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A teacher’s truth

November 7, 2019

Ever since they’re young, children work with and build relationships with teachers. In fact, for the majority of their lives, they are in school or thinking about school. Imagine a life with no teachers. Some would rejoice at the thought of this. No teachers means no school, and school often comes with stress, which many have been experiencing since elementary school. But, the association of school with stress is not something only students experience, teachers feel it too.

Teachers, like anyone else, spend all of their lives in school and surrounded by school. Then, they continue to pursue a career in education as a teacher. This not only requires that aspiring teachers to actually go to school to become a teacher, but once they become a teacher, they are in a classroom for the rest of their teaching career. 

Often, people notice the stress that comes with being a student, but do not recognize the stress that comes with being a teacher. Not to mention that, in some states, teachers are paid an incomprehensible amount for the work they do. 

In fact, as a result of low pay and the stress that comes with the profession, teachers are more likely to experience mental hardships and stress than that of their colleagues pursuing other careers.  

Financial Hardships

It is a given that teachers are extremely important everywhere and in every community. However, they are not paid as such. For the 2017-2018 school year, the state with the lowest starting salary was Montana at $31,418. Compare this to the highest starting salary for the 2017-2019 school year, which  in the District of Columbia was at $55,209. 

The difference between these two salaries is nearly $24,000 dollars. This much money can make a world of a difference in order to keep up with rent, bills, and saving for other larger goals like purchasing a house or saving for retirement. 

When trying to understand and decipher these salaries, specifically that of Montana’s, it is important to note the living costs in that state. In order to get by living in Montana, one would need about $23,671 dollars before taxes. Now, add in housing and food costs which average out to about $10,000. Already, the starting salary as a teacher in Montana has made it impossible to get by living in Montana according to these numbers. This leaves absolutely no money left over for anything else, making teachers’ lives wholly based on schooling rather than anything else. 

Personal lives aside, many teachers have student loans to pay off. A starting salary in Montana makes this impossible to pay off, yet having an education above a high school diploma is necessary in order to become a teacher. 

According to Education Next, “Teachers who go on to pursue master’s degrees accumulate significantly more debt. In 2011–12, 59 percent of students who completed master’s degrees in education borrowed federal loans for graduate school and accumulated $37,750 each, on average, from their graduate studies alone.” 

A stack of books to indicate the schooling and student loans teacher have to go through to become a teacher.

With a low-pay teacher salary, this is nearly impossible to pay back without working another job, and a very well paying one at that. Teachers are expected to be the best role models and provide guidance to their students, but this can often become difficult to do when there is trouble making ends meet. 

With the starting salaries already at a low, research has found that these salaries actually were not on the rise. The National Education Association writes, “…When the effects of price inflation are taken into account, the average classroom teacher salary has actually decreased by 4.5 percent from 2009‒10 to 2018‒19…” Despite teachers being one of the foundations for modern society, they are still poorly paid. 

This is one of the leading factors for why teachers leave the profession within their first five years, according to research done by the Pennsylvania State University. Low pay is only the beginning to what teachers endure in their professions, but it is important to note that the low pay is not in all states, it is only in certain states. More recognition is important to the compensation of teachers for their service to the people and the impact they make.

Stress and Hardships Teachers Experience

Out of all professions, being a teacher is a quite stressful one. Many teachers at the NYC iSchool and from states around the nation have spoken to their experiences being a teacher. They are teachers from New York, California, and Illinois, which have a decent if not good salary, so here are some statistics that generalize teachers across the nation, in states where teachers may not have the benefit of a decent salary. 

Stress is one of the most common feelings a teacher will experience in their profession. For example, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information,Individuals working in school settings are particularly vulnerable to work-related stress… 46% of teachers in K-12 settings report high levels of daily stress during the school year.” Having a consistent high stress level coming in every day to work, decreases the motivation to even want to continue teaching. This is evident in additional research. 

The National Center for Biotechnology Information also writes, “the American Federation of Teachers (2015) found that 78% of teachers reported feeling physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. The stress that educators experience affects their enthusiasm about the profession and longevity in the field. For example, a survey of 30,000 teachers revealed that 89% said they had been enthusiastic about teaching when they started the profession, but only 15% reported being enthusiastic at the time they completed the survey.” 

Not only does this show a decrease in interest in teaching due to stress, but it also shows that teachers are both emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of the school day. Not to mention, teachers usually come home on weeknights and weekends with work to grade that can take them hours, when in fact, it is their day off. Several of the teachers interviewed at the NYC iSchool and in various other states can confirm this. 

Stress can also lead to numerous mental health issues that can become detrimental to the teacher and their overall health. According to the Education Support Partnership, “More than three-quarters of teachers surveyed experienced work-related behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms and more than half were considering leaving the profession due to poor health. Senior leaders have been particularly hard hit with 80% suffering from work-related stress, 40% suffering from symptoms of depression and 63% considering leaving the profession…” 

On top of the low pay, teachers have to work one-on-one with students of all kinds and try to be a guide to them. Being a teacher clearly takes a toll on many, and can lead to other serious health issues. Depression is something many struggle with, but the fact that teachers are suffering from this as a result of their jobs is very clearly concerning. 

Any job can come with stress, but teaching is different. Teaching is not a 9-5 job, where you can clock in and clock out and be done for the day. Teachers often work past dismissal time at school and can spend hours outside of school still working. 

These are unpaid hours that teachers still do the work for because if they don’t, they can become inefficient in the classroom. If they don’t do grading at home, students can not get scores back in a timely manner, and it makes it difficult for that student to see where they stand in the class. 

“For centuries, teaching has been characterized as a profession that is emotionally taxing and potentially frustrating,” Molly H. Fisher writes from the University of Kentucky. 

So far, this has proven to be completely accurate. From rising depression levels to wanting to quit teaching, teaching has indeed been characterized as emotionally taxing and frustrating. This is an unfortunate reality being that societies need teachers. There are children in countries all around who would love to have the opportunity to go to school, and teachers are an outlet for children to be able to learn. Without them, younger generations can not become good civilians and citizens in their communities. 

In a study done by Gerard Leavy at Ulster University, “64% of respondents stated that they have not achieved a reasonable work/life balance. Such a work/life imbalance can lead to high levels of occupational stress. Significantly, stress and workload are two recurring reasons cited by those leaving the profession.” Stress is a repeating pattern amongst teachers, and can create a work/life imbalance. 

Many teachers spend hours and hours outside of the classroom grading papers and work that is necessary for students to know how they are doing in school. However, doing so has an impact on tecaher’s lives. Because they are spending time outside of work doing just that– work, they are unable to do what they want on their days off. This creates an unhappy lifestyle, which is why depression is on the rise amongst teachers. 

Teachers have it particularly hard. Being in a classroom for the majority of their lives, as a student and as an educator, comes with a lot of mental strain. If being a student is stressful, one can only imagine what being a teacher is like. Running a classroom full of kids of all different learning styles, behaviors, and skills is extremely difficult. On top of this, the pay in most states is outrageous, and in other states, its adequate, with the exception of a few well-paying states. Still, teachers experience mental wear down and the pay certainly doesn’t help to keep them as teachers. 

Despite this, teachers still exist. Teachers still do exactly that — teach. Despite the pay and despite the difficulties that come with being a teacher, they still do what they do everyday and show up to school everyday. While many leave the profession, many also still remain. Here is some insight from teachers themselves who can speak to their experiences being an educator in various states and environments. 

Insight from Teachers 

Every teacher has their own individual thoughts and opinions on the profession. Teachers were interviewed from New York, Illinois, and California, which are some of the higher paid states. With that being said, every account is just as significant as the other and speak to the bigger issue of the stress teachers have to endure in their profession. 

Teachers at high school NYC iSchool in Soho, New York City, were interviewed on their teaching experiences and thoughts on the profession. 

Social studies and government teacher Jay Finkelstein spoke to his personal experiences as a teacher and thoughts on teaching in other states. With 11 years of teaching high schoolers under his belt, along with years of experience as an educator of different education levels, when asked about his teaching experience as a whole, he described it as “very positive… but it is in many ways one of the most demanding jobs I have had and I have always worked hard but this is a very demanding job.” 

Upon talking about how much time he spends outside of school grading and prepping for lessons, Mr. Jay says, “A lot of time I would spend the summers developing new classes, and this weekend I spent a lot of time grading for my Mock Election class,” but explains that preparing and developing for a new class consumes more time than if you have been teaching the class for years now. 

Mr. Jay continues on to talk about his outside hobbies. “Before I became a teacher, I played grid like once a week, Monday nights. That stopped. I didn’t have the time or the energy. It’s also an exhausting job. I actually just started playing boccia, I’m doing it on Monday nights. I’ve never done that before, this is the first year. There are games at 7, 8, or 9. I will not be at a 9 o’clock game.” This relates back to the research presented previously, where teachers are unable to find a work/life balance. But, like Mr. Jay said, teaching is an exhausting job, and like anybody else after a long day of work, needs rest, and hobbies or extracurriculars just may not be possible. 

Suzana Paljevic, first year teacher at an elementary school in Middle Village, found herself overwhelmed with the stresses that come with teaching, especially younger children. 

Aida Matezic, who taught in both suburban Illinois and California, found herself in the same predicament. Upon being interviewed, Ms. Paljevic described her first few months as a teacher as a “big change. Even though it is an elementary school, there is a lot of prep time that I do at home. My husband sometimes gets frustrated. I have less time for things we used to do, like date nights.” 

When asked about her pay, she says, “It’s good. It’s only me and my husband and he works too, so we’re able to live comfortably. I’d hope to see my salary will go up as the years go on.” Similar to Mr. Jay’s case where time for anything else except work or rest is just not available, this is why there are rising levels of dissatisfaction and depression in the profession. 

Ms. Matezic, who worked in both Illinois and California, was able to find time for herself. “To be completely honest, if I didn’t have time to grade it at work, I didn’t do it when I got home either. I was born in New York City but raised in suburban Illinois. I decided to move to California for a year when I got a job offering over there. I did not want to waste my time shackled up at home grading work and doing lesson prep. It just was not worth my time or money. I dropped everything to come experience California. Teaching is hard but you can make it easier on yourself by drawing boundaries.” 

Regarding pay, Ms. Matezic described her struggles getting by. “Living in California is extremely expensive. This move to California was really last minute and I spent a lot of money in a short period of time. I love kids but being a teacher definitely has its downsides. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else though.” 

Mr. Jones, English teacher at the NYC iSchool, feels that New York City teachers are paid quite generously. “I have a sister who has taught in Missouri and Kansas and Oklahoma and Florida and has been paid poorly in all of those states. And that’s more often the case than not, I’d say 40-45 out of the 50 states pay terribly. So to me, it’s more a state issue than a governmental issue. The vast majority of states need to be valuing their teachers more.” 

The issue of low salary is less prevalent in New York, but is rather pressing in other states throughout the nation. 

A common trend among teachers interviewed is that even though there are downsides, teachers stay committed to their jobs. This is not the case for all teachers though, as proven by statistics which say that more than half of the teachers surveyed in that study were considering leaving the profession. 

Teachers put so much on the line for their students. Sacrificing their quality of life, spending their off days still doing work, all of these things show just how much teachers care. It is unfortunate that teachers have to experience downsides in their job because they are really the people who shape children to be who they are as adults and people in a society. 

Educators need to be given more recognition, praise, and reward for the work they do. On top of that, states need to raise their starting salaries for teachers. Along with the stresses of their job, low pay doesn’t exactly encourage teachers to continue to be teachers. Across the nation, there should be well pay for all teachers in every state. The work they do is unmatched and undervalued.

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