By Jessica Farrish
As the state celebrates International World Teacher’s Day Sunday, West Virginia teachers will be earning lower salaries than every other state except Mississippi and North Carolina, according an in-depth study recently conducted by WalletHub, a leading personal finance social network.
Teachers in the mountain state also rank 34th in average starting salaries, 45th in teachers’ wage disparity, 43rd in the average number of hours worked, 42nd in the 10-year change in teacher salaries and 33rd in unemployment, the survey revealed.
West Virginia is also expected to have a lower percentage of 5- to 17-year-olds than 49 other states by 2030, according to the study.
The state ranked near the 50th percentile (26th) in public school spending per student.
The survey — which ranked states on factors including hiring and wages -- was conducted in order to help educators find the best job opportunities in the country, according to www.wallethub.com. It placed West Virginia as the third worst state in the nation to work as a teacher, just above Mississippi (50) and North Carolina (51).
The results of the WalletHub report don’t surprise Marie Hamrick, co-president of the Raleigh County chapter of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA).
She pointed out Tuesday that many teachers are leaving the state or the profession. In an effort to keep teachers in the state, she added, WVEA lobbyists are currently petitioning state lawmakers for salaries that are competitive with those paid by school districts in bordering states.
“The truth of the matter is, if we don’t get salaries for teachers in West Virginia, we won’t have anybody going into the teaching field, just because if they do anything else, they can make more money for the amount of college they’ve put into (a degree),” she said. “Until we get the salaries up, we’re not going to get the best and brightest in college going into the teaching field.”
Hamrick pointed out that in addition to the 2,000 teachers who retired last year — with a similar number of educators expected to retire annually in the next five years — many recently graduated educators are teaching in West Virginia schools for a few years before becoming disillusioned and attracted by higher pay in bordering states.
They’re leaving the state for better opportunities in nearby Pennsylvania (ranked No. 2 in the WalletHub survey), Ohio, Maryland or Virginia.
Salaries are higher in those states and more financial emphasis is placed on public education, said Hamrick.
Salaries for teachers are so low that many West Virginia educators work a second job to provide for themselves and their families, according to a recent report in the WVEA publication, West Virginia School Journal.
Betty Taylor, a now-retired teacher at Flatwoods Elementary School in Braxton County, retired from teaching earlier this year after 29 years in the classroom in order to work for her family’s hardware store, according to a Journal report.
Taylor reported that it was a tough decision to choose between the two jobs but that she chose the hardware store because she didn’t believe education in the state is headed in the right direction.
Taylor had cited lower paychecks as a problem that would grow larger in the future and said she’d never encourage her 16-year-old daughter to enter teaching as a profession.
“Going forward, it is a money issue for the people you want to attract,” she stated.
Hamrick and other teachers have reported to The Register-Herald that teachers aren’t given adequate time for lesson planning and often end up working off the clock to develop lesson plans that meet the needs of every student in the class while preparing them all for standardized tests — not an easy feat.
“Who comes out on the short end of the stick, truly, is our elementary teachers,” said Hamrick. “They generally have a 30 minute planning period.
“They teach anywhere from seven to 10 subjects, so they have that many preparations to do.”
By the time a teacher walks her small students to and from music or gym class, she’s lost five or 10 minutes of her 30-minute planning period.
“A lot of their stuff is done at home or at night,” she said. “If you go by any school parking lot after school, you’re going to see teachers’ cars still there.
“Teachers, by and large, are very educated and want to do what’s best for their kids, even if they have to be (at school) early or stay late.”
Hamrick said that West Virginia teachers also purchase coats, shoes and school supplies for students from their personal budgets in many cases.
“It all has to do with the kids,” said Hamrick. “The bottom line is, you don’t teach if you don’t love kids, but it would be nice to make the salary comparable to the amount of college investment you have made.”