In many ways, teachers are the backbone of any civilized society. For the United States to continue to compete in today's ever-intensifying global economy, American students depend on top-quality, committed teachers. But teachers aren't paid nearly what they should be paid. Not only do teachers' salaries start at lower figures than other professionals, but their salaries do not keep pace with inflation as they put more years into teaching.

U.S. census data shows that the annual pay for teachers has fallen drastically over the past 60 years, when compared to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. According to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average national starting salary for a teacher is around $30,377. But the study showed that other college graduates entering professions that require similar training and responsibilities start at much higher salaries. For example, public accountants start at $44,668; computer programmers start at an average of $43,635; and registered nurses start at about $45,570. The average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now more than 50% higher than the average earnings of a teacher. And in addition to starting salaries being lower, inflation has grown faster than the increases in teachers' salaries each year. On an average, if inflation has increased by 3%, teachers' salaries have increased by only 2%.

Because teachers do not work a 9 to 5 job and do not work the familiar full-year schedule that most professionals have, many people think that teachers are well-paid when compared to other professions. But that myth couldn't be further from the truth. Teachers work just as long or longer than the typical 40-hour work week of other professions. Six or seven hours is their contracted workday, but unlike other jobs, teachers are expected to work at home, at night, and on weekends. For teachers, the workday isn't over when the last bell of the day sounds. Teachers spend an average of 50 hours a week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities, such as grading papers, advising students and clubs, and bus duty. The Center for Teaching Quality studied teachers in Clark County, NV, and it found that most teachers worked significant numbers of additional hours outside the school day. The official report stated, "Very little of this time is spent working directly with students in activities such as tutoring or coaching; far more time is reported on preparation, grading papers, parent conferences, and attending meetings."

Teachers who do not work in year-round schools often spend their summers working second jobs, teaching summer school, or taking classes for certification renewal or to advance their careers in the hopes of increasing their pay. Most full-time employees in the private sector receive training on company time at company expense. Teachers, by comparison, earn college hours on their own time, at their own expense. And although school doesn't begin until late August or early September, teachers report to duty before the school starts to stock supplies, set up classrooms, and prepare for the year.

Many people think that teachers get automatic raises each year, regardless of how well they perform. But there is no other profession where people earn less each year because their salary can't keep up with inflation. Most teachers are placed on a salary schedule with increments for seniority on the job. But they are rigorously evaluated, have to regularly be re-certified, and meet increasingly complex state and federal standards, and they are expected to eventually advance to a master's degree level and beyond.

Teaching is not an easy profession, by any means. Like many professionals, teachers are trained, certified professionals. More than 57% of all teachers hold master's degrees, and all teachers need to have completed extensive coursework in learning theory and educational practice. Most teachers believe that teaching is a calling that includes a love of children and the ability to engage and encourage them. Providing top-quality education to today's American children is complex, demanding work that requires high levels of creativity, adaptability, resourcefulness, and thoughtful planning.

The rewards of being a teacher are often used to explain why teachers' salaries are not as high as other professionals. But those lower salaries come at a high cost to society. Nearly 50% of all new teachers leave the profession within five years, and 37% of teachers who are planning to stop teaching before retirement blame low pay for their decision. Although most educators enter the teaching profession because they want to work with children, schools must realize that to attract and retain the most dedicated, committed professional teachers, they must provide salaries that are attractive and comparable to those of other professionals. The future of America depends upon it.