- Hannah Bruner works as a fifth grade teacher in Jefferson County, Colorado.
- Her annual salary is $US49,248, and after taxes she takes home $US36,072.
- She is among thousands of teachers across the country working second, third, and fourth jobs just to pay their bills.
- She fears that having to work extra jobs is taking away from her ability to dedicate the time she needs to her classroom.
A Colorado elementary school teacher fears her side jobs are taking away from time with students – but she says she’s forced to work extra jobs to make ends meet because her salary is so low.
Last year, Hannah Bruner taught fifth grade in Jefferson County, Colorado, was an instructor to a homebound student, and tutored another student outside of the classroom.
And on top of it all, Bruner worked as a freelance photographer on the side.
But Bruner, who is in her fourth year teaching and has her master’s degree in elementary education, still needed help paying her bills. So she applied for government housing assistance, which she qualified for with her annual salary of $US49,248, which comes out to a take-home pay of $US36,072 after taxes.
“I can’t be the teacher I want to be”
Bruner is one of thousands of teachers across the country working second, third, and fourth jobs just to pay their bills, and she says her low pay is taking away from her ability to dedicate the time she needs to her classroom.
The problem is far-reaching: On average, teachers make around 60 per cent of what Americans with similar educational backgrounds make, according to a 2018 study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. And in the US, the average starting teacher salary is just $US41,600.
And salaries don’t get much better for mid-career and late-career teachers, either. According to a report for the Center for American Progress (CAP):
“In Colorado, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience make less than a trucker in the state. In Oklahoma, teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree make less than sheet metal workers. And teachers in Georgia with 10 years of experience and a graduate degree make less than a flight attendant in the state.
Across the board teachers are struggling to both effectively do their jobs and financially survive. A 2018 study from the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies found that in more than half the states, the average teacher salary is below the family living wage. In other words, teachers in half the country are unable to support their families on their teaching salaries alone.
It’s something Hannah Bruner relates to all too well. “I can’t be the teacher I want to be,” she told INSIDER. “I love what I do, and I actually really do enjoy some of the jobs I’ve done to supplement my income, but it takes away from my main mission as a teacher. I just know that I can’t be the teacher that the students in my classroom need, and the teacher they deserve, because I need to leave as soon as the bell rings.”
And Bruner says she’s not the only teacher at her school working more than one job – there are many others doing the same thing.
“There are quite a few other teachers who have other jobs, are leaving after school and are working on the weekends,” she said. “Teaching is exhausting, but it’s also rewarding, and I’m so passionate about it. I know all of my other educator friends are as well. There’s a reason we do what we do – even though the pay is low.”
Since school started in August, Bruner has been on the lookout for new ways to make money, too, since her homebound instruction ended, with the child healthy enough to attend her actual class, and the child she tutored caught up on his studies.
Now she’s freelancing and looking for more tutoring jobs.
Extra jobs and extracurriculars leave no time for sleep
It’s not just her four jobs that keep her busy. She also spends hours each week outside of school grading and planning lessons, as well as attending students’ soccer games, football games, and dance recitals – all parts of the job she’s not compensated for.
According to EdTech magazine, teachers spend between 12 and 16 hours a day at their jobs (an hour before school, 7 or 8 hours teaching, and then 3 to 4 hours of post-school grading, meetings, or lesson planning). Put together, that means most teachers are making less than minimum wage per hour.
In the back of her Bruner’s mind each month is the worry that she won’t be able to make ends meet – and the guilt that she feels fearing she’s not giving her students enough of her time.
Bruner isn’t alone. A recent CAP survey of 11 states found that more than 20 per cent of teachers depend on a second job to survive.
When INSIDER spoke to Bruner, she had gotten less than five hours of sleep the two nights prior.
“I think there’s also a sense of responsibility that we as educators have for our students and their education and their future,” Bruner said. “It’s the guilt I feel when I’m not as timely at responding to emails from parents or tutors as I should be because I’m leaving school to go to my second job, and then leaving my second job to go to my third job.”
Bruner buys breakfast for her students, too
But even with the financial stress she’s facing, Bruner still puts money aside each month for her students.
Bruner told INSIDER that her school is a combination of low-income and high-income families, and some students come to school without eating breakfast each day. In Jefferson County, the median household income in 2016 was $US72,017, with 7% of its residents in poverty, according to the US Census.
To start the morning off on equal footing, Bruner brings in food for several students who come to school hungry.
Bruner doesn’t blame her district for her low salary, but instead says public education funding is a state-wide problem.
Colorado teachers are paid an average annual salary of $US46,155, $US12,000 below the national average of $US58,533, according to National Education Association rankings.
And while Colorado has below-average teacher salaries, it also has a higher cost of living than the much of the US.
“There were times at the end of the month where I have to make that decision at the grocery store, knowing I don’t have enough money to even get groceries for me. So do I buy breakfast food for them so I can make sure they’re fed in the classroom, or do I eat this week until my next paycheck?” she said. “Even after all of my additional jobs. And it’s heartbreaking. Obviously I choose them, but a teacher shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
For more on the state of America’s teachers, click here.