Poor, poor teachers

LISTEN to a school teacher – it’s hard not to when they project their assertiveness and voice in your direction – and you’ll hear about the unique stress they’re subjected to every working day. If you listen long enough you’ll be convinced that only teachers are subjected to stress at work. Once I dared to suggest that every occupation had its stresses but I wouldn’t do that again face to face.

When next you’re required to listen you’ll learn that only teachers take work home, that teachers are never really off duty, that they wear their role as the community’s moral compass every waking moment. Next you’ll hear about their unmatched responsibilities, about how the nation depends on them to produce the next generation of achievers.

You’ll be softened up by now for the tale of woe that is teachers’ pathetic salaries. So low they can barely fund their holidays when rates are higher during school holidays. They make sacrifices in so many ways and it is in the nation’s interests that income be not one of them. And in this paper this week you read how teacher wages are so low men are declining to become teachers, many choosing instead the higher-paying jobs created by the resources boom. Nothing unique about that, either, as most industries lose staff to boom jobs.

Expect a campaign soon from the ever-demanding NSW Teachers Federation for higher salaries to attract men to teaching, higher salaries for both men and women, of course. But just how low are teacher salaries?

From the beginning of this year the starting salary for a four-year-trained teacher, primary or secondary, is $58,250 and for a five-year-trained teacher, primary or secondary, it is $61,246. And it is an unlucky teacher who doesn’t qualify for any of many allowances on top of that.

Not many new graduates earn more. Graduate Careers Australia’s latest survey, last year for the year 2010, found that the then starting salary of teachers at $53,000 was the sixth highest of graduates, behind dentists at $75,000, optometrists $70,000, engineers $56,000, medical doctors $55,000 and geologists $54,000. But the real comparison is with graduates in the 17 disciplines earning less than new teachers, and they include lawyers at $48,400, accountants $45,000, architects $45,000, economists $45,000, vets $45,000 and pharmacists $36,000.

Teachers don’t have much to whinge about in this company, but they whinge nonetheless.

The salary of these teachers will increase annually for some years, with the maximum salary while they remain as simply a teacher $86,878. If, however, they become a head teacher or what is known as a highly accomplished teacher their salary will be just $18 off $100,000, or $99,982. That’s at 2012 rates and, again, not including allowances. The principal of a primary school with fewer than 26 pupils, and all primary school assistant principals, have a salary of $99,982, and principal salaries increase as the school increases in size to $149,317.

Dreadful. And all for a working day that begins after most workers have started and finishes before most can go home.

Did someone mention holidays? Just 13 weeks this year, so many that even with the salary levels you’ve just read about teachers will have to spend some of those weeks pottering around at home. Marking exam papers, of course. Teachers are indeed special, and I suppose anyone who goes from school to university to school is going to be in a world of their own. They need a dose of the real world more than a salary increase.

Is enough enough when it comes to teacher salaries and whingeing? Do they need a dose of the real world?

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