Public school teacher’s response to education cuts

Two months ago, I wrote an article for Yahoo News called “N.C. School Teacher: Gov. Pat McCrory, Walk a Day in My Shoes” about a North Carolina teacher’s challenge to Gov. Pat McCrory to spend a day in his shoes in order to rethink his cuts to education. Based on what I read in the comment section of the piece, reactions to the article were mixed. There is one group of people who are in favor of investing more funding to public school teachers. These people defend teachers (and often are teachers) on the grounds that the job entails more commitment than meets the eye.

On the other side, many assert that teachers should stop complaining about their jobs or find a new profession. A few comments from the same article:

“[Students] deserve teachers that are well trained and do their job instead of doping kids up on [ADHD medication] and demanding raises. As a lifelong resident of NC I can attest to the fact that while some teachers really do care about the kids the majority of them in this state do not care about nothing more that money or benefits.”

“If you go into teaching to make money, you were not very smart. That in its self-tell me you should not be teaching.”

“How is it someone decides to be a teacher and the first thing they do is whine about pay, if you want to make more money DON’T BE A TEACHER!”

Without perspective, I could see why some might regard teachers as a profession with more benefits that deserved, which is why I felt this way until a close friend began teaching a public school in North Carolina. She would return from work stressed, often in tears, about the emotional strain required to teach dozens of students who may not feel motivated to learn. She eventually quit teaching after just one year, because she wasn’t able to deal with the parents who would aggressively defend the self-destructive behavior of their children and would refuse to take responsibility for the way that their children behaved.

One teacher summed up her experience as a teacher in a long message directed at the other commenters on the article who believe teaching is an easy gig:

Let me put some of what teachers are vying for into perspective. I work as an EC teacher in a Title 1 middle school. Everyday I wake up at 6 a.m. because in addition to creating engaging lesson plans that are data-driven, differentiated for each of the 107 students I teach and rigorous, I have to do grading to give those 107 students daily immediate feedback. I arrive at work at 8 a.m. and I have a staff meeting 3 days out of the week, until 8:45 a.m. Class starts at 9:15  a.m. and I teach until 2 p.m. I don’t get duty-free lunch or a lunch break. I have a planning block at 2 p.m., but that isn’t free time or even time to breathe or eat. On Mondays and Tuesdays, we meet with content instructors. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, we meet with grade level instructors to discuss data. On Fridays, we are trained on new requirements. Then I have my last block and afterwards I report to bus duty.

During the course of the day, I may endure any number of emotionally draining events that range from having to break up fights, students cursing at you, parents confronting you in defense of this type of reprehensible behavior, student walk outs, lack of participation, and gross disrespect. And there is no break to calm down, or catch your breath or process what you’ve endured. And the next day, you get to do it all over again.

If you teach special education, you will need to stay an extra hour or two each day that is unpaid because you will have to complete Individualized Educational Plans for each student on your caseload. These plans can take anywhere from 45 mins to an hour to complete, as well as other paperwork associated with special education. I’m only paid for the hours that take place between 8:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. The other extra hours are unpaid.

Now here’s the kicker. Even with 9 years of experience, both abroad and in the U.S., I make $35,000/yr. After taxes, I bring home about $2200/month and I only get paid once a month. By the time I pay my $700 rent, my $289 car payment, my $90 light bill, my $70 cell phone bill, my $150 cable/internet/phone bill, my $100 car insurance bill, my $400 student loan bill, and $200 a month for gas, I have about $100 left for the entire month for food or $25 per week, and $100 goes home to my mom and dad. Because I work so many hours at school, I can’t get a part-time job to supplement my income, and I wouldn’t be able to anyway, because there are many nights when I have to carry work home.

So if you’re wondering what teachers are “complaining” about, it’s not that we aren’t grateful for our jobs. We’re just asking a little more pay for all the unpaid extra work we put into our jobs and the untold stress we endure daily. Not only will teachers work for 5 or more years before seeing a pay increase, but even the addition of a graduate degree or becoming certified in multiple subject areas will not afford any increases in pay. In today’s society everyone needs to be thankful for the job they have. But that doesn’t excuse the abuses teachers have endured in this profession. And while the quantity of jobs has decreased, that doesn’t mean we should fight to improve the quality of the ones we do have.


Photo credit: Hal Goodtree (Flickr Creative Commons)