A Teacher's Story

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is the short version of how I got into teaching and why I am leaving it after 6 years.

I am a single mother of 2 daughters. Six years ago, I graduated from the U of A with a BA in Education, 24 units of college-level math, and $40,000 in student loan debt. I passed all three state exams required to teach K-12 math, and found a job at a prestigious local school district with high socioeconomic status and low pay. I taught a little bit of 6th grade science, a lot of 7th grade math, some 8th grade math, and some special education math. I discovered a love of teaching special education. I worked at that district for three years, but racked up thousands of dollars of credit card debt because I couldn’t survive on the salary I made. All of my students, including my special education students, showed tremendous growth in math, but I couldn’t afford to stay.

The next year, I took a job at another local district for more pay. I was issued a temporary contract. The economy took a huge hit that year, and thousands of teachers were laid off. I wasn’t offered a contract, even though my students showed an average 17% gain on their AIMS compared to their 6th grade score. It is a union district, and seniority, not performance, is what matters.

I continued to build debt. I couldn’t find a summer job - not even waitressing or cashiering. I applied for unemployment and was granted a whopping $241/week. It paid for groceries, but not much else – a large portion of that money went to pay for COBRA health benefits. I didn’t qualify for food stamps because of my recent wages. Nobody was hiring. I eventually printed out my resume and drove to school after school, asking to see the principal, and leaving my resume. Finally my efforts paid off. A math teacher had just been promoted to instructional coach, and my resume was on the principal’s desk as he looked for a replacement. I took the job, along with a pay cut over last year’s salary and another temporary contract. I taught math to ELL students that year, in a low-SES area on the south side of town. My students showed amazing growth according to the benchmark tests the district gives every quarter. That school had been a failing school for the previous three years, and was in danger of being taken over by the state. That year they made the gains they needed and are no longer considered failing. I was not offered a contract because once again teachers were being laid off, and my position had been eliminated. This is another union district, and senior teachers kept their jobs, regardless of their performance. (I could tell you things about their performance that would curl your hair.) The country was in a recession. Unemployment was skyrocketing. My credit card bills were ever increasing. That summer I earned my Master’s degree in Math Education after 3 years of study, granted with a generous fellowship.

This past year a fellow math teacher told me of a position at her school teaching special education math in the same low-SES district. I wasn’t certified to teach special education, but I had done it before, and said I would work on the certification. The principal hired me on the spot. I took another pay cut. No teachers were laid off last year, but there certainly was no money for raises. Five furlough days were built into the calendar. I co-taught math with that same fellow math teacher, and together we were a force to be reckoned with. The special education students and the general education students were all in the same classroom, and nobody knew which was which. There was no stigma. At this point I considered declaring bankruptcy because I couldn’t pay the bills. My credit cards were all maxed out and I had racked up an astounding $20,000 in revolving credit debt. I have no new clothes, no fancy car, nothing to show for the debt except that I raised two children on my own and survived.

I took the state-required exam to teach special education classes and passed on the first try, without having taken a single college class on the subject. Still, at the end of the school year, the district office notified me that they would not be able to hire me for next year because I do not have the SPED certificate on my teaching license, and I am not enrolled in classes to earn the certificate. The test score doesn’t matter without the classes.

I have no money to pay for classes. I don’t even know how I will make rent next month. The credit cards are long gone due to the bankruptcy filing. I looked into using student loans to pay for the classes I need so that I can keep my job, but found that I am unable to take out loans unless I enroll in a full-time degree program. I can’t quit working to go back to school, and I only need 21 units of college courses to get the SPED certificate. I don’t qualify for any kind of grant program because I already have a master’s degree. The district has no money to pay for the classes. I was offered a contract at a substantial pay cut from last year’s salary, if I start over in a different position, at a different grade level and without my much-loved special education students.

There can’t be that many people who actually want to teach 7th grade, special education, math, in a low SES-area, for the kind of pay I was earning. Who will the district find to replace me? I gave up and am looking for work in the private sector.

This is how someone with a master’s degree from the math department at the U of A ends up bankrupt after working 6 years, for less money each year. This is also how a highly educated, talented teacher ends up leaving the profession. It is how the system is killing itself. The taxpayers need to know what is happening.


Submitted: June 19, 2011

© Copyright 2021 Missyfus. All rights reserved.

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Comments

MishIsAwkward

You opened my eyes to how a teachers life can truly be. I never even thought about this, I knew everyone had troubles but... I guess it's the fact they were my teacher and had to be stable for me. I was still growing you know. Truly, you are extremely talented in that profession. It really is a shame that it came down to it. I have a new respect for teachers, I thank you a lot.

Mon, June 20th, 2011 8:30am

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