To celebrate back-to-school season, we spoke with four teachers — who are also previous Money Diarists — around the country to learn more about their financial lives. Teachers dedicate their lives to their students, so why are they so underappreciated? Once a stable career, teacher pay has declined along with classroom budgets. In 2018, the teachers’ fight for fairness is far from over.
Today, we speak to a seventh grade teacher from Hawaii who makes $60,558 a year. She loves her job, but needs a side hustle to make ends meet.
Which year did you start working as a teacher?
My first year teaching at my school was the 2008-2009 school year. From 2000-2007, I taught swim lessons to children of various ages.
Has your attitude toward the job changed since you started? If so, how?
My attitude towards teaching hasn’t really changed since I started. I definitely have more of an appreciation for what some of my teachers dealt with, though!
Is there anything you would do differently in your career?
One thing I would do differently is advocate for myself earlier on. My teaching line changed every year for my first five years, and some classes were outside of my certification area. It didn’t utilize my skills and wasn’t beneficial to the students. I finally told my administration that they needed to place me where my certification was, or lose me. My students had been doing quite well, so I got moved to the line I wanted to because they wanted me to stay. The other thing I would do differently is start working on increasing my pay earlier.
In Hawaii, if you take a certain number of approved classes, you get a small raise. Teachers can go through that cycle several times. That whole process was not explained to me as a new teacher, but I also didn’t try and pursue it as much as I should have since my teaching line kept changing every year. Now I’m hustling to do whatever I can to increase my pay so I can benefit from a higher salary for a longer amount of time.
In general, how do you feel about teaching as a career?
I feel that teaching is such an important career. We have an impact on students in both large and small ways.
Statistically I think 54% of teachers leave Hawaii public schools before their 5th year, and the cost of living is a major reason.
This country is facing an education crisis and many teachers are leaving the profession for other fields with higher pay. How has this affected you?
Hawaii is an expensive place to live and this definitely affects teacher turnover in our state. Statistically, I think 54% of teachers leave Hawaii public schools before their 5th year, and the cost of living is a major reason. I know many teachers in Hawaii struggle to make ends meet, especially with student loan debt. Many teachers work multiple jobs, while others decide to leave for another profession or move to a state with a lower cost of living.
I haven’t been as affected by this because my undergraduate education was largely paid for by scholarships, and the rest by my grandparents. I also work at a Title 1 school, and got most of my teaching licensure and masters degree paid for as a result. I haven’t had any student loan debt, so I was able to save up and buy my own place. On the flip side, I’ve been working since I was 13, and even now as a teacher I have a second job and share my condo with a roommate in order to have to not worry too much about money. I would love to give up the roommate, or the 2nd job, but I know that won’t be for a while. I know that that without all these factors it may have been harder for me to stay committed to my job.
Do you think teachers are underpaid or undervalued? Do you think you are?
I definitely think teachers are underpaid. Just because we have summers off, doesn’t mean we are lounging around doing nothing all summer. Many of us are working on professional development, extra certifications and/or working a second job.
Personally, I spend a lot of my summer planning and cleaning up my classroom. Then, during the school year besides the 8-9 hours a day at school, I’m usually working at least a couple hours afterwards at home and a good chunk of the weekend. On top of that, I have my second job for between 5-15 hours a week. With that amount of time teachers spend on our school jobs, we shouldn’t have to work another job. That time would be much better spent devoted to our work for our students.
As for teacher’s value, almost everyone I talk to directly really appreciates teachers and what we do. I feel that myself and teachers in general are valued. But then, occasionally, I hear comments from people secondhand, or in the news (or when I read the comments section of an article on education) about how teachers are lazy, whiny, or get too many benefits and it makes me feel that there are some people who do not value the work that we do.
Just because we have summers off, doesn’t mean we are lounging around doing nothing all summer.
How do you think being a teacher in your city/school compares to the rest of the country?
I’ve only taught in Hawaii, so I don’t feel that I can really make a reliable comparison. But I’ve talked with a few teachers in other states and we all seem to deal with a lot of the same struggles: Low pay, changing standards and tests, and having to deal with a variety of students with various needs in our classes.
Do you feel fulfilled in your career?
Most of the time I feel fulfilled in my career. As I worked and interned during college, I realized a desk job wasn’t for me. I always loved working with kids so teaching made sense. My job keeps me on my toes and it is never boring, especially with middle schoolers. There are times when I am frustrated or overwhelmed, but I am able to push through because despite the struggles, I love what I do. I am passionate about reading and writing and it is my goal to try and transfer some of that passion to my students and help them be successful in their futures.
Would you recommend a teaching career to others? Why or why not?
Our students need dedicated teachers. I wish I could tell everyone thinking about being a teacher to “go for it!” But it is a hard job. It consumes a lot of your life in ways that you wouldn’t expect. In 11 years at my school, I’ve seen several dozen teachers rotate through (out of a teaching staff of about 45). If a person thinks they want to go into teaching, I recommend they test it out a bit: Tutor kids, work a summer camp program, or become a substitute teacher or education assistant. If you enjoy it, then start the process to become a teacher. I would also recommend researching programs that can help them pay to become a teacher so they don’t add student loans to their lives, which adds a huge burden to new teachers.