The Paradox of Teacher Occupational Prestige and Teacher Income; A Few Observations

In some parts of the world, particularly in Eastern Asia, teachers are the most highly regarded occupational group or on par with physicians.  They seem less esteemed in the U.S.  Is that true, and what does it mean?

In 1947 the first report was issued from the University of Chicago’s  National Occupational Research Center (NORC) on what was termed “occupational prestige”.

The process of gaining the ranking of prestige was a part of the SEI (socioeconomic index).  Prestige was examined from several aspects.  It turns out that most people esteem occupations that provide a high income and require a good deal of education.  However, among working class individuals prestige assumes a more moralistic character; worthiness.

When I first went into medicine I heard all sorts of positive and negative comments.  Many ran along the lines of “doctors make too much money” or “I don’t mind that doctors make a lot of money; I just don’t think they should make it all off of one person.”  On the positive side this was a common response.  “I really respect doctors.  They are so dedicated.”

The negative comments I understood, but I couldn’t exactly understand what dedicated meant to the other group.  I had been dedicated to studying in order to be accepted into medical school.  I had been dedicated to getting through.  I was a dedicated resident learning as much as possible.  I was dedicated to performing well in the medical group I was part of.  I slowly understood that this was not what dedicated meant to that group.

Dedicated meant willing to work night and day regardless of whether or not I got paid.  Dedicated had a moral quality of selflessness and devotion.

Since its inception the methods of study has been tweaked, but the results seem to turn out the same.  There have been four studies, the last released in 2012, that have looked at over 800 occupations.  Some like “street corner drug dealer” and “panhandler” were dismissed as not being real occupations and some like “businessman” were too vague to characterize.

The 2012 report places an occupation in the top four that did not even exist in 1947.  Some occupations that did exist in 1947 don’t today.

The top occupations with SEI score are:

Physicians                            86.05

Lawyers                              74.77

Computer Systems Analyst  73.70

Teacher                              73.51

Physicist or Astronomer      73.48

Chemist                               73.33

Architect                            73.15

Biological or Life Scientist  73.14

Physical scientist, NOS        73.09

Chemical Engineer               72.30

Professor                            71.79

Judge                                 71.49

Engineer (NOS)                   70.69

Public Administrator/CEO   70.45

Geologist                             69.75

Psychologist                        69.39

Manager, Medicine/Health  69.22

Aerospace Engineer            69.22

Clergy                                 68.96

Civil Engineer                      68.81

Many of these highly ranked occupations are probably esteemed on the basis of perceived educational requirement without having any idea about income or “worthiness”.

This past year, as a culmination of a decade or so of conservative legislation put in place by state legislatures and ratified by governors who belonged to the Tea Party wing of the GOP, teachers in several states have walked out.  Earlier West Virginia teachers demanded pay increases, and this past week teachers walked out in Oklahoma and Kentucky.

The Tea Party wing has had as its focus reducing taxes, and they have done this with the tired mantra that reduced taxes will free businesses to invest more and improve the economy.  They have been very successful despite the fact that this affect has never, ever happened.

Education is one of the top expenses at the state level and the greatest expense at the local level in states.

Consequently, teacher’s salaries, education related expenses, and educational administration have been the top programs that were either cut or not funded fully.

Teachers and students tell stories across the country, and especially in “Red” states of teachers buying supplies out of their own salaries pockets so that school could go on.

“First of all, Douglas ran out of paper for, like, two weeks in the school year, and now all a sudden they have $400 million to pay for teachers to get trained to arm themselves? Really? Really?” ~ Emma Gonzalez, Parkland, Florida school shooting survivor.

At first blush it might seem that voters in Kentucky and Oklahoma will side with the teachers as they demand a package of pay, bonuses, and increases support for ancillary services and personnel, but that may not be the case.

Why do people hold teachers in high esteem?  It is the moral “worthiness” factor, not income that puts teachers just below physicians, lawyers and systems analysts.  In fact those people who voted for Trump, the unemployed or under employed working class, who still see themselves as middle class, will assign prestige to teachers because they don’t get paid a lot, and still grade papers and make up lesson plans at night and on weekends, to serve their children.

The effect of a decades-long push by conservative politicians and certain Christian groups to defund public schools and allow reimbursement for alternative charter schools is another factor to be considered.

CNN aired a program about the relative esteem for teachers around the world in celebration of Teachers Day.

They found a curious paradox.  The most successful school systems are in South Korea, Singapore and Finland.  Students are educated quite differently in these countries, but they have something in common; teachers are treated well and paid well in all three.

Globally, the U.S. ranks 9th of the top 20 nations in regards to esteem for teachers.  China ranks highest with Greece ranked second.  As a general rule, though, European countries do not regard educators highly.

With China representing a score of 100, Israel has a score of 2.0, just below Brazil in esteem for teachers.  Brazil and Israel also pay teachers little.

Finland ranks highest among European countries on the PISA tests in reading, science and math.  However, it is nowhere near the top in terms of pay.  What teachers there seem to have is a great deal of autonomy and support. 

Some time back American educators visited to see what they might be doing wrong.  What they saw that was shocking were mandatory recess, and teachers making a game out of the process of learning.  Finland's teachers thought that school should be fun, because that children learn better that way. 

By contrast, American school systems have been subjected to a process of teaching to a test, and the school experience of students has been regimented and brought to uniformity.

The New York Times described the actions of teachers as being a wildfire. 

“Walkout Update: Kentucky and Oklahoma Return to Class as Arizona and Colorado Become Latest Fronts for Teacher Unrest”

The walkouts are unlikely to end anytime soon. 

What will it take to have a real shift in regard for teachers and public education?

Views: 153

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 25, 2018 at 6:50pm

Steel Breeze, "another bick in the wall" is for you.

Comment by koshersalaami on April 25, 2018 at 6:56pm

Good question

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 25, 2018 at 7:07pm

Brick, not “bick”. 

Comment by Steel Breeze on April 26, 2018 at 5:20am

R&L....just for Floyd...

Comment by Ron Powell on April 26, 2018 at 6:22am

"What will it take to have a real shift in regard for teachers and public education?"

When  it becomes apparent to the average American that there must be a change in the way teachers and the service they provide are regarded, it may be too late to recover from the losses that must inevitably be incurred and repair the damage that is being done to individuals as consumers of public education and the society that produces it.

If Americans don't value education and educators now, it's quite likely that they never will.

If you want to know whether high quality public education is perceived as being of vital importance to us as a nation and a society.... follow the money....

Comment by alsoknownas on April 26, 2018 at 6:55am

We cannot expect the system to turn around with the same people in charge ( read "people" as "generation"). I have been around teachers for decades and know that most are highly dedicated, but too ensconced by now in the system. The ones I know better are taking leave, collecting pensions and reminiscing. Some have the energy left to become more socio-politically active.

But the saving grace will be those in their mid 30-40's now and even more those of Emma Gonzalez's generation. 

They are not going to sit down and be quiet any longer.

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 26, 2018 at 8:09am

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 26, 2018 at 8:18am

Breeze, I bought the album in 1979 or['80 and wore it out.  The best mage in the video is the sausage grinder.  And, you're welcome.

Comment by Rodney Roe on April 26, 2018 at 8:20am

I think the people my granddaughters' ages and younger will change a lot unless the republic is totally destroyed by Putin admirers first.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on April 27, 2018 at 7:47am

It has never been clear to me, 40 years a teacher and an administrator, that our culture honors the choice to teach (independent of, or tied to salaries). 


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