If you want to gain a deeper appreciation for the work that teachers do, then I highly recommend accepting a substitute teaching assignment—on a field drip day. Go ahead. I dare you.
Last Friday, seven veteran teachers, two student teachers, and one in-over-his-head substitute teacher lead approximately 150 kids on SoBoCo Primary School’s annual trip to Jefferson City’s Runge Nature Center. Despite the fact that there were kids from at least three other schools there at the same time, I’m happy to report that at the end of the day, no children were lost or injured—at least none from Southern Boone.
Although there is never a dull moment when you are a teacher, the end of the year is particularly challenging for educators. In addition to planning, organizing, and leading field trips, teachers are also busy evaluating how their students have grown academically over the course of the school year. Reading assessments, MAP testing, iReady testing, and final exams make it difficult for teachers to find time to do any actual teaching. Yet teach they do.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a second grade teacher. You have twenty students in your class. Two of them read above their grade level, ten are at grade level, four are slightly below, two are well below, and two qualify for special education support. Three of your students have parents who are battling serious illnesses. Two have parents who are recently divorced. One doesn’t own a winter coat or a toothbrush. And one curses at you in front of the entire class at least once a week. He also throws chairs across the room and has threatened to shoot you in the head with a gun.
Now teach those kids how to write short stories, poetry, and research papers. Teach them how to add and subtract with regrouping. Teach them about government, economics, and science. Teach them while their stomachs growl, while they worry about their incarcerated parents, and while their disruptive classmate throws scissors across the room while screaming at the top of his lungs.
Career politicians who pass laws establishing arbitrary benchmarks have no idea what it is like to teach in a public school that is mandated to provide a quality education to every child who lives within that district. Unlike private schools that can deny admission to students with behavioral issues or financial hardships, public schools are required to welcome all children with open arms.
While teachers are making sure that state academic standards are being met, they’re also making sure that their students are eating breakfast every morning. While they’re planning the next day’s math lesson, they’re also calling a parent to find out why their child has been coming to school two hours late every day. While educators are teaching their kids how to be Safe, Respectful, and Responsible, they’re also teaching them how to run in a zig-zag motion in order to make it more difficult for an active shooter to kill them.
Teaching is one of the most difficult and most important jobs around.
The starting pay for a new teacher in the Southern Boone School District is $33,100 per year. That works out to about $28,000 after taxes. The same teacher has over 15% of her check withheld for retirement, which brings her take-home pay to around $23,000. This amounts to a monthly check of about $1900.
Rent or mortgage payments can take up half of a new teacher’s monthly check. Factor in utilities, a car payment, food and clothing expenses, and repayment of student loans, and you can easily see that teachers, especially new teachers, struggle to survive.
Although I am not technically a full-time educator, I have made substitute teaching my career. I worked 136 of Southern Boone’s 163 school days in the 2017-2018 academic year. I am on pace to exceed that total this year. I have worked more school days in the last two years than several full-time teachers, yet my gross income for 2018 was only $13,700. Less than $1000 per month after taxes. Thank goodness I married well.
At least teachers have summers off, right? Wrong. Many educators have to teach summer school to supplement their income. They often take on second jobs just to make ends meet. Maddeningly, instead of paying teachers a living wage, Missouri lawmakers are actively trying to divert tax dollars to a voucher program for private schools. The consequences of this move would be catastrophic to the already underfunded public school system.
For Teacher Appreciation Week, tell a teacher how much you respect what they do. Thank them for dedicating their lives to our kids. Then contact your representatives in government and demand that they fully fund public education; because our children, our schools, and our teachers deserve better.