Three Reasons to Publish Teachers’ Salaries

This Equal Pay Day, I’ll pause to note the benefits of a published pay scale.

Equal Pay Day is the day each year that the “average woman”—earning $0.77 of the “average man’s” dollar—draws even with her imaginary male counterpart’s earnings from last year. While we can debate the reasons for this discrepancy, the fact is that it exists.

Salaries vary widely among independent-school teachers—though none are very high—and they are based on experience, subject taught, family situation, previous salary, and some other factors. A lot of low teacher compensation is based on goodwill: administrators take as much free work as they can get from teachers because we are usually gullible and not usually very good negotiators (especially true of women). Failure to agree to this free work is evidence of teaching’s cardinal sin: putting yourself ahead of the kids.

When I lived in Russia, everyone knew everyone’s salary. Asking about salary is part of Russian small talk. In the United States, that information is considered confidential, and we don’t like to talk about it. U.S. employers know this and use it to their advantage. If workers are squeamish about pay conversations, they will never know where they stand.

This situation seems pretty great from an administrator’s point of view. Why should they change it? Here are three simple reasons:

1)     It increases teacher morale, which enhances their work.

Teaching is performative. To engage students daily requires patience, energy, and good humor.  Our society pays lip-service to this fact, but only lip-service. An administrator at my place of work recently announced that “teaching is the most ennobling profession.”

Not coincidentally, this comment preceded the announcement that our salaries would remain stagnant for yet another year. These platitudes are worse than useless. We will not find enough saints to staff our schools. At some point, we need to treat teachers like mortal humans, not as special people immune from the lure of money. It’s a little galling when someone who makes twice—or ten times—what you make tells you that your profession is “ennobling.”

Excellent education is not something that a person can grind out. I have taught at schools with very high morale and very low morale. Schools receive qualitatively better work from happy teachers than from bitter ones. Having a published pay scale means that everyone knows where they stand. It keeps administrators honest in negotiations, but it allows enough wriggle-room to lure talent and to recognize accomplishment.

2)     It equalizes pay between genders, shielding the school from discrimination claims.

Protecting yourself from lawsuits is not the best reason to give equal pay for equal work, but the threat of litigation has encouraged all sorts of good behavior in employers.

Published pay scales allow for very little gender discrimination, intentional or inadvertent. This reason is especially important in teaching, which is still a profession dominated by women.

3)     It attracts good applicants.

Job seekers like certainty. If a prospective teacher knows that a school has a published pay scale, they feel more comfortable accepting a contract.

Finding good teachers is hard. In competitive markets, schools vie for the most effective teachers. In less competitive markets, quality teachers can be hard to come by, especially those who are willing to be paid private-school wages, which are generally much lower than those at public school.

Speaking as a past (and future) job-seeker, it speaks well of a school when they are confident enough to publish their pay scale. It makes other offers seem less certain and therefore less attractive.



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