For Love or Money?

Mary McLaughlin
Special Education Teacher

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I got paid Friday. While that day always makes my heart happy, what makes my heart happiest after nearly two decades in the profession is the same as when I first stepped into my very first classroom: working with the kiddos in my class. They are the reason I do what I do. I live for each "light bulb" moment when the connections are finally made and their smiles extend from ear to ear…THAT is the reason I became a teacher. The summers off is a happy perk, but really-are our summers really "off"?

There's no part of me that chose a career in teaching for the money. When I break it down, my hourly rate is too…too…well, not enough to buy that yacht I've been Jonesing for (just kidding).

My circle of friends includes a lot of teachers, both active and retired. While we agree that teacher salaries aren't what they could be, in many districts, they aren't even what they USED to. In one friend's district, my teacher-friend, who started in 1999, earned a starting wage of $35,000 and is currently at the district's step of 2 Master's degrees - $78,000. A current new hire in the same district can expect to start at $29,900 and will not see $78,000 even after 2 Master's degrees, let alone a Ph.D. or Ed.D. The district has told the teaching staff that these changes reflect coping with budget and funding cuts. Ironically, this friend's spouse works in a non-traditional public school (charter) within the same district's community. This spouse earns $36,500. Their level of education and years of experience are the same. The workload of the charter teacher requires 2-3 evenings per week of tutoring, one weekly staff meeting until 6:00 p.m., and more frequent observations with feedback.

Another teacher pal in a west coast urban district has fallen into the black hole of budget cuts. Teachers were told they are required to take 2 unpaid furlough days per month for 3 months and their benefit packages were significantly dissected.

In still other states, a teacher who may have 20 years of experience but has just started their first year teaching in that state will have to start at the very bottom of the pay scale. In my friend's case, she went from $56,500 in one state to $36,500 in her new state.

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Why the inequity? Why the imbalance? It all comes down to taxes in your state and locale. Yep. So the buck stops there. Literally.

If one is going to drive one's self truly crazy, one can easily succumb to sadness when it is noted that the "average" Electrical Engineer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, earns between approximately $56,000 and $136,000. A Petroleum Engineer, with a Bachelor's degree, is slated in the range of $129,900 as a median income. A Bachelor's degree - holding Mechanical Engineer brings home an average of just over $85,000 according to the same source. Meanwhile, our good friends at the Bureau say the national average for a teacher with a Bachelor's degree is $54,550. I'm excited for those who earn close to the national average, and if I'm honest, maybe even a little jealous.

And so, as I pack up my classroom for the summer and look back on the great things and the challenging things which have happened over the course of the year, I realize that my school is truly a happy place, led by a positive, smart, and driven teacher-leader. The team with whom it is my pleasure to work is truly focused on challenging every child in their midst to achieve while guiding them to be their moral best. When obstacles come our way, we work together to find solutions. In all my years as an Educator, this is the place where I have learned the most valuable lesson of all: the money is not why I do what I do. Some may not understand that statement, nor find value in the sentiment; but, if you're one who DOES understand the intrinsic reward inherent in that statement, I'll see YOU at the next in-service!