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Teeching teen drivers – high stress, high pay

The State Journal-Register (Springfield)
CHICAGO - Driver's education teachers in Illinois are among the longest tenured and highest paid in the state, with more than one in 10 earning at least $100,000 a year, according to an analysis of statewide data conducted by the Chicago Tribune.

Full-time driver's education instructors earned an average of $64,503, and more than 11 percent took home six-figure salaries. Both figures were among the highest in the state, the Tribune reported in a story published Sunday. The average pay for all teachers in the 2002-03 school year was $50,537.

All teachers' earnings are driven largely by experience and level of education, though compensation for coaching sports and overtime for working weekends also was a factor in the salaries of driver's education teachers.

According to the data, driver's education teachers average about 21 years of experience – more than instructors who taught physics (15), biology (13) and civics (12). The data includes only teachers whose main assignment is driver's education.

"There is something seriously wrong with driver's ed teachers making so much money, based mainly on the fact that they've been around for so long," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform in Washington. "We should be looking at the areas with the most need, the areas where it's hard to attract good teachers, and pay them gobs of money.

"No one can tell me that a driver's ed teacher is as valuable to a school as a good math or science teacher."

Mark Gruca believes they are.

A driving instructor in suburban Chicago, Gruca says driver's education teachers work just as hard and are every bit as valuable as instructors in other subjects. Gruca has taught driver's education for 26 years and studied the subject in college.

"This is not a job that is free from stress," he said. "I don't think it is healthy to pit one teaching profession against one another. We all work hard. We all want to make a difference in kids' lives. I don't know if any of us get paid enough."

Mike Warner, assistant superintendent for instruction in Glenbard Township High School District 87, said the district does not alter pay on the basis of teaching assignment. The district's driving teachers average about 18 years of experience and make an average of $85,933. English teachers averaged about 15 years and took home $69,428.

In Palatine, Township District 211 spent $1.6 million on its 18 driver's education teachers - 11 of whom made more than $100,000 last year, according to the state data.

Mason Minnes, president of the Illinois High School & College Driver Education Association, said it's not uncommon for instructors to begin their careers teaching other subjects before switching to driver's education as they near retirement.

"It's a great career, very satisfying, and because of that people don't want to leave once they get into it," he said.