by David Safier
Hey, I always thought our teachers, like all those "government workers," are underworked and overpaid (said the retired high school English teacher, sarcastically). So imagine my surprise when I learned that U.S. teachers spend more time in the classroom than teachers in other developed countries.
The average teaching time for elementary school teachers is 782 hours per year. The U.S. tops the list at 1,131 hours (We're number 1! We're number 1!). You have to go 20 stops down the list before you hit the countries with the highest scores on international tests. Japan's teachers spend about 660 hours teaching each year, Korea's teachers about 640 and Finland's teachers about 620.
In middle and high school, U.S. teachers also top the international list of hours taught per year, and they're also required to spend more time at school.
How about teacher pay? Well, in straight salary comparisons, U.S. teachers fare pretty well. But when you compare teachers' salaries with what people with similar educations get in other professions, the U.S. is 28th out of 33. And our teacher's salaries don't go up as fast as elsewhere. After 15 years, a U.S. teacher's salary goes up about 23%. Over the same time span, teachers in Japan and Korea get a 75% increase.
So, U.S. teachers who spend more time in front of students than their peers elsewhere have less time to prepare and less time to meet with other colleagues, which detracts from their ability to teach effectively and improve their skills over time. And when our teachers compare their paychecks with what their college graduate friends are making, they're likely to think, "I could be making a hell of a lot more now, and even more 15 years from now, if I get out of this line of work."