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Rural teachers weren’t well paid during the era of one-room schoolhouses

Rural schools had a hard time attracting teachers in pioneer days due to low wages and harsh working conditions.

The School Teachers’ Invisible Margin

The Bulletin, the official organ of the Manitoba Teachers’ Federation, gives some illuminating facts about teachers’ salaries in the province, facts that might well cause serious-minded citizens to pause and consider whether we can expect to continue paying such salaries as are being paid in the teaching profession, and keep capable teachers in our public schools. Here are the facts about teachers’ salaries in Manitoba, as obtained from questionnaires sent to all first- and second-class teachers outside the city of Winnipeg, and a statement of the average teacher’s expenses for the year (see the accompanying chart below).

A margin of $1.14 of income over expenditure. No comment on such condition of affairs is needed except to say that young men and women, with the training necessary to qualify them for first- and second-class teachers, are not likely to go into the profession, and in a very short time teaching in our public schools will be left to persons who cannot hope to do anything else – because they are too old to turn to anything else or because they lack the gumption to get into some other line of work. Persons of that kind fall far short of being the best teachers. But they will be all that will be left very soon if the teaching profession can offer no better salary inducements than it offers at present.

We are not paying our public school teachers nearly enough, and that is the long and short of the matter. Salaries have to be increased if the right kind of young people are to be attracted to the profession. So long as the man who works on your farm earns more money in a year than the man who teaches your children in the school; or the girl in the steam laundry is paid a higher salary than is paid to the girl who, after spending several years in high school, graduates into the teaching profession, just so long will there be a scarcity of trained, experienced teachers in country schools. Higher salaries (is) the only remedy. Pay the public school teachers what they are worth and plenty of young men and women will go into the profession; pay them as we are doing now, a salary less than unskilled workers are paid in any industry, and we will not only have a scarcity of all kinds of teachers all the time, but a very decided scarcity of capable, experienced, properly trained teachers.

Farmers more than anyone else, should be found supporting any movement to raise the standard of the teaching profession. Country schools, since they average lower in salaries than city schools, will draw a less capable class of teacher. This is not a condition that you or that anyone wants. The best men and women in the teaching profession should be found in the country schools. Well they will be found there just as soon as a majority of us agree that the man or woman who teaches our children should be as well paid as the man who feeds our hogs or drives our horses. The school teachers should have the support of every earnest, clear-thinking citizen in the efforts they are making to raise the standards of the teaching profession.

Nor’-West Farmer, December 5, 1919

Teachers not underpaid

I was interested in an article in the December 5 issue, entitled “The School Teacher’s Invisible Margin.” Now, I am not going to kick or try to make out that teachers generally are overpaid, but it seems to me, and I think it will seem to most people, that the figures given are sadly overdrawn. For instance, the average country teacher is drawing a salary of $900. Average country board, including laundry, is $300. It would seem too that if a young lady spent $225 on clothing every year she would be very well dressed. Incidentals, including railway fares, $75. This leaves a surplus of $300. In regard to insurance, I have talked to a good many teachers and I never yet found a lady teacher who carried any. Sickness is another item that is practically nil, also books and materials.

In regard to board, I have found that a number of country teachers are not paying anywhere near $300, although town teachers do pay $300 in some cases. Farmers’ wives are often imposed on by the cry put up that our butter, milk, eggs, meat and other necessary foodstuffs do not cost us anything, and they often board a teacher for $18 or $20 a month, including washing. If board is worth $30 a month in towns, it certainly should be worth as much in the country, considering a farmer’s wife has a more strenuous time than her town sister.

In regard to the relative salaries of the labouring man and the school teacher, is it not only fair that for the long hours and hard labour, a farmhand or the farmer’s son puts in that they should be well paid? It is a well-known fact that hundreds of farmers have worked faithfully for years and have not had but very little outside of an honest living to the good. What is needed in the teaching profession, as well as in lots of other walks of life, is more individuals who will take their profession and themselves more seriously.

– A Farmer, Elgin, Man.

Nor’-West Farmer, February 5, 1920

Higher salaries for teachers

In your issue of Feb. 5, I noticed an article written by “A Farmer” of Elgin, Man. stating that teachers were not underpaid.

In the first place, according to his figures, a teacher can, if she is very careful of her nickels, save $300 in a year. So at the end of 20 years she would have the enormous sum of $6,000 laid aside and would, no doubt, be a grey-headed woman. The same would apply to a man teacher. Now there are many farmers who would receive double that amount in profit out of one year’s crop.

In regard to board, he states that farmers’ wives frequently board a teacher for $18 to $20 per month. If he would mention a few places where this is done I am sure the so-named places would have no difficulty in securing a teacher.

If the teacher’s salary had increased in comparison with the labouring man’s salary the teacher of today would be receiving $1,500 per annum. A labouring man who received $2 a day before the war, is receiving $5 a day now, an increase of 150 per cent. A teacher who received $600 a year before the war will receive $900 a year now, an increase of 50 per cent. In one of our neighbouring towns about two years ago the scavenger of the town was drawing $1,500 a year, while the principal of the high school was receiving $1,200. Imagine a school teacher who had spent several hundred dollars to learn his profession receiving less money than a scavenger, a man who might have been an uneducated Ruthenian. “A Farmer” also makes hints at the short hours teachers have. It was the short hours that induced me to learn the profession but I find now that one hour in school is about equal to two hours on the farm. I have had experience with both.

The teachers of Manitoba should be so united as to have a fixed minimum salary of $1,000 for an inexperienced teacher and other salaries in comparison with his or her experience. They have a fixed salary in some parts of Manitoba which will no doubt prove successful. Manitoba must pay her teachers more or else they will flock to Saskatchewan like they have been doing during the past years and leave the people of Manitoba to grow up in ignorance.

– “A Discouraged Teacher”

Nor’-West Farmer, March 20, 1920

This spirited debate was originally published in the Nor’West Farmer in the winter of 1919-20.

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