Missouri is next to last in starting teacher’s pay

Bill Graham

Bill Graham

The snow gets plowed off the highways we drive on to get to work, thanks to state employees. Water keeps flowing from the taps, thanks to public utilities and water supplied primarily by the city of Kansas City. Our teachers are still on the job in Platte County’s four school districts, thanks in large part to dedication to the mission.

We are luckier than most people realize. Platte County’s role as a growth county, one dominated primarily by growing affluent suburbs or large new homes on acreages, masks some of the strains felt in Missouri and the nation. But I wonder if it will always be that way.

Teachers began striking this week in Denver seeking higher pay. That follows a teacher strike earlier this year in Los Angeles. Teacher strikes last year were a bit closer to our home state, in Oklahoma and Kentucky.

I don’t expect striking teachers in Platte County or Missouri. But I wish for them better pay and more respect. Some surprises in a Kansas City Star editorial about teacher pay made me look up a report on the website for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It’s titled Teacher Workforce, dated January 2019.

Yup, the report says some surprising things. Missouri is 49th in the nation, next to last, for average starting teacher salaries at $31,842. But that’s average, so in less affluent districts the starting pay can be lower. Our state is 39th in the U.S. for average teacher salary at $48,293. Remember, that figure includes long-time teachers who have dedicated careers to classrooms.

We expect so much from teachers in grade schools, middle schools and high schools. They have to maintain control over a variety of personalities among students. Then they have to teach them, and hopefully inspire them. That’s the front line. Then often they also have to deal with parents who are difficult, or parents who are too detached. They also regrettably in this day and age have to rehearse for the unthinkable, an active shooter in a building.

Teachers have to help students interpret what is currently a very crazy world. They must do this in competition with whatever a student pulls up on cell phones or computers. All of this makes it surprising and disappointing that our state ranks so low in teacher pay.

I place a lot of value on teachers because some good ones made a difference in my life. I have a bit of bias because I’ve had family members who were teachers. But I also appreciate very much that my children had some excellent teachers from kindergarten through high school, teachers who inspired them.

Our attention to teachers is so relative, though. I paid attention to Northland schools somewhat because my earlier newspaper career was community news oriented. Then when my children arrived, schools became the hub that the year revolved around. But now that my children have been out of school for a few years, schools seem distant.

We don’t worry about who is taking care of the roads until it snows. Water isn’t even pondered unless a hard freeze breaks a water main and the taps go dry. Teachers and schools are not a concern unless we have children or grandchildren attending. But they’re all in reality backbones of a community, for all people all the time.

The Missouri teacher report shows 78.5 percent of the state’s teachers are female, and 93.2 percent are white in ethnicity. Those are disappointing balances. The report also shows jobs for various teacher specialties going unfilled or staffed by teachers less than fully qualified. A summary in the report states that fewer people are entering the teaching field at a time when student populations are growing and teacher attrition rates are rising, Low pay, a lack of administrative support, and poor working conditions push teachers out of the field.

It’s up to our local school boards and Missouri’s Education Department to work directly to prevent problems or fix problems. A lot also rides on how the Missouri General Assembly, our state senators and representatives, handle state funding for education. But a community’s respect for educators plays a part, too. Americans since 9/11 have been personally thanking law enforcement and firefighters for their service. Teachers and school administrators deserve the same.