How a Fair Starting Salary Attracts the Best and Brightest to Teaching

When Matt Goldstein graduated in 2005 from Pennsauken High School in New Jersey, his dream was to finish college and return to the school as a teacher. In 2011, after serving as a substitute teacher for several years, Goldstein, 24, became a fulltime teacher at Pennsauken at a starting salary of $53,000.

While the starting salary was not Goldstein’s primary reason for accepting a teaching position in his hometown, he says the salary provides incentive to remain there.

“When you are able to live comfortably, without having to work a second job, it makes teaching a whole lot easier because you can focus on your job, without financial problems or distractions,” he says. “I think there are many parents who understand how hard we work. The community often has ways to show their appreciation to teachers and we appreciate that.”

Goldstein embodies what policymakers and public schools advocates have known for quite some time: For students to achieve at high levels, schools must recruit the best and the brightest to enter the teaching profession – and a competitive salary and benefits package not only attracts talented people to the profession, it incentivizes them to stay.

Throughout the state and for several decades, citizens have been demonstrating that they understand this by supporting the bargaining efforts of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) to pay teachers a salary comparable with workers in other professions requiring similar licensing, education and work experience. In May, aggressive NJEA campaign efforts going back to the 1980s paid off when the Franklin Lakes School District became the 200th district in the state to agree to pay new teachers at least $50,000.

“We are still making progress toward our goal of ‘no teacher making less than $50K on the first day,’ although progress has been slowed by the current bargaining climate,” says Bob Willoughby, NJEA associate director of research. “Why should teachers be underpaid on their first day on the job?”

So far, NJEA has boosted starting pay to $50,000 in one of every three of the state’s 591 districts (34 percent). No easy feat, considering that in 2008 New Jersey had only 25 districts that paid “$50K.” That number jumped to 100 districts in 2010. With the addition of Franklin Lakes ($50,885 starting in 2013-14), NJEA reached its current milestone. The average starting pay for teachers in New Jersey is $48,372 for 2011-2012.

Secretary Arne Duncan called for a $60,000 starting salary back in August 2011. “The field of teaching is poised for change,” Duncan said. “Many bright and committed young people are attracted to teaching, but surveys show they are reluctant to enter the field for the long-haul. They see it as low-paying and low-prestige.”

Kerry McHugh-Moles, a teacher at George B. Fine Elementary School in Pennsauken, says higher pay is critical to help transform the teaching profession to one that garners greater respect.

“Although my family and I hold educators on a pedestal, that opinion is not always shared by others,” says McHugh-Moles, who has a graduate degree as a reading specialist. “The negative publicity from the general public and politicians can be very disheartening.”

The higher pay can change that perception, she says, while attracting top undergraduate students to the education field who might otherwise choose the technology sector, finance, or engineering.

“Many college graduates struggle to find employment, let alone a position that pays $50,000 without previous experience in the profession,” says McHugh-Moles, who like Goldstein is a graduate of public schools in Pennsauken, which borders Camden.

Goldstein agrees that fair starting salaries can attract top undergraduate students to the profession.

“The combination of a good salary, benefits, and making a difference in the lives of future generations make for plenty of great reasons for them to become teachers,” he says.

When McHugh-Moles started as a teacher in 2002 in Pennsauken, her starting salary was approximately $43,000.

“I most certainly did not choose the teaching profession for the money,” she says. “I have remained in the profession because of my love of teaching. However, with increases in workload, changes in programs, and lack of public support, the salary has been an added incentive to keep me in the profession helping each student achieve his or her full potential.”

See Also:

When the Media Asks “Are Teachers Overpaid?” Educators Ask “Are They Crazy?

Professional Learning Deserves Professional Pay

  • PopPop & Bobbie Bubbie

    We’re very proud of our grandson…

  • Hamilton Township starts everyone at $46K, no matter how many years of experience you have!!!! The township will not give more than 1% raise either.

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  • India B.

    Dear NEA:
    You explain how hard you are working for us teachers, yet we’re earning less and less with furlough days and reductions in benefits. Single people get the short end of the stick on insurance plans while families get a great deal. Singleton teachers who have multiple preps also get zero extra compensation while our colleagues who teach five sections of the same class all day and get to split their work with a team (or at least one other teacher) have little to complain about.

    I live in a large city in the West, and earn 60K with a PhD and have five preps each day at the high school level. I’m burned out because my job is ridiculously exhausting. I’m a linguist and should earn twice what I earn. Please tell me after fifteen years WHY SHOULD I REMAIN in my profession? I’m excellent at my job, my students speak another language after four years, and there is ZERO bonus pay for someone like me. Why should the ding-dong who does a half-a$$ed job at teaching five sections of American History I get the same pay? And yes, I’m a democrat, not some conservative. But I’m tired of the low pay, long hours, and level of stress. Sure, I could do a lame job like many teachers do, or do a lot less, but that is not my nature.

    What it boils down to is that Europeans, after getting their PhDs come to the U.S. because they are not in debt from their education, and can come here and earn six figures plus bonuses in the private sector. For highly educated teachers and professors, it would behoove us to move to Europe because we would get the respect that we deserve for the level of education and dedication to our profession we have, and while we wouldn’t earn a whole lot more, at least we would have a great safety net if we become ill, awesome health insurance, and a far better retirement plan. Additionally, language teachers are allowed to travel during the school year with their students since it’s educationally based (we are not allowed to do this in the U.S., do not get paid for traveling with students during the summer, and are scared to death of the legal ramifications should anything go awry.)

    So please NEA and Arne Duncan–tell me, WHY should someone like me not defect to another country or to the private sector? You are in for a big surprise in the next five to ten years because many of the ‘best and brightest’ teachers tell students NOT to go into the education field. Why promote something that will cause one to financially struggle forever?

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  • “Secretary Arne Duncan called for a $60,000 starting salary back in August 2011.”

    I’ve been teaching in Wisconsin for about 20 years. Our pay has been frozen for years. I have a masters degree and am a Nationally Board Certified as a Exceptional Needs Specialist. I still don’t make $60,000.

    “You get what you pay for…” If we want the best and brightest, we need to pay teachers better and treat teachers better!

  • Larry Robinette

    Try looking at the teacher salaries in Oklahoma. The starting salary in most districts is less than $30K. Gee, I wonder why we have trouble attracting and keeping highly qualified and motivated teachers.

  • Larry Robinette

    Try looking at the salaries in Oklahoma. Starting salaries in most districts is less than 30K. Gee, I wonder why we can’t attract and retain highly qualified and motivated teachers.

  • In Michigan the starting salaries are going down and teachers are being given a worse retirement, lower wages and a larger share of their insurance premiums. The GOP administration has done everything it can to drive out public schools and zreplace them with Charter and private schools that are controlled by friends of the politicians in charge

  • Cindy Miller

    My son is a police officer, putting his life on the line everyday, and makes $15.00 an hour. Maybe all those who whine about not making $50,000 should be happy for what they have.

  • Oatmeal Cookie

    I’m a teacher in New Jersey, have been for ten years. I’m still only making $52,000.00 a year and I’m also paying New Jerseys high property taxes as well now, because of the Governors decision that teachers need to live in the state in which they teach. I completely agree with India B when she talks about the slackers that have two preps and get the same pay as someone like me who has five and teaches six classes a day. I’m busting my behind to be a great teacher and the girl next door is showing movies. Shouldn’t a supervisor who making three times my salary be monitoring these kinds of things? I know mail carriers, who didn’t need a college education for the job that are making more than I am after delivering mail for a few years. I love my job and my students, but it’s getting old struggling to pay my bills on what I’m making.

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