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Are Teachers Underpaid? Around the World, People Say Yes

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By Guest Blogger Sasha Jones

Americans think that U.S. teachers are underpaid by an average of $7,500 a year, according to a new global survey.

The Global Teacher Status Index, conducted by the Varkey Foundation, a global charity that supports teachers, surveyed more than 1,000 people from each of 35 countries. To examine differences in perceptions between teachers and the general public, the researchers included an oversample of 200 teachers in 27 of the countries.

In determining how much the public believed teachers should be paid, the survey asked participants what they thought a starting career teacher salary is in their country, and what a fair wage would be. After being told what the actual average wage for teachers is, participants were then asked to judge whether they thought the level of pay was too little, about right, or two much.

Overall, in 28 of the 35 countries surveyed, teachers are being paid less than the amount the general public considers to be a fair wage for the job. The countries in which teachers are being paid more than the amount the public considers a fair wage are Finland, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Singapore. 

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, teachers in the U.S. are paid just over $44,000 a year on average. But U.S. respondents said a fair wage would be $51,500.

Half of U.S. respondents were in favor of performance-related pay; however, support has fallen considerably compared to the earlier 2013 survey, which saw 80 percent of Americans in favor.  

The survey also found that Americans underestimate the number of hours that teachers work. While teachers estimated they worked 50 hours per week, the public assumed teachers worked an average of 45 hours per week.

Compared to other countries, U.S. teachers worked the sixth highest number of hours, according to the oversample of teachers. New Zealand and Singapore teachers were surveyed as working the most, with 52 hours a week. Teachers in Malaysia worked the least with less than 30 hours a week. 

Additionally, respondents were asked to rank 14 occupations, all of which require some sort of higher education, in order of how respected they are. Teachers were on average ranked as the seventh most respected, placing them directly below management consultant and local government manager, and above web designer and social worker.

Still, according to the survey, American's faith in the education system seems to be rising. On average, respondents ranked the quality of the U.S. education system to be a 6.7 out of 10, an increase from 2013's 5.9 average ranking. Forty-two percent of respondents also said they would encourage their child to become a teacher, the fifth highest percentage of all countries surveyed.

Graphic by the Global Teacher Status Index

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