Community | Opinion

Yes, Low Teacher Pay is a Problem in Michigan: Part 2 of 6

One thing seems to be a constant when I speak with teachers from many districts. Salary steps are almost nonexistent as a consistent part the contract. Many teachers in traditional school districts, which typically have a collective bargaining contract, get paid on a salary schedule. It is designed to pay teachers more when they achieve advancements in their education and for their years of service. The issue plaguing many school districts is ice cold.

It is called being frozen at a step. For many new teachers this means being frozen at base pay. With districts issuing pay cuts and a state mandated cost in health care, it has become almost unlivable. It is not to be forgotten that many teachers are crippled by the same student loan debt as seen in other professions. Teachers in the state of Michigan, although not immediate, are required to obtain a advancements in their education. While it is relevant to have a highly trained and educated teaching staff, a direct and immediate financial burden is placed on those who wish to educate Michigan’s youth.

It is a part of the profession that teachers realized when still in their collegiate education programs. The part that became devastating was the lack of advancement on the salary schedule once the new teacher found a full time position. The American college system works the same way for teachers as it does for anyone else. A student will hedge money, often times loans, with the anticipation that future employment will make them financially secure. Teachers go into the profession because they have a passion for what they do. The American tradition of low teacher salaries means current teachers do not expect to become wealthy. At the same time, should teachers expect not even to be financially secure? Should educating children be considered a side job in a household income rather than a primary means of a respectable middle class lifestyle?

There can be much said about school funding, but reality is more prudent. I know full time teachers who are on Bridge Cards. This is not a lie and it is not a joke. There are teachers in the state of Michigan who have a hard time feeding their own children. Most teachers, thankfully, are not in this predicament. But in my case, I do not feel that I could raise a family on my salary. Though many teachers who were frozen at a higher step are able to take care of their familial responsibilities, this is a warning. It is a signal rearing its head that if unheeded will become the downfall of the profession in Michigan.

It is not a wonder, as the Free Press reported in April, less and less people want to become teachers. A student has to look at a college education as an investment, and with all investments future gains must be a consideration. Teachers teach because they have a passion for their students. But without access to a secure financial future, passion is often stifled. 


Paul Ruth
Paul obtained a M.A. in English from Marygrove College and is a high school English teacher at East Detroit High School and adjunct college English instructor. He has been published in various places around the web, and seeks to write on topics that impact the greater community.