COLUMN: Low salaries leave our teachers, their families struggling
Sitting on the floor of Mrs. Sanderson’s first-grade classroom, two six-year-old girls argued over who could sit on my lap as I read them "Junie B. Jones" during indoor recess.
It was September 2014 at an elementary school in St. Clair County. I was in between classes at the community college in town, visiting my mother and helping her while she was frantically grading papers. My mother looked up every so often to remind her students to use their “inside voices.”
I spent that year acting as her teacher's assistant. I witnessed the dedication she put into her lesson plans, staff meetings, report cards and the well-being of nearly 30 children. Despite her hard work, my mother continues to face financial hardships.
The Economic Policy Institute reported in August 2016 that the gap between teachers’ salaries and salaries of comparable public workers is growing wider. The EPI refers to this gap as the “teacher pay penalty.”
It was her first year in a new building after leaving another school where she taught fifth grade for 12 years. The school closed down because of the district's declining population. It was the furthest boundary school, so the district lines were redrawn, and many families chose to send their children elsewhere.
The result was my mom’s first pay cut.
My mom has taken four more pay cuts since then, subtracting roughly $20,000 from her annual income. She had to take on a second job tutoring three times a week just to help pay for my books, or for gas money to drive my brother to baseball practice.
It's wrong to expect teachers to provide valuable educations to young people when a majority of them have to find work outside of the classroom just to make ends meet.
In 2015, the weekly wages of public school teachers in the U.S. were 17 percent lower than comparable college-educated professionals. This number has grown substantially since 1994, when teachers were looking at a 1.8 percent decrease in wages.
I know people don’t go into teaching to get rich, but this penalty doesn’t just hurt educators -- it can create long-term economic harm for the education sector.
Lawmakers have made massive cuts to public schools and teacher salaries in attempts to balance budgets in the wake of the Great Recession. Inflation over the past decade has outpaced teachers' salaries in many states across the country, according to the National Education Association.
These cuts have not only affected my family financially, but have completely disregarded the daily efforts and progress my mom makes with her students.
Lawmakers must see the value of educators and must stop deep cuts to education. If they expect teachers to take pay cuts, they must provide more assistance through benefits or grants things like school supplies -- purchases teachers usually make out of their own pockets.
My mom shaped my life. She has also impacted nearly 800 young people who sat in her classrooms over two decades.
Teachers take on an important roll caring for and educating other people's children. Let's make it easier for them to take care of themselves and their own families, as well.