Today, April 10, may be Equal Pay Day, but teacher pay has been making headlines for weeks. We’re seeing massive, organized walkouts across the country as teachers stand up for increased education funding. But there’s more to the story: teacher pay is a gendered issue. If we want to truly examine teacher compensation, we can’t do so without acknowledging the demographic makeup of the nation’s educator workforce, 76 percent of which are women.
Teaching is the most common occupation for women in this country, and not only are their earnings predictably lower than male teachers (8.7 percent lower, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research), but the field as a whole is compensated worse than other similarly educated professions. In fact, in the United States, teachers overall earn less than 60 percent of the wages of similarly educated peers.
Even within the teacher workforce, we see disparities: in early childhood settings — which employ a higher percentage of women, especially women of color — teachers earn less than they do in high school roles. Finally, when speaking broadly about equal pay, women of color are particularly marginalized: research from the American Association of University Women reveals that black women must work until August 7 for their earnings to catch up to men’s earnings from the previous year, and Latinas until November 1.
I asked two Kentucky teachers, Annabeth Edens, a fourth grade teacher in Georgetown, and Vilma Godoy, a high school teacher in Shelbyville, what they thought about the state’s teacher walkouts. Both women told me how much they love teaching and their students. They want to show up for the choir concerts and after-school tutoring — being there for their kids matters to them. But they also want to be respected and treated as professionals, and paid fairly for their work. Godoy explains: “This work is rewarding, yes, but it is difficult and demanding and outsiders truly have no idea the amount of hours that go into it, after school and on weekends. It feels like we have to be superhuman. Superwomen.”
Edens spoke to me on the way to one of her side jobs at a children’s boutique — it was a Friday morning, a shift she wouldn’t typically work, except she was hoping to pick up some extra hours over spring break.
She’s not alone in putting in extra hours. Says Edens: “In order to teach in Kentucky, you need to get your master’s; you have to start it within five years of teaching. It’s not uncommon for teachers to have three or more degrees…they’re taking on student loans to cover it, not because they necessarily want to, but because the government mandates it.”
Godoy, a product of Los Angeles public schools, was drawn to teaching as an opportunity to provide her students with the foundational love of learning her own teachers instilled in her. She argues: “Women are taken for granted. It’s expected that women are just willing to sacrifice. In any other field, with the level of degrees required, we would be getting paid so much more than what we are.”
When teachers like Edens and Godoy advocate for fair salaries, they’re arguably setting the stage for other predominantly female fields to follow suit. Can teacher walkouts pave the way toward progress for women in all sectors?