When I was in college, I worked just about everywhere that I could. I come by it honestly. My mom is in her 50s and has had at least a dozen jobs since I was born, maybe more. The last time I was around my in-laws, my mother-in-law made a comment about Bob Evans and I told her about working there in college, she proclaimed, “Is there anything that you haven’t done?!”…Spelunking. I don’t fit well in tight or small spaces due to my immense stature and current dad-bod physique. Plus, the idea of having a bunch of people in dark space with light bulbs attached to their head just encourages people that their “bright ideas” about searching even deeper in caverns for fish that glow in the dark are validated.
But cave-diving aside, I have done just about everything: dishwasher, cook, bookstore cashier, 6-dollar-burger extraordinaire, event planner, event set-up guy, server, host, plasma donor, gas station attendant, substitute teacher, professional football game usher, baseball game usher, ball bearing assemblyperson, and even a wire tester for a multinational company. (That last one isn’t what it sounds like. You see, I take wires and I hook them up to other wires and see if those wires tell the wires that link the wires to a computer that those wires work…Okay, so it sucked and was boring, and I didn’t get to blow anything up Wylie Coyote style, but it’s what I had to do to make it through college.) But I thought when I graduated I was done with doing things like that to get by. I especially thought that 5 years into teaching I would be passed giving away the liquid that sustains my life for twenty-five bucks a pint. But that’s what I felt like I needed to do last year on my way home from work 2 days a week. I still have reminders of my brokeness on my body. I look like a heroin addict with the permanent scars on my left arm.
I feel like my story is not one that is uncommon. As I have spent the last couple of weeks talking to people who work two jobs (or more) to make ends meet, I have found it is tremendously more than just a couple of us out there that feel that they need to work a second job. According to a statistic released by the National Center for Educational Statistics, 18% of teachers work a second job. That means that at least one person in your department unless you are in your own department has a second job. That means that if you work in a building of 50 teachers, about 9 or 10 of them have second jobs, not including extra stuff that they do at work such as coach or work events on the side. We are talking about second jobs that work people at minimum an extra 20 hours a week outside of their teaching job, which we all know is not a 9 to 5 kind of job.
It’s an epidemic within the profession, and it’s what may be leading to a teacher shortage in many states across the country. Teachers make about 20% less than people with an equal amount of education. This is where people start to say things like “teachers chose to teach” or “they are already overpaid, they only work 9 months out of the year”. You have all heard it or read similar things in the comments of a Facebook story about teachers, which is what I imagine Hell will be like. Just reading books that read like circular Facebook arguments that are filled with ad hominem attacks that have little to nothing to do with the story that was posted. Seriously, the Facebook comment section is the Death Valley of the virtual world. Avoid it at all costs.
But many times, people I deem to be reasonable individuals will say a such and such teacher at such and such upper-class school makes six-figures. Usually, the person that they are referring to has been in that district for 30+ years and has at least a Masters Plus 30. I was speaking with a teacher the other day, for the episode tomorrow, about how her female relative (I can’t remember if it was a niece or cousin or duchess or if they were related, but it was definitely a female that she was aware of)…who is graduating from college with a Bachelors in Business and will have a job out of college that will make over $100K… So it seems that maybe that those “affluent” and “wealthy” have put their time in. And as far as the summers off, teachers work an average of 53 hours per week, according to PEW. I have seen many people work tremendously more for no additional pay, and they aren’t the exception. We are living in a society that demands everyone should be overworked; it seems almost the norm that everybody is working overtime, and to compensate for that, teachers put in more overtime into their overtime by working another job to support their comparably tiny salaries.
One thing I think people don’t factor into why teachers want more money is because costs for life keep going up and teacher salaries remain nearly the same across the board. Food is more expensive than ever, if you want to live in a “decent” area of St. Louis, be prepared to spend 200k or more for a modest house. (We got ours on a steal. We bought ours for under 80k. But we are not in what people consider a “decent” area, although we couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.) Education is more costly and more essential to get a job than ever before. My best friend, (or I think he’s my best friend, this would be awkward if we weren’t, but anyway an acquaintance of mine) didn’t even get a formal interview in an extremely prestigious school district and was told that he didn’t even have a chance to be a teacher there because he didn’t have a master’s degree. So, in order to find ourselves qualified for jobs, we must go into debt to get our next level of education that may or may not get a job. I know people that have had their administration certification for years and haven’t gotten a job with it yet, not due to an apathy in their job search.
So, to sum up, you have all of these extremely qualified people with all of the living expenses of a normal person (bachelor degree student loans, food, a place to live, transportation, childcare, medical bills, utilities, and the occasional vacation or night out), then on top of it put those people in direct competition with each other, and you are bound to get people who are a part-time Instructional Aide with a Doctorate degree. A man that I worked with at the school I student taught at was that very thing. It was a great district, with high competition, and you had to do whatever you could to get a leg up if you wanted a job in the future. And apparently spending at least 8 years in school and getting 3 degrees does not qualify you to teach a job that pays you one-fifth less than people with the same degree.
Teachers are not trying to live extravagant lives. They aren’t trying to spend every summer at their lake house or travel the world. They are just trying to put gas in their cars so they can drive the hour commute to a job, because that was all they could get, only to come home and put on an apron and work alongside some of their students waiting tables, or waking up extra early to tutor children in other countries, or to spend their weekend sitting at a desk crunching numbers at a company they have no future in, just so they can feel secure in their financial well-being. It isn’t about getting rich. It’s about, as one teacher I interview put it, “not having to tell my wife to keep my son awake so I can tuck him in at night.” It’s about living. Period.
Thanks for reading.