Editor’s Note: Today, The Dispatch will present the first in a two-part series focusing on teachers and coaches. The first part provides background about the working conditions for teachers and coaches in the state of Mississippi. It also highlights some of the challenges they face.
In the second part of the series next week, The Dispatch will present the thoughts of four coaches with varying levels of experience and examine how they came to be teachers and coaches and how they feel the work they do has changed over the years.
Barbie Ferguson began teaching high school in 1982 in Horn Lake. She made $11,000 in her first year and had to live with her parents.
These days, Ferguson is the deputy director of Mississippi Professional Educators, and first-year teachers in Mississippi with a bachelor’s degree earn $33,390 a year.
She said teaching is easily a 60-hour-a-week job. In addition to the work teachers do every day in the classroom, they plan lessons, grade papers, come in early and stay late to help their students and deal with parents and paperwork.
The average teacher in the state today makes around $45,000 a year, but that is due to a recent raise. Teachers won a legislative victory in April of this year, when Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill that is raising teacher salaries in state public schools $2,500 through next July. In 2013, Mississippi teachers were the second-lowest paid in the nation, with an average of $41, 994, according to the National Education Association. Ferguson said the raises are encouraging, but still fears the state may lose quality teachers to states that pay more.
“Our salaries have evolved and grown over the years, and it’s never been enough,” Ferguson said.
Despite the raises, many teachers feel they are underappreciated and that many don’t understand the number of hours what their jobs entail. The same can be said for coaches, especially football coaches, who often are among the busiest of any coaches in a typical school year. Not only do football coaches have the largest number of student-athletes, they also are involved with numerous teams (middle school, freshman, junior varsity) and have a variety of other responsibilities like field and equipment maintenance and oversight of discipline and grades for their players, among other things. If all of those things were taken into consideration, the hourly rate a coach in the state of Mississippi earns would be far less than other professionals.
But Ferguson doesn’t believe the public recognizes everything teachers do. In fact, she feels the public perception of teachers has become more negative in recent years, and that those perceptions are based on “bad apples.” She said that disappoints her because she believes teachers are being asked to do more every day.
“We’re doing a lot more than we did years ago,” Ferguson said.
Still, Ferguson has plenty of positive experience with parents and former students to keep her committed to her craft. Last week, four parents whose children were taught by Ferguson at Clinton High School thanked her for helping their children apply for colleges and scholarships. Their kids recently graduated from Mississippi State. She hopes legislative action will bring more raises to teachers soon.
“I believe there’s still hope in our educators that our legislature will make the right decision for us,” she said.
She said that even with the low pay, she would gladly repeat her 30-plus year career.
“When you teach, you love the profession,” Ferguson said. “And you love the kids.”
In high school, all coaches are teachers, too.
“Coaching is like your second shift,” said New Hope High School Athletic Director Dale Hardin, a longtime head and assistant football coach at the school.
School districts pay coaches a supplement for working their second shift. The supplement varies by staff position and sport. Today, head football coaches in Mississippi average supplements of around $30,000. Starkville High football coach Jamie Mitchell and Columbus High football coach Randal Montgomery make around $72,000 for teaching and coaching.
The supplements for coaches, like teachers salaries, have grown with the cost of living.
Rusty Greene, who is athletic director for the Columbus Municipal School District, began coaching baseball in 1993. He received a supplement of $1,700 for his efforts. He said baseball coaches now receive supplements closer to $9,000.
“Supplements have come up overtime, thankfully,” Greene said. “But no one does it for the money.”
When Hardin began coaching at New Hope in 1981 he coached the high school football team, the junior high school football team, the ninth-grade football team, and was the assistant baseball coach in the spring. His coaching supplement for the year was $1,100. He said he didn’t become a coach for the money but for a love of the kids and the game. As an athletic director, he would like to see all of the coaches at New Hope High receive more compensation for the work they do. The present supplements, he said, aren’t enough.
“For the time the coaches put in, I don’t think so,” Hardin said.
John Mims the executive director of the Mississippi Association of Coaches, said a lot of coaches put in extra hours. The number of hours depends on their sport and their position on the coaching staff.
“You may have one coach who works 70-80 hours a week and one who does 50 hours a week,” Mims said.
Hardin said coaches and coordinators at New Hope High probably spend an additional 40 hours every week working with their sport on top of what they do as teachers. He said the games follow coaches even when they are “off.”
“It never leaves you,” Hardin said. “It’s always on your mind.”
Hardin and Greene said football coaches are the highest paid coaches due to the number of hours that goes into the preparing for the sport on the field, in the film room, and in the weight room. Greene said the revenue football teams generate typically drive schools’ athletic programs.
“A successful football season will pay for all other sports,” Greene said. “A major portion of our budget comes from football.”
Mims believes the status of coaches has improved over the years because of the roles they hold in their players’ lives.
“I would say in this day and time, they are probably looked up to more as role models,” Mims said.
Mims said the increasing number of students from single-parent families has forced coaches to fill additional roles, like a psychiatrist or a nutritionist.
“I think it is still a respected profession,” Hardin said. “I think a lot of people want to be coaches.”
Hardin said sports in Mississippi play a big role in society and culture, and that coaching is and has been a respected profession throughout the years.
Greene hopes coaches at Columbus High realize the opportunity they have to influence their players.
“It’s still a chance to influence lives,” Greene said. ” A lot of people don’t get that chance.”