Elementary school teacher draws praise with video breaking down his starting salary: ‘Teachers deserve better’

·4-min read

An elementary school teacher in Ohio is sparking a widespread conversation about teachers’ salaries.

The viral moment began when Kyle Cohen, a fourth-grade teacher based in Cleveland, posted a TikTok sharing the total salary he made in his first year of work. The clip, in which Cohen revealed that he made $31,000 before taxes, immediately went viral and sparked a massive debate on the app. 

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Many of the comments on Cohen’s video were supportive — with users arguing that teachers deserve much higher pay — but a few were critical. One comment, which pointed out that teachers “only” work for eight to nine months of the year, sparked a response from Cohen. 

That clip went even more viral than the first. In it, Cohen broke down how many hours he works in a normal week — and how little he makes for each of those hours. 

Cohen told In The Know that he posted the video to help “shed light on the current realities educators are facing.” He said he’d shared a similar clip on his YouTube channel (he posts similar content on Instagram as well) and decided to delve deeper into the concept — largely because of how these financial strains impact students. 

“Students are experiencing more challenges than ever before as a result of the pandemic,” Cohen said. “If we don’t address these issues, it’s the students, our future leaders, who are going to face the consequences.”

In the TikTok, Cohen begins by explaining that he usually works about 50 hours a week, or roughly 200 hours each month. Then, he adds that he also puts in an “extra” 40 or so hours each month for lesson planning, parent-teacher conferences and other after-school events. 

“This week, for example, it’s 6 o’clock in the evening,” Cohen says from his classroom. “I have conferences that go until 8 o’clock. I also have conferences next week…”

Then, he crunches the numbers. He multiplies his 240 hours by the nine months he works each year, then divides that number into $31,000 — the salary he made in his first year. The result? Just $14 an hour. 

In his video, Cohen was also quick to emphasize that he is “incredibly grateful” for his career and loves being a teacher. He also told In The Know that he knew what he was getting into — and he was never scared off by the job’s salary constraints. 

“Teaching is always referred to as being an ‘underpaid job,'” he said. “Family and friends always made comments about the lack of salaries teachers get paid in this country. With that being said, I never allowed these comments to keep me from a field I knew I was meant to be in.”

Instead, Cohen just hopes his clips can start more conversations about how little most teachers make in a year.

“My hope in making these videos is to start some real conversations,” Cohen told In The Know. “Our teachers — and students — deserve the best, and it is the unfortunate reality that we are far from making this dream a reality.”

TikTok users were quick to come to Cohen’s support. His video is now full of praiseworthy comments as well as plenty of outrage.

“It should be $70K minimum for any teacher, regardless of grade level,” one user argued

“Teachers deserve better,” another added

“My God, this system needs to change,” another wrote.  

The problem spans beyond just the U.S., though. In a recent study of teacher salaries worldwide, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that, in terms of pay, America actually rates higher than several other developed nations. 

For example, the average starting salary for an American primary school teacher is close to $42,000, which was actually 10th among the 36 countries surveyed. The U.S. ranked above Canada, Sweden, Japan, Isreal and more, while ranking behind nations like Germany, Spain and Denmark. 

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