfied with salaries

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A report released from the National Center for Education Statistics on Tuesday showed that less than half of public school teachers are satisfied with their salaries.

The data used to produce the report are part of the larger National Teacher and Principal Survey of 2015-16, which polled public school teachers and principals across the country. The report showed that only 45 percent of teachers surveyed were satisfied with their salary.

Lori L. Atkinson-Griffin, who teaches high school English in the Copenhagen Central School District, said she was not expecting such results.

“I’m actually surprised it’s that high,” she said. While the concept of teachers enjoying long summers and school breaks off persists, in Ms. Atkinson-Griffin’s view, so does the idea that teachers are underpaid. An Education Next poll from 2017 showed that 60 percent of people surveyed believed teachers’ pay should increase.

Ms. Atkinson-Griffin said those who believe teachers like her are overpaid are seeing skewed data. “A lot of the most highly paid teachers are physical education instructors,” she said, “and they also get compensation for coaching work. Or the salaries from teachers in the Big 5 schools are affecting the numbers.”

“Big 5” refers to the city school districts of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers. Ms. Atkinson-Griffin told the Times on Thursday that she had only recently started earning $60,000 annually — after 21 years at Copenhagen and 28 years teaching overall. The New York City Department of Education’s website indicated that starting salaries for teachers with bachelor’s degrees and no experience would be $56,711 in 2018-19.

“For a single mom putting two kids through college, $60,000 really isn’t a lot,” Ms. Atkinson-Griffin said.

The National Center for Education Statistics report also showed little variation in those responses from teachers in schools of all sizes.

About 45 percent of teachers at rural, urban, suburban and town schools all indicated they were satisfied with their salaries. The biggest discrepancy was between those at rural and suburban schools, where 42 and 47 percent of respondents, respectively, said they were satisfied. A slightly higher percentage of high school teachers reported being satisfied with their salaries than the percentage of elementary school teachers.

For her part, Ms. Atkinson-Griffin said she feels her school has many of the same problems as urban ones, but are separated by one key difference.

“We struggle with mental health and special education challenges as well, but we just don’t have access to the same resources as urban or suburban schools might,” she said.

Ms. Atkinson-Griffin said she feels those mental health and special education challenges may also affect how satisfied elementary teachers are.

“I think they may be more weary, because there are so many more elementary students now who face a lot of challenges,” she said. “So many of the students come in with no attention span or social skills, and teachers may just feel drained from ‘being mom or dad.’”

Other major differences were in whether their schools offered tenure, and if the teachers were members of a union.

Only 39 percent of teachers at schools that did not offer tenure reported being satisfied with their salaries, compared to 50 percent of those where tenure was available. Forty-nine percent of unionized teachers reported being satisfied with their salaries, compared to only 37 percent of those not in a union.

Survey respondents’ satisfaction with their salaries affected other responses about their overall job satisfaction.

A majority of teachers surveyed, including those who were not satisfied with their salaries, liked their colleagues and administrators. Eighty-two percent of teachers who were satisfied, and 70 percent who were not, said they believed their colleagues at their school liked working there. Eighty percent of those satisfied with their salaries, and 67 percent of those who were dissatisfied, said that they liked the way their school was run.

“I think that teachers generally feel there’s a good community among themselves,” said Ms. Atkinson-Griffin, “and usually among the administration too. We’re all sort of fighting the same battle, and we all really love the kids around here.”

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