In the nineteenth-century, much like today, the majority of public school teachers were female. The reasons were simple: women were cheaper labor than men and women were viewed as natural nurturers who could instill morality into their students. Susan B. Anthony sought to change this by advocating for equal pay and for female teacher training at prestigious, co-ed universities (Goldstein, 2014). Before the turn of the twentieth century, female administrators were unheard of in education. According to Dana Goldstein in The Teacher Wars, “it was unthinkable that a woman would supervise men (p. 34).” Female educators in the United States were not promoted into administrative positions until the turn of the twentieth century when teachers aligned themselves with blue collar labor unions to stage a rebellion. They fought for better pay, better working conditions, and more control over their profession through access to upper levels of the professional hierarchy. During this time, teachers’ federations, which eventually became unions, formed in large urban areas. Two educators in Chicago, Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin, encouraged local teachers to join the Chicago Federation of Teachers to fight for fairer wages, better benefits, and tenure. Their efforts eventually resulted in the American Federation of Teachers, which is one of the largest teachers unions still in existence (“Teaching Timeline”).
How does the teaching profession look now, over one-hundred years after Anthony, Haley, and Goggins fought for gender equality? Is teaching in America thought of as a prestigious profession? Are teachers paid and supported in a way that promotes their worth in society? Is the ratio of female administrators to teachers somewhat equal? What ramifications do the answers to these questions have on the teaching and public education?
I’m sure you’ve heard the insipidly popular saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Unfortunately, I believe this phrase conveys American society’s general opinion on the teaching profession. In 2013, the Varkey Foundation attempted to rank the status of teachers by country in their Global Teacher Status Index. The United States ranked ninth out of the twenty-one countries surveyed, but studies like this one that rely on human opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. The United States beat out Finland, a nation known for its stellar national education system and for holding its teachers in great prestige and to high standards (Center on International Education Benchmarking, 2012).
Betsy Brown Ruzzi, VIce President of the National Center on Education and the Economy looked to the countries that outperformed the United States as models for improving the status of America’s teachers: “They recruit teachers at a minimum from the top third of the achievement cohort…. They also pay them well…. And when they enter teaching, they are treated like professionals (Khadaroo, 2013).” According to a 2015 study, American public school teachers made 17% less wages per week than similarly educated professionals in other fields. This is the largest wage gap seen since the start of data collection in 1979 (Strauss, 2016).
Why are the professionals who take on the important task of preparing our children to become contributing members of society and the economy viewed and paid so poorly in America? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011-12, 76% of educators in public K-12 schools were female (“National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts”). Are our cultures gender biases so ingrained that we give a lesser status and pay to professions that are historically female? I believe that is large part of the problem, especially when considering that the best-paid, non-administrative positions in many Texas public school districts are the male-dominated position of head high school football coach. Many of them make nearly the same as their principals, and at times, more than double a starting teacher’s salary, according to this report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Another well-paid realm of the K-12 world that is overwhelmingly dominated by males is that of district superintendent. Here is the breakdown of how women are represented within the hierarchy of school districts across the United States: 76% of teachers are female, 52% of principals, 78% of central office administrators, and a little bit less than 25% of district superintendents are female (Superville, 2016). The fact that the gender divide skews so male in the top district position shows that women still have a ways to go in creating true equity in the realm of the teaching profession.
Increasing the status level of the teaching profession, teacher pay, and the number of females at the highest district positions can only have positive effects for students. Greater status and better pay would attract more highly qualified, highly competent educators to the profession and would also help retain talented teachersl. Increasing the number of females in the upper echelon of a K-12 administration could increase the number of females interested in leadership positions in the profession, as well as inspire female students to pursue positions of leadership in the future. Most teaching professionals deserve to be held in high esteem by the general public, the students, administration, and themselves.
The following video gives the perspective of real educators on matters of status, pay, and more:
Finland: Teacher and Principal Quality. (n.d.). Retrieved February 01, 2017, from http://ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/finland-overview/finland-teacher-and-principal-quality/
Goldstein, D. (2014). The teacher wars: A history of America’s most embattled profession. New York: Doubleday.
Khadaroo, S. T. (2013, October 02). Teacher status around the world: how the US stacks up. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2013/1002/Teacher-status-around-the-world-how-the-US-stacks-up
National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
Strauss, V. (2016, August 16). Think teachers aren’t paid enough? It’s worse than you think. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/08/16/think-teachers-arent-paid-enough-its-worse-than-you-think/?utm_term=.bd8c5cf95910
Superville, D. R. (2016, December 30). Few women run the nation’s school districts. Why? Retrieved February 01, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/women-run-nations-school-districts/
Teaching Timeline. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from