I Was a Teacher and I Was Homeless

“Whether you broke or rich you gotta get this

Havin’ money’s not everything, not havin’ it is.”

 Kanye West, “Good Life”

The World Series is underway and America’s favorite pastime is on my mind (Go Cubs—I always root for the underdog!) In my excitement about the Series, I can’t help but think about how much these professional baseball players are getting paid to showcase their expertise and juxtapose those figures with how much professional teachers get paid to perform every day.

About two years ago I attended a Seattle Mariner’s professional baseball game with some of my teacher-friends. During the course of that game, a colleague of mine from Tennessee, Robert Davis, and I, began to informally discuss this phenomenon of disparities in pay between teachers and other professionals, namely baseball players, and how that translates into just how devalued we are as American educators. Robert knows a lot more about baseball than I do, but neither one of us are aficionados by any stretch of the imagination, so forgive the simplicity of our analysis.

Sometimes the best points don’t need the fluff. It’s clear.

Now some of you may say it’s not the same. You’re right: it’s not the same. The hours, commitment, professional development, and caring that an effective teacher provides to his/her students is just as much if not more than that of a baseball player. What’s wrong with this picture? Does America value baseball more than education? Baseball players more than teachers?

Teachers are underpaid. There’s nothing new or avant-garde about this statement; but it remains a troubling fact. Most teachers I know, including myself, have to work some type of overtime or second job before school, after school, or on weekends in order to make ends meet. Professionals with multiple degrees of higher education having to supplement their income to be able to pay their bills—sounds bizarre, right?

Couple this with getting hit with a huge financial blow and, as a result, ending up homeless and you have now entered my world last year this time. I, Vivett Dukes (Hemans, at the time), was homeless from October 2015 to March 2016 — all the while getting up, going to teach everyday, and earning a paycheck twice monthly. Know that this is not based on theory but, like everything I write, is from the heart and based on my first-hand experience. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve lived it and I’m sensitive to the fact that many of my colleagues and students have lived it in the past or or are living it now.

Though shocking on some level because I don’t fit the image of what our minds conjure up when we think of a homeless person, this phenomenon of a teacher struggling each pay period to sustain a roof over his/her head is more prevalent than we choose to acknowledge. Teaching is the only profession I know of where one’s love of the profession is expected to somehow take the place of fair financial compensation. We have just as much required education and ongoing mandated professional development, if not more, as doctors, lawyers, architects, and nurses. Yet I have never heard of any of these professionals having as little as $20 dollars left to carry them through until their next paycheck.

This is not about proper budgeting, either, so please don’t try to dumb it down and blame it on the educator.. Teachers are hands-down among the most intelligent people to walk this planet! All the doctors and lawyers and architects who are earning triple our salaries owe a significant part of their accolades to their teachers. Yet, we remain on the lowest end of the professional totem pole where salaries are concerned.

The respect we receive is little, inconsistent, and lip-service at best.  I can’t help but wonder if our poor salaries have anything to do with the fact that teaching is a predominantly female-dominated profession. Perhaps it’s the prevailing thought that teaching is “easy” and that we get the summers off so we should be grateful for that and stop complaining?

I invite anybody who thinks that teaching is easy to walk a day in a teacher’s shoes for a week. If you last that long, I guarantee you will be singing a very different tune.

It’s time America puts her money where her mouth is and pays teachers their fair due. We more than earn it.

It’s so easy to look on the outside and make judgements.  Only teachers know that once you become one, everything in life becomes a potential lesson plan. We never stop working because that’s just how effective teachers’ minds and hearts are wired. We give so much of ourselves, emotionally and financially! I have students who call me “mom”—and I know I’m not the only one. We spend our own meager earnings on the supplies our students need to succeed with little in the way of reimbursement. The NYC DOE gives us $120 to reimburse monies we’ve spent on classroom supplies—and that’s an increase! Most of us spend $120 during one trip to Dollar Tree!

Teachers continue to be marginalized across so many planes and, once again, I’m tired of it and I’m speaking up about it! If you’re reading this blog, I suggest you do, too. We must strategically band together and  demand the compensation and respect that we deserve.

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “I Was a Teacher and I Was Homeless

  1. Wow great article Vivett its a shame that school systems are not paying teachers what they are really worth. You would think that the educators that are teaching the next generation would be top priority when it comes to compensation. This is disturbing on so many levels. Love the open honesty, wishing you and your family all the best.

    1. Hi Desmond! It’s so nice to hear from you after all these years. The way teachers are under-appreciated is bewildering. Too many teachers, after reading my blog, have come forward with their own stories of lack of housing, food, etc. Your support means a lot, Desmond. I thank you for it and I wish you and your family the best, as well.

  2. I am proud of you! I am glad to be your friend. You are a resilient woman and I am very honored to know you. Our district board members in Shelby County Schools, Memphis, TN, are currently going through the motion to give themselves a $10,000 pay raise annually. All the while, teachers haven’t seen a pay raise in 3+ years.

    I strive to be a voice for teachers! Keep up the noble work.

    1. Hi Robert! Who knew that our non-chalant convo at a ball game years ago would be the catalyst for this blog? The honor is truly all mine. Please keep me posted on how things go in Memphis and keep striving to be ta voice for teachers. We are each others’ best advocates.

  3. I have always believed that teachers are underpaid and unrecognized. Your story has touched me in ways that I cannot say publicly. Where do we appeal to in order to agitate those who can rectify the salary issue? Help me help all the teachers, please.

  4. Dear Rosalie,

    Thank you for your care. As a result of this blog, I have learned of so many devastating stories of working teachers struggling to maintain the basic needs of life. I don’t know where or to whom to go to address this issue. I just know that there is money there to pay us — no question.

    Love you, sis.

    – Vivett

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