Why Do So Many Teachers Work Second Jobs?

It’s summertime and, while teachers need to rest after a long school year, I am gearing up to head back to the classroom to teach summer school. Many of my colleagues and I simply can not afford to be home all summer without earning some extra money. Even if you are not going away for the summer, staycations can be very costly.

I thought that this year would be my first year of not having to work summer school. To be honest, I dreamed about not having to work summer school!  I even alluded to that point in one of my recent posts about summer school; however, with this being my youngest daughter’s senior year of high school and all of the costs that come with that lifetime event, not to mention the prospect of having all three of my kids in college, I need the extra income from summer school now more than ever!

Even without the added expenses, many teachers need — not want — to work summer school. According to the Washington Post“many teachers are paid so poorly, in fact, that they have to take second jobs to pay their bills. A study released earlier this year found that in 2015, the weekly wages of public school teachers in the United States were 17 percent lower than comparable college-educated professionals.”

The article goes on to tell an anecdote of an English teacher (like myself) who, after a full day of teaching and prepping, drives an Uber cab to make ends meet. When she mentions that she was a teacher by day to one of her clients, his matter-a-fact response is that this is a great job for a teacher — and, no, he wasn’t joking. The nerve! I read that part of the article and felt a knot tie up in my stomach. It raised the following very valid question and point:

So why do we think it’s a good idea for teachers to have to work second jobs? Either we believe the job isn’t that hard or we believe it’s not worth the kind of professional compensation that we consider standard for jobs that require a similar level of education and ongoing professional development. In both cases, we need to re-examine our view of undervaluing teachers financially.

If this was just Vivett Dukes, the teacher who works two jobs, that would clearly be a personal money management issue and I’d understand your dismissal of the whole matter. But that’s not the case — far from it. Almost every teacher I know works some form of a second job to earn an extra income in order to make ends meet. I’m not talking about working to go on a vacation or to complete a  home renovations project. I’m talking about needing to work a second job to pay student loans and credit card bills, college tuition and room and board fees, car notes and insurance premiums. Do doctors work second jobs to make ends meet? What about lawyers? Architects? Nurses? None of the above — but teachers do.

Something is wrong with this aspect of the teaching profession and not enough is being done to address it. Often when I raise the issue of teacher salary, it is politely dismissed as a topic for discussion “at a later date” or, if it is discussed in the moment, our love for what we do as teachers is offered up as sufficient payment. Two of my homegirls who are teachers in Florida, Jaraux Washington and Lisa Trujillo, often share with me the low salaries they receive given all the education they have and hard work they put forth. Jaraux and I have shared spaces in national arenas for education and discussed teacher salary — only to be met with an audible groan. Sad, isn’t it? Lisa was a paraprofessional and classroom teacher in the NYC Dept of Education. She has almost two decades of teaching experience; yet she is nowhere near earning the baseline of a six figure income. This needs to change.

I start teaching a summer program at my school on Monday and, while I’m looking forward to helping my students improve their reading and writing skills, I also look forward to that time in my career as a teacher when I will take on this task out of sheer want, not need.

What do you think?

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