Thursday, July 21, 2011

Does this sound like teachers in your community?

As part of an occasional series, CNN published today an item on a teacher from Florida who is choosing to leave the classroom, and her reasons for it.

This is Linda DeRegnaucourt's last summer off. When school starts in August, it will be her last year to think about high school classes, advanced placement tests and calculus.

If all goes as planned, this will be her last year teaching at Palm Bay High School in Brevard County, Florida.

She doesn't want to go. After 13 years of teaching high-level math, she has a tested stable of learning methods that helped all her students pass the AP calculus exam. Her room is a popular place for students to escape the drama of the high school cafeteria. Few jobs can indulge her excitement for linear functions and matrix calculus.

"I hate to have to leave it," DeRegnaucourt said. "I really thought I was going to be that teacher, 65 years old and retiring from the education field. That's not going to happen."

She's quitting, she said, because she can't afford to stay.

Two years ago, a divorce left 47-year-old DeRegnaucourt with a single income. Rental properties she owned only caused more financial strain as Florida's real estate market fell apart in recent years. Despite her years of experience, she earns $38,000, she said, less than she made in the past, when teachers received larger supplements for additional certifications.

Once she made a budget, she realized she didn't make enough money to cover her expenses and save for her future. Changing careers felt like the only wise financial move, she said.

DeRegnaucourt isn't the only one.

Attracting the best students to teaching -- and keeping them -- is tough for schools across the country. Average starting teaching salaries are $39,000, and rise with experience to an average of $54,000, according to "Closing the Talent Gap," a 2010 report by McKinsey & Company. Teacher salaries can't compete with other careers, the report said, and annual teacher turnover in the United States is 14%. At "high-needs" high schools, it is 20%.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development data from 2007 said the United States ranks 20th out of 29 for starting teacher salaries, and 23rd out of 29 for teacher salaries after 15 years.

But it's not just the pay, DeRegnaucourt said, "It's the way we're treated."

Her colleagues have waited until just before school starts to learn what courses they'll be teaching, she said. Uncertainty makes it impossible to prepare, hard to succeed.

"Five years ago, 10 years ago, kids would ask me, should they become teachers? I was like, 'Oh, God, yes, I love what I do,' " she said. "Now, I tell my kids, 'You're really, really bright. Why don't you think about going into (this or that?)' They have the potential to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, CEOs and scientists. Why would I recommend to my kids, who I absolutely love, to struggle for years?"


  1. Sadly, it does sound familiar. As a senior instructor at USC, where I've been about 10 years, I make just over $37,000.. It's the most fun & challenging job I've had, and I've received teaching awards & other types of recognition, but I can't afford it anymore. I'm supplementing my income with iPhone programming, and pondering when I can leave the university.

  2. As I posted on CNN... if she were teaching high school math here in Canada, with her experience she would be making 70 thousand plus a defined benefit pension plan and all health care covered by the government. We have lower taxes and the Canadian dollar is worth more. We do have higher consumption taxes; the more you spend the more you pay.

    We could use all the good teach we can get so please check out moving to Canada. It is a beautiful country that appreciates its teachers.

  3. There are many facets to this story, but just focusing on the salary for a moment...if a teaching degree has no more value than that after all those years, it's no wonder some of our students graduate with no motivation for college. The high school students who graduate from my local high school, who took a welding class can go to work at any one of the local manufacturers in the area making $20 an hour and with no student loans to pay off. It just seems to me that there are fewer and fewer reasons to go into teaching. How sad. By the way, if you can read this, thank a teacher.

  4. This is a real statement on America's PRIORITIES! When a sports figure or an actor (with no real talent other than willingness to show or do anything) can make six-figure salaries, and a school teacher cannot even afford basic living expenses, what does this say about a society? To me it says there is something very BASIC wrong!