Last month, I participated in the Walk-In movement that teachers in North Carolina were sponsoring. I chose to educate my class on this current event by combining it with our study of locating main ideas and details in an informational text.
I handed them three articles to annotate and then discuss. The first was an article on the Walk-In vs. Walk-Out movement. The second was a piece from a teacher who had to leave the profession, and the third was about the official budget that Congress recently passed.
My favorite moment was when a student posed the question, What would you do if you were a teacher? Students in unison said, Quit.
Their reasoning was simple. They insisted that a job that pays so modestly and offers so little respect must not be a job worth having. This is in stark contrast to when I was a child. When we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, I remember a classroom chorus of doctor, lawyer, veterinarian, teacher, singer, actor.
Even children have realized that being a teacher is not a magical job where you help people. It is a job of early mornings, endless hours and constant demands to learn more and do more that are never adequately compensated.
I make $1,700 a month. After rent, bills, food and student loans, I have roughly $100 of spending money in an average month. Needless to say, this leaves no money for saving and requires me to have a second job on Saturday mornings, which for all intents and purposes I dont have time for.
I can expect to make this wage for the next six years and then see my paycheck go up only about $50 a month. It will take me over 10 years of teaching even to qualify for a mortgage. Why would I want to encourage kids to inspire the next generation when I cant even make ends meet?
I am not alone. Every teacher I encounter is under the same duress. Overworked, underpaid and no hope in sight. We are not lazy people. On average we work 12 hours a day, and time spent with our families is asking them to call out grades to us while we enter them into our gradebooks. Our weekends are spent planning lessons for the next week because each time a new teaching procedure is thrust upon us we have to change our original lesson plans. We are forced to plan week by week and forced to make financial decisions that no self-respecting fully employed college graduate should make.
I said it: With the amount of pay I get, I am not respecting myself. However, it seems I respect my students more. Because I care too much about them to change my profession, I also care about them too much to encourage them to join this profession.
The days of children playing school and wanting to be teachers are over. There will be no next round of giddy teacher candidates who will disrespect themselves by joining an undervalued profession.
We must fund the profession of education so that teachers feel like professionals. Dont take advantage of our big hearts to stay in the classroom while making our bank accounts equivalent to getting blood from a stone. I am a good teacher. I inspire students each day to be better than they were the day before. Teachers create the future, and I am scared for a future when no child dreams of being a teacher.
Sara Riek of Durham is a sixth-grade teacher.