Frustrated with low pay, this Pennsylvania teacher is headed to another state

Christine Schroeder, a math teacher at Mount Union Area Senior High School in Huntingdon County.

By Ashley Adams

May 31, 2024

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a teacher shortage. It might have something to do with the low starting salaries. Here’s one teacher’s experience.

When Christine Schroeder moved to Pennsylvania three years ago, she took a $5,000 pay cut just to continue her teaching career.

Schroeder, a math teacher at Mount Union Area Senior High School in Huntingdon County, had five years of experience teaching in Nebraska when she came to the commonwealth. But because Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize teaching experience from other states, she was essentially starting from square one.

“I started teaching in Pennsylvania at a first-year teacher’s pay but with five years of experience,” Schroeder said. “And I had to jump through hoops just to get the certifications I needed to teach and my background checks. It was a pain in the butt.”

Schroeder will be getting a bump in pay before the next school year—but she’s leaving the state to receive it. She’s recently accepted a teaching job in Washington.

“I’ll be doing less work in my new job and getting paid more than I’m making here in Pennsylvania,” Schroeder said.

According to a report on educator pay from the National Educator Association, the national average starting teacher salary is $44,530. In Pennsylvania, it’s higher, at $49,083. But as Chris Lilienthal, assistant director of communications with the PA State Education Association (PSEA), said, that’s the average for the state. Some areas may offer more, like the southeastern part of the state in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Berks, Lehigh, and Northampton counties, but there are other parts of the state, such as in the northeastern area of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, where the starting salary is hovering in the $30,000 range.

“When you look at educators today and the level of education you need and the certifications you need, when you compare that to other educated people in other careers and their salaries, there is a definite gap,” Lilienthal said. “So now we have people saying, ‘I really want to be a teacher but can I afford to work in public schools?’”

The issue of teacher pay, especially starting teacher salaries, is one of the many reasons schools throughout the commonwealth are in the midst of a teacher shortage, Lilienthal said.

During the 2022-23 school year, more than 9,500 teachers in Pennsylvania left their jobs, according to a study done by the Penn State Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

That’s a 1.5% increase from the prior year, and the largest spike in a decade.

And fewer teachers are coming in behind them. The Penn State study found that there were only 5,101 newly certified teachers in Pennsylvania in 2022.

Schroeder, who has always wanted to be a teacher, can understand why Pennsylvania has a hard time recruiting and keeping teachers.

“I am the fourth teacher to fill my current position in the last three years,” she said. “We lost four or five teachers in our district this year alone. It’s a combination of the pay, the support of the administration, and the support of the community as a whole.”

Schroeder said she puts her heart and soul into her job, often leaving her house before 7 a.m. and not making it home until late in the evening.

“The school day ends at 3:10 p.m.,” Schroeder said. “This year I tried to push myself to get home at a decent time, but there have been nights where I’m still at work at 8 p.m. I’m sitting in my classroom or at one of the school’s sporting events grading papers, getting my lesson plans done for the week. I reorganize and clean my classroom because we only have one custodian so all he really does is empty the trash and sweep the floors. I’m getting burnt out.”

Lilienthal said teachers definitely earn their pay, and should be starting out at higher salaries.

“Educators routinely work 60 hours or more a week,” he said. “Many work outside of school hours as sports coaches or helping with extracurricular activities. On the weekends they are doing school prep and curriculum prep. It is a very intense job. It is a mentally and emotionally draining job.”

It’s also a costly job. Schroeder said most of her classroom consists of items either she purchased or brought from home.

“When I moved everything out of my classroom this year, I had three carloads of my own personal stuff,” Schroeder said. “My husband is a PhD student and I only make a teacher’s salary, so I couldn’t give my kids what I wanted and what they needed towards the end of the school year. I was actually running out of pencils to give to my students.”

So what’s being done at the state level to alleviate the problem?

Lilienthal said the PSEA is working with Democratic state lawmakers, specifically Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), to introduce legislation that would increase the minimum teacher salary in the state from $18,500—an amount set by lawmakers in 1989—to $60,000.

“We can’t afford to continue to ignore the shortage of teachers in the state,” Lilienthal said. “These professionals deserve to be paid professional salaries.”

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION
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