Courtesy of Dina Leygerman

I’m A Teacher That Received An $80 Raise Last Year, & I’m Worn Out

By
Share

Two weeks ago, all of my social media feeds were swarming with seemingly angry and disheartened responses to Katie Reilly’s TIME article, “‘I Work 3 Jobs and Donate Blood Plasma to Pay the Bills.’ This Is What It’s Like to Be a Teacher in America.” Friends, family, and strangers tirelessly shared this piece along with their sentiments. “How horrible,” one of them wrote. “What have we come to?” another questioned. And I was there for all of it. I was there for the evaluation of teacher’s income and how teachers in America have to work multiple jobs to afford life’s basic necessities. I was there for crushing personal stories, the staggering statistics, and for the real accounts of passion and vision. I felt it all: the passion for the profession, the love for the students, and the deeply-rooted frustration with the system. But although I felt heard through this article, I also knew that it would only remain on people’s radar for no longer than 24 hours. I knew that in a day everyone’s rage would subside and they would all go back to their lives, completely unaffected by the piece and the heartbreaking stories within it.

As a high school English teaching in Philadelphia, I haven’t had to sell plasma, work as a Starbucks barista, or as a cashier at the local supermarket to supplement my pitiful salary. I am privileged and lucky in that respect. But I have tutored, taught summer school, freelanced, and worked part-time as a writer. I have managed a full-time teaching job, a part-time job, and various side-jobs all at once. I have worn myself out, worked myself sick, and battled anxiety that crept up with every bill that found its way into my mailbox. I have dreaded the credit card statement, put items back in the line at the grocery store, and then put the rest of the groceries on credit because there wasn’t enough cash in my bank account. I have asked for a raise, only to be told “it wouldn’t be fair to the other teachers" or given a paltry stipend that gets taxed at 40 percent.

Still, I continue to do what I do. I continue to give my students everything I have, continue to teach like there’s no tomorrow, and continue to push through my frustrations and disappointments with the education system and how it treats teachers. I continue to make self-deprecating jokes about my salary but cry behind closed doors because I, too, want to give my own children the experiences they need. I tell myself it’s all worth it, I convince myself what I do matters, and I tell myself that, one day, it'll get better.

At the end of the last school year, I received a raise that equaled roughly an extra $80.00 per paycheck, just enough to cover some of the extra taxes I will be paying and not nearly enough to cover inflation. Meanwhile, my friends, many of whom are younger than I am with less education, have been growing in their careers and in their salaries. Most of them make double, or triple, what I make. Most of them don’t understand why I stay in education, a field that consistently proves time and time again it does not value or reward hard work and dedication. It doesn’t care about loyalty nor excellence nor mastery. My friends don’t understand why I make that sacrifice “for other people’s children.” And, honestly, sometimes it’s hard even for me to justify this career choice. At times, I browse job openings, dreaming of a day when I no longer have to mentally prepare to go food shopping and double check my bank account to make sure I have enough for toiletries in addition to produce.

Betsy DeVos’ net worth is approximately $1.3 billion and she collects another $199,700 from the federal government for her job as a Secretary of Education. This salary is the kind of salary a teacher cannot even fathom earning. Meanwhile, the average public school teacher salary in the United States is approximately $58,353, and that number is even lower for teachers working in charter and private schools. This is the kind of wealth teachers can only touch in their dreams. It’s an unrealistic number; a number reserved only for those who aren’t spending their days in the classroom, surrounded by rusty tap water and broken clocks. Teachers are not making what we are worth, and no one seems to care. Some pretend to care, only to turn around and complain about school taxes and buying school supplies for their kids. DeVos is not planning on helping education, but she could. And she could start by funding our teachers.

In so many cases, it feels like people simply pretend to care about the daily sacrifices educators make. People may listen to the pleas of teachers, but I don't think the majority really hear what we say.

Instead, DeVos is focusing her efforts on attempting to privatize education, allowing states to use federal funds to purchase guns, rolling back Title IX guidance on college campuses by allowing universities to choose which evidence to use in cases of sexual assault, rescinding guidelines that allow transgender students to use the bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, and blocking the regulation that would have provided debt forgiveness to students defrauded by for-profit colleges. DeVos is not planning on helping teachers, students, or the system. That fact is painstakingly clear.

Courtesy of Dina Leygerman

The Time article not only threw open the closed shutters of my daily denial, it also incited a new-found anger. I am no longer sad for the teachers in this country. I am incredibly and overwhelmingly angry for them. For us. For me. I am infuriated with this world; a world in which I give my every bit to the future and it gives me barely anything in return. I am ready to leave education. I am ready to scream into the void. And I am ready to fight a fight I know I will probably never win. But if we all stop falling prey to the anger that turns into apathy in a span of 24 hours, we can take this on and we can get teachers the pay they deserve. We can vote. We can run for office. And we can finally stop simply paying lip service to an issue that is killing the future of our children. Because when people get paid their worth, they do better. And don’t we all want better for our children?

At the very least, we’d like to be paid enough to not have to decide between planning lessons and working a second or third job.

But it's hard to feel like our society value teachers. In so many cases, it feels like people simply pretend to care about the daily sacrifices educators make. People may listen to the pleas of teachers, but I don't think the majority really hear what we say. I don't think they internalize our stories or sympathize with our struggles. Instead, I think they pay lip service, nod their heads, and agree that teachers aren’t paid their value. Meanwhile, teachers crowdfund for classroom supplies, set up Donors Choose accounts for field trips, athletic and lab equipment, and scrounge garage sales and curbs for furniture for our classrooms. I know this can change, though. People just have to act.

As teachers we can’t afford vacations, we cant send our kids to decent summer camps, and most of us can't afford anything that is considered a luxury. While my friends effortlessly take their kids to Disney Land, I bitterly and sadly come to terms with the fact that a trip to The Magic Kingdom isn't anywhere near my financial reach. When my daughter asks when we can go, I lie to her and tell her, “Let’s wait until your brother is a little older. It’ll be more fun for everyone then.” And I hope that one days my lies turn into truths and we can somehow manage.

Courtesy of Dina Leygerman

“I was shocked to see I made about $33 more [per check]” a teacher-friend recently told me about her recent raise. “I was kind of excited which is pretty pathetic,” she added. And she isn’t wrong. It is pathetic to be excited for an extra $33 in each paycheck, especially for a teacher with a master’s degree, who spends her day teaching life skills to kids with special needs. But it’s not just pathetic, it’s purely criminal. The average teacher salary in Philadelphia is $53,753, and we are supposed to be thankful for that. We are told if we don’t want the pay, someone else will. So, we stay. We stay for the job and we stay for the children. We tell ourselves that purpose and fulfillment mean more than a fancy paycheck. And while that may be partly true, like anyone else we would like to be paid for our hard work, for our dedication, and for doing a job many simply could not do.

At the very least, we’d like to be paid enough to not have to decide between planning lessons and working a second or third job.

To register to vote so you can elect politicians who support public school teachers, you can visit RockTheVote.com. To find out if you're already registered to vote visit the U.S. Vote Foundation.

To learn more about American Federation of Teachers candidates running for office in 2018, you can visit their website.