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Ten Ways You Can Work for Professional Pay

Whether you’re a middle school teacher, a school bus driver, or a "contingent" university lecturer hired without the chance for tenure, you can be part of NEA’s campaign for professional, competitive pay. Here are some logical steps:

1. First and foremost, believe you're worth it.

Remember that front-line educators like you are the number one factor affecting student achievement. Look at the ever-growing demands and responsibilities of your job, and what others in comparable professions — who earn more for similar knowledge and responsibilities — earn per hour or annually.

2. Break down the isolation.

If you’re struggling to get by, rushing to second or even third jobs to pay the bills, don’t endure this challenge in silence. Break a taboo; ask selected colleagues if they face similar economic struggles, even after many years in the education profession. Then collectively ask yourselves: Why?

3. Check in with your advocates.

See what your NEA state or local affiliates say in written policy about the need to improve educator pay. Inquire if they have salary initiatives planned or underway — be the vehicle collective bargaining, state legislation, or policy votes by school boards or university/college trustees. If so, work with your elected officers and UniServ staff to implement a well-planned campaign. And enlist the support of other reliable advocates: parents whose children you educate and protect every day, and community organizations that know you and the essential services you provide.

4. Do some digging.

Starting with online resources (such as the Economic Policy Institute's Basic Family Budget Calculator), research a "living wage" for different family configurations in your region. And investigate what people in other, comparable professions are earning these days and how their pay has increased in recent years.

5. Gather your best arguments.

Research strong arguments for professional pay based, foremost, on quality services to students. Among other things, examine the difficulty of recruiting/retaining quality career educators, loss of "institutional knowledge" and staff-student relationships through high turnover, out-of-field teaching, and costs linked to the never-ending need to recruit and retrain replacement employees. Then probe the impact of low pay/outside jobs on people who work daily with students — be it reliance on public assistance, fewer precious hours for family life, the loss of time for class preparation or professional development, or the long-term health effects of stress and fatigue.

6. Take your case to the neighbors.

Don’t let anyone in the community devalue the work that educators do with young people. Take pride in your profession and let it show in chats with friends, relatives, neighbors, and folks in the community organization or religious denomination to which you belong. Talk about your professional successes, impact (seen or unseen) on students, and the ever-growing responsibilities that you face on the job — due to federal/state mandates, constant education "reform" efforts, and the ever-changing needs of students you serve. And stress how little this work pays.

7. Educate education decision makers.

Don’t ever assume that state politicians or school board members fully appreciate the complexity of your job, salary competition from other professions, or how far your pay goes. Invite them to watch you do your job, either live or through a lens, and visit with them while they do their jobs making policy. Through informal conversations over coffee or formal testimony at public meetings, tell decision makers about your success with students, the growing complexity and challenges of your work, and what it takes to survive on an educator's pay.

8. Be media-savvy.

Just as you educate neighbors and decision makers about your work and pay, tell your story to the local media. Start by sending letters to editors and building working relationships with reporters. And send your very best leads, including successes in making large or small salary gains, to print and web communicators at NEA and its state affiliates. It's all about creating a "buzz" around the drive for professional pay.

9. Think about the larger picture.

When you're telling your story, emphasize education’s huge impact on local economies through its spending — for salaries, supplies, and services — and its formation of a skilled workforce. Point out that the nation's 3 million teachers (equaling the number of retail trade employees) literally form every other profession. "In these schools, teachers touch the American future every day," notes the College Board’s Center for Innovative Thought in a 2006 report. "They do so by turning out the entrepreneurs, public officials, public safety officers, teachers, university professors, business managers, members of the armed forces, and elected officials who lead America forward in the best of times, and protect it in the worst of times."

10. Think about larger Association membership.

When speaking about salary issues to decision makers, the community, or the media, educators are even more likely to be heard when they speak collectively through a strong, large organization — just like physicians through the American Medical Association. If you’re not a member of your state's NEA affiliate, become one. If you are a member, become active in your NEA local affiliate and urge colleagues to become members as well. It’s just one more way to break down the isolation of second- and third- income earners.