What about the teachers?

I had to call my local police department a few days ago to report some ‘suspicious’ activity. We have this loop we walk with the girls that goes alongside the reservoir by our house. There’s one home on the path that has been vacant since before we moved to the area. It’s a huge house, with four livable levels and multiple sets of balcony doors. If you peer through the window you can see that the interior walls were never finished. Our guess is that the owner ran out of money before it could be completed. Anyway, on our last few walks we noticed one set of balcony doors was ajar. Thought it best to call it in.

In searching for the non-emergency line, I came across a posting looking for new officers for the town. And I can say now that I really should not have looked at the posting. It made me so upset, and yet I can see now just how misplaced my emotions were. 
I can say truthfully that all public servants, all those who put their lives on the line for others deserve ALL that we can give them. My father, an uncle, my grandfather, and now two cousins of mine were/are firefighters. I played hockey with a woman that was on the police force of the city I grew up in. My cousin’s brother in law is a cop in my town. Another cousin served in the marine reserve, and my grandfather was in the navy. All the men and women brave enough to be in the military, work as a police officer or a firefighter deserve great salaries, great benefits and secured retirements.

Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, I can get to the real reason why I was upset. The salary.

It had never even crossed my mind to hazard a guess at what my local law enforcement officers’ salaries were. I live in a small semi-ruralish town, where not much of anything happens. Honestly, I never thought about the police force. And my anger isn’t about the how much or how little these men and women make, it’s about how this salary compares to that of other professions. 
I began teaching in 2008. I interviewed and accepted a job at a small local Catholic school three days before the school year began. I already had my bachelors degree (double major in English and elementary education), and was halfway through my masters of education. I was certified as a highly qualified teacher and licensed by the state. I accepted this job because I needed a teaching job. This was my field, this was what I wanted to and chose to do with my life. And public school jobs in the field I was certified in were rare. This full-time teaching position paid $27,000. Once I got my masters, my pay would bump by $500 a year.
I walked into my new classroom on a Saturday, with school set to start on Tuesday, and saw that the only things I were given to work with was 30 desks/chairs and a set of religion textbooks. This classroom had been empty for many years, but high enrollment caused the school to open a second Kindergarten class. I spent over $600 in two days buying supplies for that classroom; books, rugs, materials for centers, paper, scissors, crayons, decorations, office supplies. Everything that I would need to do my job effectively. And halfway through the school year we were told that the regional district was closing that particular school. And with the exception of the longest employed teacher, we were all to be laid off at the end of the year. I have bins in my basement full of these supplies.

There was a salary scale posted in our faculty room that showed how your salary would increase for each year you were employed in that private district. Fifteen years teaching there would have meant that I would have just broken 30K.
To become a certified teacher in the state of RI you are required to have a bachelors degree in teaching (elementary level) or in a subject (middle-high school). You have to pay for, take and pass multiple certification exams as well as pay for your actual licensure. For me it amounted to three tests (at around $150 each) and two separate certifications (at $100 each). And being that I was teaching in a private school, I wasn’t allowed to get a ‘real’ license, but a ‘certificate’ that was valid for only three years. Every three years I need to pay to renew it. Any lapse (and no, they don’t notify you in advance) and you pay extra to recertify, and, if the requirements had changed since the original licensure, you now had to meet those new requirements. You need to work in a public school in order to change your certificate to a five-year license.

Another of the teaching requirements here is that employed teachers need to receive a masters or show credits earned towards a masters, within five years of beginning employment. 

I am a highly qualified, highly educated individual. I spent 10 years in college to earn a bachelors and two masters degrees in fields related to education and writing. Before the twins were born I worked 8 years as a teacher and I did not even come CLOSE to the starting salary of a new police recruit in my town. The requirements of which are a high school diploma, physical minimums and attending the police training school. 

Do police officers deserve a lot of money? Yes, they do. I’m not arguing that. I’m arguing that the teaching profession itself is undervalued by EVERYONE. 

The state of RI requires teachers to have undergrad and grad school degrees. And many, like myself, take out student loans to cover these costs. I could work as a teacher for my entire lifetime and still never earn enough money to be able to pay off my student loan debt. 

Yes, I chose this job. I LOVE teaching. I love learning and wish I had the money to go back to school to study history and philosophy and even nursing! I love to learn and I thrive in the classroom whether I am the student or the teacher. 
My third teaching post, where I spent five years, I worked every day from 3pm – 6pm at the after school program to earn more money. I ran a study skills summer camp, to earn more money. I tutored in the evenings and over the summer, to earn more money. Getting the picture?

Teaching is hard. Whoever out there that can just shrug off that statement is an ignorant ass who has never been in the classroom. I brought a lot of work home with me, spent vacations catching up on grading, and spent summers writing new curriculum and reading the novels (and casting the guides) for what I was going to teach that year. 

Are there bad teachers? Yes. Are there teachers that don’t put the effort in, don’t go the extra mile? Teachers that are in the profession for the wrong reason? Sure. But why put us all down, and why pay us laughable salaries? 

It hurt my heart earlier today when I told my husband that I hope our girls don’t go into the teaching field. It has been disappointment after disappointment for us. Jumping through hoops, finding out that 100 other people applied for the same position you did, struggling with loan payments and with interest accruing faster than we can pay it down. Poor paying positions that require us to work second and third jobs. As of today, I owe $12,000 more than what I actually borrowed because of how quickly the interest is accruing. 

I’ve been working on getting licensed in Massachusetts so that I can have a better chance at finding a public school job when I return to work. I’ve taken two exams so far, but need three more. I also need additional training in second language learners that comes with a hefty price tag. 

If I had known back then what ‘being a teacher’ was really going to be like, I may not have entered this field. And it’s hard to say that because I love so much to teach. My only consolation having gone through (and continuing to go through) this financial crisis is that my husband and I have been saving for our girls’ college tuition since the day they were born. And our greatest hope is that they can attend a school of their choosing without taking out loans.

I’m glad that the police officers in my town have a decent starting salary (and a great pay raise scale). They deserve it. But when I think that my original teaching salary was the same as a person making $13 an hour who worked full-time, I really start to question why people are still entering the teaching field. I could have skipped college and could be working some desk job with a decade of experience in that field behind me, and be making twice as much as a qualified teacher with graduate degrees. 

Hell, I should’ve gone to community college and earned my associates degree in radiology. I’d be starting at 50K and have no student loans to pay back.

Here are the pictures I saved of that first classroom I had.



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