That’s What Professional Pay Means to Me!
At 6 a.m., Jerry Parham is at the top of his game as he begins his day as a transportation specialist for the Sussex County Public Schools in Virginia. At 8:15, he starts his second job as a teacher’s aide in biology and earth science classes. When the school bell rings, he returns to his bus-driving duties. And when that concludes, he starts his second shift—working as a mentor for local teens and serving as assistant pastor at Morningstar Baptist Church.
After 10 years as a bus driver and eight years as an instructional aide, the Virginia Education Association’s 2006 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year still makes only $26,755.
Jerry doesn’t do all of this because he likes to stay busy. Even after 10 years as a bus driver and eight years as an instructional aide, the Virginia Education Association’s 2006 Education Support Professional (ESP) of the Year still makes only $26,755, which is nearly $10,000 less than Sussex County’s annual median income. It might be hard to believe, but Jerry is actually better off than some of his colleagues—one bus driver has worked for the county for 47 years and earns $13,000.
No one who dedicates a life to driving, nourishing, counseling, or teaching our nation’s students should be forced to live at or below the poverty line. But all too often, teachers and ESPs who choose a life of public service must trade away their right to a decent standard of living.
NEA is fighting to change that with a nationwide salary campaign to win a $40,000 starting salary for all teachers, an appropriate living wage for all education support professionals, and appropriate professional pay for higher education faculty and staff.
As the national voice for public school employees, we know that too many teachers and ESPs have been denied professional pay for too long. Working in public schools is not an act of charity—and educators should not have to sacrifice their families’ needs when they choose a career in public education.
Team NEA, we are using our bully pulpit to help move this agenda. Now it’s your turn. This fight can only be won at the grassroots level where voters speak and elected officials listen. Professional pay is possible when communities make quality employees a priority.
The Ithaca Paraprofessionals Association of New York won a 50 percent wage increase over three years by talking publicly about their members’ commitment and poverty wages. The New Jersey Education Association has bargained multi-year contracts with teacher minimums of $40,000 or more in a majority of the state’s school districts. And NEA members have written their own similar success stories in Alabama, Montana, and Vermont.
The key to each of these campaigns’ success was member involvement. We each have the responsibility to draw attention to the plight of educators forced to work for subpar wages. Without strong membership, we have no voice. And without a voice, we lack the power to gain professional salaries for teachers who lead America’s public school classrooms and education support professionals who make our schools work.
It’s not child’s play to get a roomful of children to pay attention, let alone learn. And it’s no easy task to nurse ill youngsters back to health, prepare nutritious meals for students, and safely transport students to and from school.
Great educators form the backbone of great public schools. It’s time to pay them what they’re worth. Only elephants should work for peanuts.