According to the Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, there are approximately 2.3 million teachers working at the elementary and middle school level in the US in 2008. When census information includes pre-schools, high schools, special education teachers and college instructors, the number climbs to approximately 6.1 million.
The total US population is more than 300 million. In estimated figures, this means that teachers comprise about 2% of the total population. There are about 76 million students enrolled in the country, representing a 1-to-12 ratio. This is rarely the ratio, however, since a fair share of jobs held by teachers may teach a smaller number of students. For example, a part-time college professor might teach only one class, or a special education teacher might teach only a handful of students.
It should be noted, however, that while the population of US students has doubled in the past few years, the population of US teachers has tripled. This leads some to suggest that there are too many. In fact, in some areas, it is extremely difficult to entice teachers to work.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teachers are also primarily female. The BLS found that 97.8% of those working in preschool and kindergarten are women, while females represent 54.9% of those at secondary schools, 49.2% of post secondary schools, and 86% of special education teachers. Many attribute a greater share of women to pay that is not enough in many parts of the country to support a family. Many female teachers do singly support a family on their salaries, however, though this remains challenging.
The average teacher in California, for example, may not make enough in salary to purchase a house in most areas of the state. Most in the more populated parts of California who are homeowners, are able to do this by combining earnings with that of a spouse. Urban area teachers may make the most, but have to compete with the higher costs of housing in most major cities. This means they seldom can be said to comfortably exist on their salaries.
Data also shows that 9.3% of elementary and middle school teachers are black, and 7.1% are Hispanic. The Asian community is even less represented, with 2.4% at this grade level being Asian. These figures draw concern since they are not in keeping with the racial makeup of the United States. Schools that are predominantly Hispanic or black might be lucky to have one or two teachers who are from their culture, and thus represent role models for a community.
Concern for lack of adequate cultural representation is especially great in urban areas where minority children living in poverty are more at risk for criminal behavior. With fewer teacher role models who are of the same culture, the attempt to join gangs or simply lose interest in school is more prevalent. Like all people, children need connections, community, and a sense of belonging. In neighborhoods predominated by one race, teachers of the same race may help provide a sense of community, which those of a different race may not provide. There are noted exceptions. Yet many hope to encourage more minorities to teach so minorities have more representation in education.