- Teachers across the US face low pay and poor funding in schools.
- The issues they face have prompted walkouts and strikes in several states.
- Educators spoke to INSIDER why they continue to teach.
Teachers across America are facing low salaries, poor funding, and high-stress environments while educating students every day.
They work second, third, and fourth jobs to survive, and live on little sleep each night so they can provide for their students in the morning.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported earlier this year that 94% of public school teachers are putting their own money toward their classrooms and school supplies.
Some even take money out from their own pockets to pay families’ electricity bills and school fees as well as make students’ breakfasts so they don’t go hungry.
The average public school salary in the United States for the 2016-2017 school year was $US59,660, according to the National Education Association.
In 2017, the Bureau of Labour Statistics found the median earnings for all workers with bachelor degrees was $US60,996.
Among the states, averages ranged from $US81,902 in New York and $US79,128 in California on the high end, to the low end, where teachers made $US42,925 in Mississippi and $US45,292 in Oklahoma, on average.
Many people ask them why they continue to teach. Here, INSIDER shares their answers.
Rachel Brown, 11th grade English teacher in Oklahoma
“When you look at these kids, you see the things that they’re not only capable of but the things they’re capable of in the future. And investing in their future makes me proud and it makes me fulfilled both professionally and personally.”
Kathryn Zaleski, high school social studies teacher in Colorado
“I just really really like the job. I love working with high schoolers. They’re just a lot of fun to be around, and I just end up learning a lot from them. And I really like what I teach – I’m constantly learning – and it just keeps me relevant, between working with teenagers as well as constantly having to read up on what’s happening around the world, especially since I teach social studies.”
Dairrai Doliber, Eighth grade social studies and debate teacher in Michigan
“Honestly I love getting to know the kids. I love getting to know them outside the school, seeing how they mature and grow over the course of the year when they have those light bulb moments and they make that connection that maybe they weren’t making before, or they come up with something very profound.
“In the school I’m currently at, kids start in the building in sixth grade and they go through twelfth grade. The middle school and the high school are connected through a hallway. The high schoolers stay at the high school, the middle schoolers stay at the middle school, but it makes it easy for me to see their growth.
“I have students who I had in 10th grade, who are now in 12th grade, and they come to me over at the middle school and are talking to me about how their days are going, and what they’re doing, and what colleges they might be going to. Just seeing them mature and grow and learn and be successful, that’s what I really love about teaching: the students.”
Allison Lytton, kindergarten to sixth grade STEM classes in Maine
“It’s my purpose, I don’t know what else to say. My parents were both teachers, and my grandparents on my mum’s side as well, so I’m a third-generation educator, and from the time I was little I couldn’t figure doing anything else.
“I just kind of knew this was where I was supposed to be. I had a bit of a rough time in school myself and just wanted to be someone else’s positive, so I try to remember that and the relationships I’m able to build with the kids. The little things. It makes it worth it for sure.”
Rhiannon Wenning, community coordinator at a school in Colorado
“Looking at our students, looking at my colleagues, I have a job to do, and if I’m not here, then it doesn’t get done, and my students lack services and my parents lack services. So for me it’s my students. It’s our parents, its our community, that’s why I wake up in the morning. I’m sure I could find some other job that would pay more, but it would be a vocation. It wouldn’t be something that I love.
“I’m very lucky that I get to wake up every morning and say ‘yes, I get to go to work!’ Not everybody gets to do that. But at the same time, that’s not paying my mortgage, that’s not paying my credit card bills, it’s not paying my heat. I wish it would, I’d be a millionaire, but no.”
Jesi Barnes, a middle school facilitator for the project-based learning program, EAST, which stands for education accelerated by service and technology, in Arkansas
“I really enjoy how fast paced it is. After working in an office I don’t like being a clock watcher. I love being able to be in control of my classroom and that my principal completely trusts me, and I can kind of run my classroom how I see fit. I don’t like being micromanaged so there’s a freedom in that especially after working in and office for so long. It’s so nice to kind of go my own pace, and if something doesn’t work out I have the freedom to adjust it.
“I joke around by saying I just really enjoy telling people what to do, but I do. I really like being able to use the context and skills that I have from my previous job and being able to transfer that to the kids. And they get really excited when they find out they’re actually doing these things.”
Hannah Bruner, fifth grade in Colorado
“The school year started five weeks ago or so, and probably in that time I have received at least between ten and 12 emails from my students from last year or the year before that are in middle school.
“They email me long after they have left my classroom telling me they’re having a hard time with something and want to know when I have time in my schedule where we can meet and set up a plan so they can succeed. Or they want to know when they can come and volunteer in my classroom, or ones that just say I really miss you, can we meet up to talk about how things are going.
“And I think those kiddos that I get to make a difference with, that’s huge. I think another piece that makes it so rewarding is to me but another piece that also ties into teacher pay and general education funding is that the school I’m at is amazing.”
Keith Levesque, 11th grade US history teacher in Maine
“After 17 years, you’re invested in it. I can see why people, particularly newer teachers, burnout, but for me it’s still a passion in working with students. And I feel like I can still help them grow as learners and as individuals, so that passion is still there.”
Shaun Kamida, high school agriculture and social studies teacher in Hawaii
“It’s fun. I love it. You don’t know what to expect. You’re dealing with about 80 different students a day – we have these kind of block periods. And you don’t know what to expect. And there are so many different personalities. Since social studies and history are my passion, I really enjoy doing that every day. It is draining. I’m going to be honest, some days are really, really hard, maybe it’s the last period of the day and you kind of just have that feeling of, you know, you’re tired and want to go home, but as soon as class starts, about five minutes through, all that goes away. It’s really a fun experience.”
Carol Daoud, elementary teacher in Indiana
“You have those kids that you like and you spend time with them. I’m good at what I do, and I think when you’re good at what you do you enjoy it. But there’s times when I have to think, four years ago when Walmart [where I work a second job] asked me to join the management program, I probably should have because I’d be making more than I’m making now. But I’d be working different hours and different things. Again… I’ve done it so long that I can’t imagine not teaching.”
Gerrit Guers, middle school teacher in Indiana, who teaches adults after school
“Clearly it’s not the money, that’s for sure. For me it still boils down to being around people who have plenty of opportunities for growth and improvement and getting to feel like I’m playing some sort of role in getting to watch them grow and progress. Whether it’s a middle schooler who’s finally figured out, ‘Oh yeah, the letter I is supposed to be capitalised,’ or whether it’s watching the mum who dropped out of school because she was pregnant and has four kids who’s getting to pass a test and get her high school equivalency diploma and getting to celebrate at the same time as her kid. Both of those are growth in different ways, and it’s fun to say, ‘Hey, I helped with that.'”
Cassie Koch, middle school teacher in Montana
“It’s the kids. I’m here for them. I hated my middle school when I was a kid, so I wanted to make it a better experience for the kids I teach here. And they’re wonderful. Just getting in front of them and talking with them, it’s fun. It’s all about them.”