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 an English teacher from Cambridge, Massachusetts who makes $35,000 a year. Though she knows that teaching is rewarding, she doesn't feel she chose the right career path. Previously, we heard from a special education teacher from Chicago and an English teacher from Rockford, Michigan
Which year did you start working as a teacher?
In 2015, I was working as a part-time substitute teacher while living in New York. Then, in 2016, I began working as a full-time toddler teacher in Boston.
Has your attitude toward the job changed since you started? If so, how?
People who are not in the early education field tend to view my job as “babysitting.” In fact, many people who commented on my Money Diary were confused as to why I’m so tired after work every day. I think their perception is completely false; this is not an easy job. We put so much time and consideration into our curriculum to individualize it for every child. We are “playing” with our kids, but they are learning so many valuable developmental skills through play. I believe some schools lack good leadership from their Directors and administration or their teachers lack training and education, but not where I work.
Is there anything you would do differently in your career?
Honestly, I probably would have pursued a masters degree, although it’s never too late to start. I went to a university with a stellar communications program. I wish that during freshman year I had found my calling and worked hard to transfer into their communications program instead of sticking with early education. But it was my fault; I was very vulnerable and afraid that I didn't know what I want to major in and I listened to everyone who told me to pursue a career in a STEM field that would make me a lot of money which I would if I were any good at that. I tried taking biology and chemistry classes but I did miserably. If I were to do college all over again, I would try to major in public relations, digital journalism, or something more in line with my interests than what I’m doing now.
I think teaching as a career is admirable, but undervalued in this country.
In general, how do you feel about teaching as a career?
It takes a special type of person with the right mix of intellect and skill to be a successful teacher to their students. I think teaching as a career is admirable, but undervalued in this country. For example, you can take the courses and read the textbooks on how to be a good teacher, but if you have zero interpersonal skills to connect with children and adults then you may struggle day-to-day in a classroom. On the other hand, you can be really playful in engaging with children, but if you don’t have the education background, then you may have a challenging time understanding their developmental needs. It takes both of these factors to make an outstanding teacher.
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?
I’ve experienced an exodus of teachers in my first year working at my school, which meant that my co-teachers and I had to pull extra hours to make up the lack of coverage. It was stress that I wasn’t prepared for, and my workload doubled as a result. For several years, the administration has fought so hard for higher salary for the teachers, but parents are holding us back because they refuse to pay higher tuition. We’ve received small pay raises, but I honestly feel like my salary doesn’t support the lifestyle I desire. I am looking to leave this field within a year or two to branch out into a field where I can make more money and have upward mobility.
Do you think teachers are underpaid or undervalued? Do you think you are?
YES. I think that teachers are taken for granted. In early education, my parents don’t understand the value of “play” because they fail to realize how playing is a way of taking in information, building various developmental skills, and forming important relationships with peers and adults. For these reasons, some (though not all) of our parents don’t believe we deserve high pay raises. It also means they don’t want to pay for higher tuition if they don’t see the value in what we are doing.
I think I am spoiled where I work because we are treated well and fairly.
How do you think being a teacher in your city/school compares to the rest of the country?
My school is in Boston and our children come from white, middle to upper class families who all have a legacy into an Ivy League school. I think I am spoiled where I work, because we are treated well and fairly. It’s not a perfect place to work, but it’s a very good one.
Do you feel fulfilled in your career?
I do not feel fulfilled because I don’t think teaching is my right path. I wish I knew what my interests were while I was still a freshman in college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and I can’t remember what led me to early education, but that’s what I stuck with in junior year. I realize my interests are a lot different after college, I should have done something related to communications and media.
Would you recommend a teaching career to others? Why or why not?
I recommend teaching as a career to others only if they are totally passionate about it. It’s not about the pay or about being praised — it can sometimes be a thankless job. But the end result of seeing your students thrive is rewarding.
Stay tuned this week to read more about our nation’s teachers.