The Ugly Truth about Teacher Salaries

There has been a lot of talk in the news about teacher salaries. There always is. However, not all of what is being said is true. Today, I want to tell you the ugly truth about teacher salaries. I want to share with you the harsh reality in which I reside. 

Please remember, I am not complaining. I want you to really know the truth so you can understand. Without understanding, there can be no resolution.

The picture above shows the salary schedule, however, do not be fooled. Many districts around the country have frozen salaries which means that this scale is not our reality. We do not get raises every year. In fact, I have not received a raise (step increase) in the last five years due to the salary freeze.

I read a really great article this week "Why Poor People Stay Poor" - this sums up exactly how I feel. For the details, read on! 

My Salary & Benefits

My contract says I make $40,300 a year. This includes an $8,000 bonus from the tax payers to increase my salary. It is not a guaranteed $8,000. It can disappear next year or whenever. When it does, my salary goes back to it's normal amount of $32,300 a year. 

That doesn't seem so bad but it is not what I bring home. After taxes, social security, and my mandatory retirement fund, I bring home $2,394.98 per month.That means my family actually sees $28,739.76 per year. It's a big difference from that $40,300 that you thought I was making. 

Then there is the amount I spend on my classroom each year. These are things like school supplies that parents can't afford to send in, tissues, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, treats for parties, donations requested to raise money for field trips, students with fundraisers for things my kids could only dream of participating in, things for projects, winter gloves for the kid who doesn't have any and it is sub-zero outside, decorations to make the classroom look inviting, colored copies to make the assignments more appealing, games, recess equipment, alternative seating for children with special needs, whiteboard markers, and more.

I spent $2,679.81 last year.  Every year the amount changes depending upon the needs. Many say I should stop buying these things. I love my job. I love teaching. If I want to keep my job, these expenses are not optional. They are needed in my room and I have to provide it or I will be replaced. 

My salary is now $26,059.95 per year. I have a Master's Degree and $108,000 in student loans. I have to continually add to this balance to maintain my licensing. I will never be able to pay of my loans on this salary. If I could receive social security, it would be denied until these loans are paid. As a teacher, my social security benefits are severally reduced due to an old law that says our pensions and retirement will keep us in our old age. It is no longer true. 

Some say you should ask for help. That number on my contract is what the government sees when I ask for help. It is what everyone looks at. Not the number that I bring home. As such, there is no help for someone like me as I make too much money.

Remember I am not complaining. 

In the past decade a lot of the teacher benefits that used to make a smaller salary beneficial have been stripped away. Gone are the days of tenure (job security) and affordable medical care for the entire family. My medical insurance is covered but to cover my children, it will cost me $1,262.03 per month. Not happening on my salary. Minimal life insurance is covered but short and long term disability are not. 

My Family

This is a picture of the boys who still live at home. They have never had after school activities. No sports or Cub Scouts or anything like that. I am a teacher. I have to be available for my students. They have made a lot of sacrifices as well for me to be a teacher. 

Holidays in my family are different. There are some years when we couldn't afford a tree. We had  a Charlie Brown tree one year. This year our tree is beautiful! It was a gift to us.  Under it were four gifts. One pair of long underwear for each child and the new video game they asked for. They were very excited. They have never see a tree with a pile of presents under it for them. 

Birthdays are when I make them a special treat or I will take them out to lunch somewhere. Just the two of us. They order and I steal a fry or two.

Remember I am not complaining. 

This is normal for us. If you asked what my children want for Christmas or Birthdays, they won't be able to tell you. They are so used to not asking they don't know how to ask. They will tell you it is not necessary. They are such sweet, understanding boys.

My Home

I live in a newer home. Rent is more than half of my monthly income. I am used to this as this has always been the case for us. I have never only paid 25% of my income for housing. I can't imagine all that extra money I had. Can you imagine trying to find a home for a family and only pay $500 a month rent? I can't.

I pay about $200 more than I would for an older home because a few years ago my sister-in-law rented an older home. Her first electric bill was just over $800. She cried for days. Took on a second job to pay it and then moved. I have researched and found that by paying a little more each month the electric bill doesn't scare me. 

The walls are bare as is the rec room in the basement. The children have never owned a dresser. The dining room table and chairs is a folding card table and matching chairs. The office is the same and off the books are kept in boxes. No lamps, no decorations. The pantry is small but if we are careful the food will last the month.

It is "minimalist" in design. Not the look I was going for but the look I can afford. I am proud of the home that I can provide for my children. These pictures were taken when the house was messy and not at all ready for photographing. I wanted you to see a real day inside of my home.

Remember I am not complaining. 

The boys and I own a minimum amount of clothing. Two pairs of pants, 6 shirts, winter gear, winter shoes, and summer shoes. I own two dresses as well in case we want to be fancy. I own very little jewelry.  

My car was made in 2002 and has 260,000 miles on it. It is paid for. Each day I pray it keeps going. It works great now. I save up my pennies to keep it maintained. It has to keep running. Not running would be a major crisis in my family. 

There are no family vacations or weekend trips. No movie theaters or theme parks. There are days when we have to stay home as there is not enough gas money to leave the house. 

Thoughts for the Future

Each year as I am wondering whether or not my contract will be renewed, I wonder if I should stop teaching. I love teaching. I willing sacrifice so much as does my family so I can teach but I wonder if it is fair. 
Remember I am not complaining. 

I think about a second job. Most teachers have one but when I look at my children, I want to spend some time with them. It is not a lot. I spend most of my time at home working on things for my classroom. The money would help so much but I can't ask them to sacrifice one more thing. So I say a few prayers and hope God's got this. 

I went into teaching as I felt passionate about helping children become their best selves. I can't imagine another career I would love more but the harsh reality of it is that my family and I pay dearly every day so that I can teach someone else's child. 

I will think again over the summer about another career as I head out for another college course. I will wonder if there is a job where they value my expertise and pay me for it. Where the number they say that I am paid, will actually be what my family sees. 

I will smile when people laugh about how teachers get paid for the summers off as I rewrite curriculum while watching my children play in the summer sun. I stop for gas and realize that the attendant is making more than me. I will browse through the want ads searching for greener pastures. 

I will think of all of my students and their smiles and that light bulb that goes off when they finally get something. And then I will think that there is no way that I can leave them. They need good teachers and I am one of them. 

So I will open up that textbook and finish the latest course. I will watch my student loans continue to increase. I will crunch numbers to make my budget balance. I will tell my children I am sorry not today for the millionth time. 

I will teach. 

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