As I sat at in the back of the Aurora R-8 meeting of the Board of Education on April 9th, I paid attention to the body language in the room when the time came to talk about teacher salaries. Money is always a touchy subject, it seems, and it can be especially tricky in times of a recovering economy.
The handful of teachers in the room sat up a little straighter in their chairs, while some even leaned forward to make sure they heard what was being said. There were a few nods, a couple of eye rolls and a handful of shrugs.
I had glanced over the 300+ page agenda after school that day and was secretly doing the math on the minutes spent on agenda items. Numbers have never truly been “my thing,” but even a slow math student could soon figure out that if we were only on item C at 8:30, the chances of getting through to items P and Q before 10 p.m. were getting slimmer by the minute.
I did jot down some notes to revisit teacher pay in the Ozarks as the board approved a $200 increase to the salary schedule, steps on the schedule and board paid insurance. I couldn’t “Google” any information as I had purposefully left my cell phone in the car. I have a bad habit of forgetting to turn it off and then it rings, buzzes or vibrates at inopportune times. It would have to wait until I got home.
In the Ozarks, the various types of teacher pay schedules used to have a lot of bias. It wasn’t malicious, I don’t think. But it was intentional. People were paid based on their social status and who they knew. Our country schools of the past often found parents joining together to pay the teacher. The teacher was often some random person chosen from the community with a modicum of intelligence, patience or resources. Certification requirements would come later.
In the early 1900s, some documents indicate the average teacher salary was less than $500 per year. It was much less than that in the Ozarks, where part of the teacher pay package would include room and board with various student-families, who would also provide a few extras as they could afford them. Often, patrons of the school would make items for the teacher, such as jams, jellies, coats, shawls or even furniture for the classroom.
Teachers were expected to meet a slate of moral criteria, get the fires going in the woodstove on cold winter mornings, clean the schools (which were often housed in community buildings or churches) and dress according to a strict code—with no frills, nail polish or makeup. (Male teachers had a different set of standards and usually received more privacy and better pay, according to research reported in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly.)
A recent document published by the University of Wisconsin at Madison on Teacher Compensation indicates there have been three major shifts in teacher pay schedules the past 150 years and a fourth one based on teacher accountability is already under way in most states.
The first round of pay, the Boarding Round, included a lot of things considered part of the barter system: room, board, clothing and a certain status in the community when obligations were kept. The Position-Based schedule came into play after the Great Depression and an emphasis was placed on credentials, skills and resources.
Teachers began to have a little more say in their occupational expectations. Patrons of country, community and public schools began to realize the shifts in pay between male and female instructors, as well as those inconsistencies between those known in the communities they served and those brought in from outside the community’s boundaries should be consistent, fair and reasonable. The Barter System was no longer the trend and the economy was cash-based. Ultimately, people had bills to pay.
Most people involved in education today are aware of the considerations of a Single Salary Schedule. Educators are required to have certain certifications and are often rewarded on years of experience, degrees obtained and professional development criteria.
Those who get involved with coaching, sponsoring and advising a wide range of activities and events usually get compensated through stipends added to their contracted salary. In times of a bad economy, those stipends are often the first to get tapped, trimmed or even eliminated.
There are reports trending today which indicate teacher salaries, scales, expectations and accountability pieces are facing a few more changes. All I know is most of the good ones teach to make a difference and hope to play some small role in making the world a better place. Most of the good ones don’t take off on the weekends or play the whole summer. Most of the good ones take classes and look for extra opportunities to stay caught up with technology, policies and laws.
We all still barter for resources on a regular basis. We love a good bargain and most of us will dance in the street if we are able to use something someone has thrown away in our classrooms.
While payday is always a welcome date on the calendar, good teachers love their students, love teaching and love the subjects they teach. I don’t think that has changed much the past 150 years.
(Kim McCully-Mobley is a local educator, historian, storyteller and writer with a passion for the Ozarks, its rich heritage and its colorful history. You can reach her through The Ozarkian Spirit at 417-229-2094 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)