Teaching and the Part Time Job
Publication Type:Web Article
Year of Publication:2005
Bill Ferriter describes how many teachers he knows--including himself--work part-time jobs to supplement their teaching income.
Ferriter, B. (2005). Teaching and the part-time job. Teacher Leaders Network diaries. Retrieved from the Teacher Leaders Network 8 Apr 2008. Link: http://www.teacherleaders.org/old_site/diaries04_05/other/BF14.html
Teaching and the Part Time Job
Not long ago, a reporter called to ask for my help. He was working on an article related to our Governor's advocacy for a plan to bring teacher salaries to the national average within four years. The reporter wanted to interview teachers who were working second jobs because their school salaries weren't enough to make ends meet.
"Do you know anyone who works a part time job?" he asked.
I had to stifle a laugh! You see, almost every teacher on our hallway works a part time job—both during the year and over summer break. One finds work through a temp agency, filling in on nights and weekends at various businesses across the Triangle. Recently she spent several hours at a cultural festival staffing a carnival amusement ride. Another works three nights a week and once on the weekend at a home decorating retailer. Two are waitresses. One drives school buses for an after-school program. One tutors students.
Yes, I certainly know teachers who work part time jobs. Even I do. In fact, much of my "free time" is consumed with work that supplements my income. Some of my work is professional in nature—I moderate online groups of educators, write articles for professional journals, and do some consulting work for an instructional technology company.
But much of it isn't. I coach as many seasons as I can for our school. Each season demands long hours and offers a small stipend. I spend three weekends a month supervising our school building for a local Parks and Recreation department's basketball program and drive school buses for as many organizations as I can. (Bus driving is easy work...and it pays well! I usually make $100 for a day trip). I am literally always looking for opportunities to add to my income, regardless of the task.
I often worry about the impact that all of this extra work is having on my ability to teach my students well. I have less time and energy to commit to planning or collaborating with my colleagues or to research effective instructional practices. I'm especially ashamed to admit that I often find myself rushing through the stacks of papers that I have to grade, and wonder how much better I would know the strengths and weaknesses of my students if I wasn't tackling assessment responsibilities late at night after working other jobs.
What's worse is that despite all of these efforts, I still don't make enough money to "feel comfortable." Even though my wife and I live modestly in a small two-bedroom house, drive older model cars, and have no children, we are often "pressed" for cash. I am constantly worried about unexpected expenses that could break our budget because I know that my income cannot cover much more than our basic needs.
And I'm at the top of my profession—National Board Certified, Master's Degree, Wake County Teacher of the Year, North Carolina's North Central Region Teacher of the Year. No wonder we have trouble filling vacancies in our state's classrooms!
Now, don't get me wrong—I love what I do. I get to change lives every day. Knowing that hundreds of children have been influenced by my work is incredibly rewarding in ways that go far beyond a paycheck. I also have job security and a pension that many corporate positions don't offer. There aren't many who can say that about their careers.
It's just that I'm starting to realize that I can't afford to teach for much longer.
I hesitate to share these thoughts because every time I talk about my salary, I end up being shamed by someone. Inevitably, a critic will say, "You knew what you were getting into when you chose teaching as a profession." Sometimes other teachers get into the act with, "If you're in it for the money, you're in it for the wrong reason." Even my brother can be quick to judge. His favorite line: "Do I have to pull out the summer vacation trump card on you?"
The funny part is I'm not looking for anyone's sympathy. I am a highly accomplished and driven individual who could easily find a higher paying job. Over the years, I've been offered positions with various companies in educational publishing, educational policy and technical writing. All of these positions would have paid starting salaries between $15,000 and $30,000 more per year than I am currently being paid.
My only goal here is to raise awareness about the impact that low wages have on our schools and our children. There is little doubt that the quality of our teachers is a significant determinant in the success or failure of our schools. Teachers are also often the heartbeat of the community, recognized and valued by parents and students for the contributions that they make both inside and outside the classroom.
And yet accomplished teachers walk away from our schools every year because of salaries that don't allow for the quality of life that professionals with extensive education and training—not to mention incredible responsibilities and demanding positions—could reasonably expect. Almost 50% of all new teachers leave within the first five years, the point where professionals in other fields are beginning to see their incomes increase significantly and where many are beginning to raise a family—something difficult to do on a teacher's salary.
What impact does this "revolving door" have on schools? On students? On communities? What kind of talent are we losing each year? What kind of skills and training are we constantly trying to replace?
If we are sincere about the important role that education plays in our society, then we must be sincere about addressing the challenges of teacher compensation. All stakeholders—taxpayers, elected officials, school representatives, professional organizations, and educators themselves—must be willing to reexamine the way that teachers are paid.
Without change, we can never hope to retain our best and our brightest.
Without change, we can never hope to provide all of our children with something that they deserve—a highly accomplished teacher.