The teachers I meet always tell me the same thing when I ask them why they chose teaching as a career path. They do what they do because they absolutely love it, and it’s never because of the paycheck.
And I totally get why. The paycheck sucks.
Yet, teachers are still here and still showing up as they educate through face masks, ensure safety protocols against COVID, and kick ass at caring for and guiding our kids. Not to mention navigating the onslaught of staff emails, parent-to-teacher communications, grading work, creating and carrying out lesson plans, scheduling conferences, attending events, and dipping into their own out-out-pocket funds to cover classroom supplies. There’s also the rising risk of working in a school that could become the next location for a random shooting, which is a truth that’s as necessary to bring up as it is heartbreaking.
And lest we forget that teachers have understandably been stretched even thinner these past two years. The sheer stress that accompanies this gig has been proven to be the most common reason teachers leave the educational field early, making it almost twice as common a reason as insufficient pay. So why the heck would anyone dare to convince us that a teacher’s job is easy?
I have no clue. But someone sure tried — and epically failed.
Allow me to introduce you to Kyle Cohen, an elementary school teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. Cohen’s been teaching fourth grade for the past four years and just finished earning his master’s degree in educational leadership. The 25-year-old educator also knows his way around social media, and one of his most recent posts spilling the tea about how little he was paid during his first year of teaching has garnered a whole lot of attention. It seems that while a ton of people have applauded Cohen for saying what needs to be said, a bunch of other folks out there just don’t understand why teachers are justifiably speaking up about their infuriatingly low paychecks.
“In my first year of teaching, I taught at a charter school here in Cleveland, Ohio, and I made $31,000 as a fourth-grade teacher with a class of 16 students with a wide range of special needs — and I had my college degree and experience,” he says in the uploaded video.
That breaks down to roughly $16 an hour if you’re using the model of a 40-hour work week that stretches the entire year. And that’s before taxes. Of course, this estimation doesn’t take into account that teachers are essentially unemployed during the summer months or that they usually end up working way more hours as the school year progresses. So, a teacher’s salary is going to be even lower than this above calculation — which is honestly terrifying.
One commenter didn’t take too keenly to hearing Cohen get real about the lack of financial perks to his job, quipping back at him, “You work 8 to 9 months a year.”
Thankfully, Cohen knew how to respond with all of the wit, intelligence, and levity in the world — he’s an amazing teacher, so I’d expect nothing less.
“I work from about 7 to 5, which is roughly 10 hours [a day]. Multiply that by five, because there are 5 days in a week — that is 50 hours,” he shares in a response video to the comment. “Multiply that by four, which is about 200 hours that I work a month. I also am going to add 10 additional hours per week, because if I look at my calendar, I have a lot of meetings and events, and things like that as a fourth-grade teacher that I’m required to attend.”
Those ten additional hours just scrape the surface of the unpaid overtime Cohen takes on each week. All in all, his job requires a bare minimum of 2,160 hours of work during the school year. This means that his take-home pay ends up being about $14 an hour (again, before taxes), which is way less than I used to make babysitting kids as a 25-year-old.
“I don’t want to come off as ungrateful,” Cohen explains. “I’m not ungrateful because I absolutely love what I do, and I would not trade being an educator for anything. I am incredibly grateful to be in this field. But what I am hoping we have conversations about is the fact that teachers who are ‘only working for eight to nine months of the year’ are being paid inappropriately for the amount of work that they are doing.”
As someone who just left a job in a classroom because it was too much work for me to handle, I have got to acknowledge something important here. Not only do I hope that teachers continue to speak up about their ridiculously low paychecks, but there is nothing ungrateful about doing so. Next to raising kids, teaching is one of the hardest jobs that exists. Parents literally hand our children over and entrust their entire livelihoods to teachers, many of who spend at least seven hours a day with them. So it’s a no-brainer that our country’s educators deserve way more money than they are receiving.
What they don’t deserve is taking even more time out of their busy days to school Karens on the internet who have nothing better to do than to troll a teacher.
On a personal note, I want to commend educators like Cohen for speaking up on behalf of the thousands of amazing teachers out there hustling non-stop to help shape our kids’ futures. I tried dipping my toes into the waters of teaching this fall, and I lasted a single month working in an elementary school before I had to go on immediate medical leave.
After being hired as an educational assistant supporting neurodiverse kids, I was motivated to pursue teaching and really give it my all. And give it my all I did. I gave so much of my all to those first and second graders that I had nothing left to give. As luck would unfortunately have it, I ended up so overwhelmed by the gig that I had a stress-induced seizure during one of my lunch breaks and was transported to the ER by an ambulance. I just couldn’t hack it, no matter how much I wanted to or how diligently I tried.
It should be noted that I am a work-from-home mother-of-two, a stepmom, and an educator who has spent a whopping two decades working with kids. I love being around children, and I’m the kind of person who will enthusiastically initiate games and scavenger hunts at my local playground. I’m practically a giant kid myself. And I still couldn’t last more than a month in a classroom.
If I were to sum up why I chose to leave such a rewarding job working with students and teachers I loved, it would be this: I simply wasn’t equipped to take on the ginormous amount of labor and multitasking that was necessary for it without experiencing complete mental and physical burnout. I wasn’t even a flipping teacher, and I was already exhausted after the first day of school. Between the lack of resources (i.e. funding) and our school being painfully understaffed, every member of the educational team was totally maxed out.
But that doesn’t stop a single teacher from being absolutely amazing at their job.
Working in a classroom full-time is not for the faint of heart, and it most certainly requires a herculean effort to successfully navigate. It is high time our country starts giving a damn about providing educators with the fair pay, benefits, and respect they all deserve — and if you happen to disagree, you can kindly STFU.
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