Accuracy in Media

Teen Vogue goes horribly wrong when it tries to discuss teacher salaries in a new piece.

They forget the hours and months that teachers work; they forget that it is total compensation that matters, not cash wages. They use starting salaries, not average salaries. But the really big complaint we have here is that Teen Vogue complains about student debt among teachers. But there are four different federal programs to forgive student loans among teachers. The entire aim of this is to make sure that after someone has shown their commitment to teaching then the loans are forgiven.

As Teen Vogue says “average starting teacher salary at $33,234,” and “teacher’s starting salary is approximately $40,000 a year” and so on. But it’s not unusual that professional salaries start out low and then rise with experience. It’s the average over time that matters: “$64,133… That’s the national average for public school teachers” That includes principals and so on, the average for all kindergarten and elementary teachers is $60,600. Which is a lot different from that starting salary and also an important number for decision making. Who takes a lifetime career choice on the first year’s pay, after all?

Teen Vogue also misses that teachers get that two months off in the summer. So, this calculation is wrong: “Really, you’re looking at a 60- to 80-hour workweek, depending on who you are and how many classes you’re teaching. I did the math right before [our interview], actually, and if a teacher’s starting salary is approximately $40,000 a year, and if you’re working 60 hours a week, that’s only about $12 or $13 an hour.” “ That $12 or $13 is only true (a 60-hour week is 3120 hours a year if 52 weeks worked, divide $40,000 by 3,120 and it’s $12.82 an hour) if we don’t count that teachers get that 2-month summer break.

Teen Vogue also misses that it’s not wages that matter, it’s compensation. The pension, health care, paid and personal days off and so on add some 45% to the typical teacher pay deal. That is, all those other things are worth 45% of the cash paid. Health care costs are another $10,500 a year, personal days and so on $5,000 and the pension is maybe $13,000 a year. Add those in – and use average salaries, not starting – and teaching just isn’t a low-paid occupation.

You know, if you’re going to start talking about economic numbers and pay you’d better be using the right economic numbers and pay, right? Otherwise, you’d be misleading the readers.

But what tips this over from merely misleading into outright misinformation is this:

“The student debt crisis also heavily impacts those tasked with educating future generations of students. Indeed, 45% of educators around the country have taken out loans to pay for their education, with more than half of them still facing an average outstanding balance of $58,700, according to a 2021 report from the National Education Association (NEA) on educators with student debt. For Black educators with an outstanding balance, nearly one in five owe more than $100,000 in student loans, according to that same report.”

No, this is already sorted. There are four different federal programs to pay off the student debts of teachers. Some only pay a little bit of a certain type of loan and so on. But the main one is the public service one (PSLF). Make minimum payments – that’s not even keeping up with the interest for most – and teach for 10 years and the Feds pay off the student loans. You don’t even get charged income tax on the forgiveness.

So complaining about student debt among teachers is not must misleading, it’s misinformation, because that’s a problem that’s already been solved. Teachers already get student loan relief.

Teen Vogue ranks at No. 416 in the lists of U.S. news and media publishers. It gains 5.4 million visits a month from that position. The readership obviously trends female and teen. Their declared aim is “to educate the influencers of tomorrow” and that’s a fine aim.

The problem with educating people is that you’ve actually got to tell them the truth. Average teacher salaries are in fact pretty good but Teen Vogue uses starting salaries to make them look bad. When they do an hourly calculation they miss the two months off teachers get. They also entirely ignore the benefits teachers get, health care, pensions and so on. Finally, they whine about student loans when there are already loan forgiveness programs for teachers. Heck the federal government itself runs a page telling teachers which is the best way to get those loans forgiven fastest.

Missing one or other of these points could be said to be a mistake. Missing all of them is not just a mistake, it’s bias. Ending up as gross misinformation about the pay and incomes of teachers.




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