A few months ago, if somone told me that they would like to offer me $43,000 a year I would have jumped for joy. And I did, I snatched it right up. For the past year, I'd been living on money I had saved from my old office job, the occasional paycheck from substitute teaching and earnings from a weekend swim teaching job. During student teaching my savings just about dried up and I was left scrambling to pay bills and keep my head above water.
Over the year I spent under-employed and working my butt off for my teaching certificate I racked up a pretty hefty credit card balance, mostly incidental costs that I didn't budget for...like car repairs, teaching materials and veterinary bills. By May I was a stresed out financial wreck. I was bill rich and cash poor to say the least. Thankfully, an angel from my temp agency came to my rescue and hooked me up with a long-term assignment that resulted in my now full-time job.
I spent the last few months of summer just playing catch up. Few hundred in back rent, $1,000 to repay the Bank of Friends and Family, $400 to Verizon, and a couple other outstanding expenses that still had to be paid for. Like, maintenance on my beloved Honda Accord and much needed pet supplies (Heartgard and Frontline for Marlowe, dental visit for Milo). So, it made sense to me that even though I was working (again) I was still broke.
Fast forward a few months and I'm pretty much caught up. Rent is paid, credit cards are being paid down and money is being saved. So why am I still broke? When I was a child of 21, $43,000 a year sounded like an impressive bit of change. But now that I'm a big girl, with big girl expenses I've discovered how little that amount really is.
With a net monthly income of roughly $2600 (after taxes, and deduction like TransitChek, health insurance and 401(k) contributions) I'm able to pay my rent ($750), car insurance ($140), cellphone bill ($100) and various debts ($880 for credit cards and student loans) and even put a little away for a rainy day ($210)
At the end of the day I'm left with $520 in my pocket money to spend as I will. Usually it gets spent on operating costs...like gas, office clothing, laundry and the occasional manicure, and coffee. But that's about it. Not that I'm complaining. I'm grateful to be able to pay my bills on time and pay down my debts (roughly $40,000 in student loans and credit cards. Yesh.)
But at $43,000 a year I'm just getting by. Not exactly where I predicted I'd be by my late 20s.
So, when I hear that some people feel that teachers are being paid too much for too little student improvement I get really frustrated. Should there be a shift to merit pay? Sure, I can support that. Because in my mind I'm going to be the best darn teacher I can, and it would be nice to be rewarded for my efforts. But how much is too much, or how little is too little?
According to the NJEA - New Jersey's largest teacher's union - the median starting salary for a new teacher with a B.A was $46,413. The median salary overall for NJ teachers was $57,467. Fair enough I suppose for an entry level professional. But still low when compared to other professions where advanced degrees are a job requirement.
But with budget cuts becoming standard across the country I'm finding that teachers often pay for little things like, art supplies, notebook paper, manipulatives and other teaching supplies out of their own pockets. Add in the costs for higher education to fulfill increasingly stringent teacher qualifications (which I rightly support, and is why I'm happy to pay for an advanced degree) and in most states mandatory continuing education (which is often subsidized by the state, but usually comes out of pocke first) and it doesn't leave much to live on.
Personally, I didn't become a teacher to become wealthly or to gain recognition. I like working with children, and I love seeing their eyes light up when they discover something new. But I also know that it can be hard to make it on less that $50,000 a year. And for now it's just me and my fur babies. What's going to happen when a house, kids and other expenses show up?
Tenure would be a wonderful thing. Here in NJ a teacher with favorable evaluations and the right alignment of the stars will be granted tenure after 3 years and a day (recently though, there has been discussion of extending this to a 5 year evaluation period). In addition to wonderful job stabilitiy (given that one doesn't mess up and get themselves fired) tenure would provide a yearly increase of about 4% and a pension at retirement. This is great, if one is able to find a job and then secure tenure and is certainly reassuring since my expenses will surely increase as I get older (gag, about the getting older bit). However, if some lawmakers have their way teacher pay will be directly tied to student performance. But that's a whole 'nother barrel of monkeys.
What do you think a reasonable salary for teachers is?