If you were like me growing up, you had all the grandiose plans for how things would turn out when you got older. For me, I conjured up a big house, three kids, at least two luxury cars, and everything in between that I did not have growing up. No one stopped me from dreaming nor did they ask me how I was going to afford all of these things, so I kept dreaming.
Fast forward. I just accepted my first teaching position. The excitement is intense. I am eager to get started, meet my students, and earn my first paycheck. My starting salary was somewhere around $22,000; I was making big bucks…I thought. I still had little concept as to what that would get me and how far. All I knew was that the big house, three kids, and a luxury car or two were soon to follow. Well, unbeknownst to me that $22,000 annual salary in the 1990s was not going to get me far. Unfortunately, I found myself calling home, not once, but several times during my first year of teaching. I just needed a little extra money to hold me over until payday, was my excuse. Luxury car? Well, I proudly drove a 1997 Honda Prelude with no air conditioner for a very long time. House? I willingly and proudly accepted living in a one-bedroom apartment. Kids? Well, that can wait; I am still young.
The notion of overworked and underpaid never occurred to me until later on in my career. Unfortunately, we still encounter countless underpaid teachers. I believe folks think that because you arrive at a certain level or have a different title, you have no appreciation for what living on less is like. I have to chuckle at this notion.
In order to make ends meet, I worked a second job my entire teaching career. My after-hours’ job stints included working at Circuit City; I could recall the latest music and categorize any movie in a matter of minutes. I also worked at The Boys and Girls Club. My time at the Boys and Girls Club was by far one of the most rewarding second jobs I was able to obtain. Moreover, if Uber or Lyft were available in the 1990s, I would have driven for them too. I worked every summer not because I wanted to spend an additional month or two with middle schoolers (sorry kids), but I honestly could NOT afford to NOT generate income over these summer months. The intensity of lesson planning, grading assignments, parent-teacher conferences, and the daily grind to give your best wears on a person; it wore on me. I would have given anything to have a summer off or rest after work. That was not my reality and I recognize that it is not a reality for countless teachers today.
This recognition that many teachers are underpaid does not, however, negate that we have to give our student scholars our very best. They are depending on us. I knew this in my early 20s and I know it today. So, if I had to call home for a few extra dollars until the next payday that was not going to stop me from pouring my heart and soul into my students. I just knew I was working on E!