On a drive with my husband this weekend, the conversation turned to the striking fast food workers asking for their pay to be raised to $15/hour, which would effectively double their current income. When a current-events topic like that comes up, I’m usually able to go on a rant about my opinion while still maintaining a fairly good mood. This time, though, my thoughts weighed on me, making me quiet and, for lack of a better adjective, tired. My husband managed to voice my thoughts for me as we drove, though.
“I was thinking about it,” he said, “and have you ever made that much money teaching?”
No. No, I haven’t. $15 an hour, forty hours a week, equals a yearly pay of $28,800. That’s more money than the yearly salary of my first teaching job, and more hourly pay than I’ve ever made as a sub. I’ve had one job with a yearly salary a little higher than $28,800, but it was an intense job where I spent way more than forty hours a week in the school building, so if I were to break it down to hourly pay, it’d still be less than $15/hour. I’m not factoring the hours at home lesson planning and grading into any of these calculations. And fast food workers think they should make that much for flipping burgers and manning a cash register… Really?
I’m not begging for sympathy. I knew what I was getting into when I chose this profession, and even more so when I turned my focus on private schools (you know that myth that teachers make more money in private schools than in public schools? Laughable. The truth is that private school teachers make about $10,000 a year less than their public school counterparts). A student in Boston once told me that he assumed that we made around $60,000/year teaching in his school. He didn’t understand why I laughed. No good teacher goes into the profession for the money, and we know we won’t be living luxurious lives on our salaries. So this isn’t me asking for more money, though that would be nice. It’s more that I’m trying to put things into perspective.
Because while I don’t need sympathy, I don’t have much sympathy to give, either. I have a college degree and a specific skill set that people supposedly value. Not everyone can do what I do, and I do it well. That should be worth something. It’s hard to listen to the unskilled laborers of the fast food industry (valuable men and women, but let’s call the work what it is) demand to make more money than I do. When teachers ask to be paid more, they’re often vilified as being self-centered and greedy, but here the focus is on the employees’ hard lives and need for more money.
I wish I could say I was angry at the discrepancy, but honestly, it just makes me sad. And a little tired.
I don’t want to hear the emotional appeal rhetoric and the sad stories. I just don’t. Please don’t judge me for that. I do feel bad for these people and their tough situations, but I also haven’t heard a rational argument as to why it’s the responsibility of McDonald’s corporation to make sure their entry-level hourly wage is enough to support a family. Especially since some of us with a marketable skill can barely make that much in a salaried job sometimes.
I realize that some teachers do make more money than I do. Public school teachers who’ve been in their districts for a long time can do pretty well for themselves. But even then, no one would call them wealthy.
All I’m saying is that if there ever comes a day when teenagers can earn more per hour flipping burgers than the men and women who teach them make, I think I’ll cry.