As teacher pay remains low, the workload placed upon the educators continues to grow, especially amid changes due to COVID-19.
This year, teachers have the added responsibilities of keeping students safe by adapting to new COVID-19 protocols, finding meaningful ways to teach virtual students, learning new technology, programs, and equipment for virtual students, and in some cases, teaching virtual and in-person students simultaneously. Those added tasks come on top of an already-increasing workload.
Add in the ongoing frustrations teachers face with state regulations and low pay, and Nicole Mundy, president of the Kokomo Teachers Association, worries about teacher burnout.
“My concern — and I think it’s a real concern in every corporation — is just the fact that we just keep getting more and more added to our plates. And at what point is too much, and at what point is enough enough?” she said. “We’re going to get to the point where the scales are tipped too far.”
That, Mundy said, is something that already may be happening as teacher shortages continue to be a real issue.
“People are walking away. If I can walk away from my job I currently have and make more money and not take work home with me, what’s holding me here as a teacher?” she said.
The number-one issue teachers face, Mundy said, always is low, stagnant pay and not being paid comparably to other professionals with similar education.
Mundy pointed to people with engineering degrees. Fresh out of college, she said, they earn more than high-end teacher salaries.
“It is 100 percent a slap in the face, so when teachers talk about we’re not paid similarly to professionals with education like we have, that’s what we’re talking about,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that. We are professionals, and we should have a professional wage based on our education. And in the service that we provide, for goodness sakes, none of the other professions would exist if people weren’t educated."
According to a report for the 2019-20 school year by the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board that was published in June, the lowest teacher salary reported across the state was $32,000, while the highest salary was $95,188. The statewide average was $55,499.
Those numbers were only up only slightly from the 2016-17 school year. The minimum salary at that time was $30,000, and the highest was $90,184.
There were 3,148 first-year teachers in Indiana over that school year, and they earned an average salary of $41,339. There were 4,825 teachers with 30-plus years of experience, and they earned an average salary of $82,205.
Even before COVID-19, teachers faced increasing workloads as they worked to meet state regulations, standardized testing outcomes, manage larger classrooms, and completed other jobs added to their teaching duties.
With COVID, Mundy said some teachers now are essentially doing the job of two people.
“When you’re doing both in-person and virtual, it’s basically like planning for two classes that you’re teaching at the same time. It’s not as simple as typing some kind of assignment and doing these exact same things and posting it for kids to see,” she said. “There’s actual processes that have to go into that planning to make sure kids are learning what they’re supposed to be learning. People that are doing both, they’re doing the job of two people, and that’s exhausting.”
With so much going on within schools, Mundy said teachers are taking home more work than ever.
“No matter how much you love your job, you still want a break. And we’re just not getting breaks. A weekend isn’t really a weekend if you’re spending most of the day Saturday and part of the day Sunday doing your job,” she said.
Mundy acknowledged that teaching always has been a profession where teachers have taken work home, but she said there’s less time during work hours than ever for any grading or prepping. With substitute teacher shortages, many teachers have to spend their prep times filling in for other teachers or catching up on other requirements placed upon them.
A lack of funding not only affects teacher pay, but it also affects the pay of those in the certified positions — such as the substitute teachers, along with bus drivers, teachers’ aids, and cafeteria workers.
The lower wages, she said, keep many people from taking the jobs, and those who do take them don’t have enough incentive to stick around, resulting in shortages across the board. And without them, teachers can’t do their jobs, Mundy said.
“Our schools can’t operate without support staff, period. If we don’t have bus drivers to get kids to school, they can’t get to school, some of them. If we don’t have cafeteria workers to provide their meals, we can’t feed them. If we don’t have teachers’ aides in our classrooms, we can’t effectively do our jobs. Our jobs as teachers, we can’t be effective in the classroom if we don’t have support staff to help us do our job,” she said.
To attract people to these positions and retain them, Mundy said changes have to be made in terms of pay and benefits.
While these issues weigh on teachers, Mundy said the one thing that keeps teachers in their job – and something she said lawmakers bank on – is the fact that teachers are overwhelmingly dedicated to their profession and their students despite it all.
“Teachers by nature are people-pleasers and dedicated professionals, so teachers will work themselves into exhaustion to do what’s best for their students and our administrators,” she said. “ … [Lawmakers] think they can just keep adding more and more to them because they’ll do it because they know we will. They know at the end of the day it’s, ‘Well, if you don’t do this then that’s not what’s best for your students.’ Well, that may be, but it’s also not fair and not good for the expectation just to be that we’ll give up all of our personal time and that we’ll just keep giving until we’re exhausted,” Mundy said.