I Love Being A Teacher — But It's Not For Everyone

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.
Previously, we spoke with an English teacher from Rockford, Michigan who makes $43,000 a year and worries she won't be able to afford to buy a home. Today, we speak to a special education teacher from Chicago who makes $50,000 a year. She loves her job, but wishes more people understood what being a teacher was really like.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Role: Special Education Teacher
Salary: $50,000
Which year did you start working as a teacher?
My first year working as a teacher was 2015.
Has your attitude toward the job changed since you started? If so, how?
I still love my job and my students. The hardest part is managing the adult relationships — parents, other teachers, assistants. I feel like I am learning what not to do as a parent when that time comes (not sending in materials, not sending in forms and permission slips, not following through with homework or practicing skills at home).
I work many 12 hour days — especially at the beginning of the year — but I majorly judge teachers who complain about 'not having a summer'. Please, if you choose to work on paperwork over the summer, that's your own damn fault. We don't get paid as much as other jobs, but I also know I'm getting paid for only 9 months out of the year.
Is there anything you would do differently in your career?
So far, I am glad I have gone the path that I have. I really do love my students and my co-workers. I'm really glad that I worked my way into a teaching position (I worked as a teachers assistant right out of college) so that I could have classroom experience before all of the responsibility.

I believe that people who criticize teachers need to spend just one day in a classroom.

In general, how do you feel about teaching as a career?
I really love it, but I know it isn't for everyone. I think that, like any career, it has its ups and downs. I think it's great that not every day is the same, and while I have some awful days, my good days really make up for them! I believe that people who criticize teachers need to spend just one day in a classroom. As a former teacher's aide, I can truly say that I had no idea all that a teacher does until I became one.
The U.S. is facing an education crisis, with many teachers leaving the profession for other fields with higher pay. How has this affected you?
In my experience, most of my co-workers that have left are leaving to stay home with their kids. I haven't been affected by this as much as I have been affected by budget cuts. Two out of the three years I have taught, there have been cuts made to the teaching staff. It's terrifying! Fortunately, I was kept, but it's crazy to think about how there is supposedly this massive teacher shortage, yet, districts and schools are downsizing.
Do you think teachers are underpaid or undervalued? Do you think you are?
I think for my area, I am paid pretty well. I actually currently earn more than my boyfriend who is in a different field. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't jealous of my siblings who make the big bucks in law and non-profit, though. I think many people simply just don't know all that we do. They think we just roll into the school at 8 a.m. and leave at 2:30 p.m. I go into the school every day at 6:30 a.m. so I can prepare for the day. I often stay until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. In my specific job, most of the materials have to be adapted with Velcro, laminate. One of my boyfriend's coworkers was complaining about his child's supply list. Again, most people don't realize that all of those things would come from our own pockets if we didn't ask parents to send them.
How do you think being a teacher in your city and school compares to the rest of the country?
I actually am a part of a group for special education teachers on social media, so I get to see what working conditions are like for teachers around the nation. I read about awful things like no teaching assistants, no support from administration, no plan time. So I feel pretty darn lucky. Even comparing to surrounding districts, I really feel like my employer is the top of the top. I have heard so many awful stories from teachers who work elsewhere!

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else or do something else. I have two siblings with exciting city jobs and I sometimes wonder if the grass is greener.

Do you feel fulfilled in your career?
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else or do something else. I have two siblings with exciting city jobs, and I sometimes wonder if the grass is greener. I know my passion is working with kids with disabilities so I think that as long as I could do that, I would be happy. My biggest obstacle in my career is the adults. I don't have a very strong personality, so it can be hard sometimes. I have hard days where I wonder if I should be doing something else, but when I have a GREAT day, I think, yep, this is where I belong.
Would you recommend a teaching career to others? Why or why not?
I don't know if I would. I would probably recommend to people considering teaching to work in a classroom or school first. College gave me all of these romanticized versions of special education — all of these theories and fake scenarios. Never once did they mention medically fragile students passing away (two within my program last year). Never once did they talk about difficult co-workers or TA's. It's a hard job, but if you can stick through the first few years, it can be worth it if your heart is in it.
Stay tuned this week to read more about our nation’s teachers.

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