The following is a submission from an educator as part of the Your Soapbox feature, which explores the experiences of educators in North Carolina through their own words. Check out more first person stories here, or if you are an educator, submit your own.
Dear Fellow North Carolinians
Dear Fellow North Carolinians,
Hello, my name is Lisa Gerardi and I am a teacher in a title I school in Durham, NC. People say that teaching is “the hardest job you’ll ever love” and I have found that to be true. Like so many other teachers, I care deeply about the students and families I serve, and I willingly spend countless unpaid hours after school, on weekends, and over holidays, planning, grading, and preparing for school. I spend hundreds of dollars of my own money buying materials for my classroom, such as classroom library books at the kids’ interest and reading levels, because I want my students to develop a love for reading. I buy even more books as gifts for the students at the end of the year, because I know many of them do not have books to read at home. I buy prizes, incentives, special treats, and organizational items for my classroom as well. All of this I do willingly, because I want my classroom to be fun, welcoming, and structured for learning.
I am frustrated that I cannot afford to live on my teaching salary. North Carolina is ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay. NC has frozen teacher pay for 5 out of the past 6 years, ended teacher tenure, and eliminated extra pay for having a Master’s Degree. Teacher pay here is $10,000 less than the national average. Since we are a “right to work” state, it is illegal for teachers to unionize and strike.
As a second year teacher, I take home a little over $1800 a month for 12 months a year. My rent is now up to $900 a month (I pay half). My student loans from my teaching program alone (a 2 year licensure program from NC Central) amount to a monthly minimum payment of $345. Right there, I am down to $1000 for the rest of the month! I don’t have a smart phone, don’t have cable TV, and don’t have a car payment, because I can’t afford any of those things. I still have to pay for my undergraduate student loans, power, water, phone, internet, gas, and groceries. Not to mention personal spending money. $1000 cannot cover all of that. I am lucky that my boyfriend is able to cover utilities for me. Even still, I am broke before half of the month is over. I don’t have the money to replace my 21 year old car which literally has pieces falling off of it (One of my tailpipes fell off this summer). Instead, I started a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for a new car: www.gofundme.com/teacher. It is embarrassing to be a college-educated professional working full-time and needing to ask for help because my salary is not enough.
Since I couldn’t afford my $345 student loans for my teaching program, I applied for a reduced payment option. With this option, instead of paying $30,000 for my 2 year licensure program, I will end up paying over $64,000 over the term of the loan. More than double! It hurts that I cannot afford to pay for my training with the job for which I attained the training.
I need my government to help. I am a professional and I work very hard at arguably the most important profession there is. I want my job to pay me a reasonable salary for what I am doing—teaching, raising, nurturing, and inspiring the future men and women of our communities. When I see posts on social media that say an average McDonald’s manager makes the same salary as an NC teacher who has been working for 19 YEARS, I feel the profession is really taken for granted. When my rent goes up each year, but my salary won’t for another 4 years, I wonder how I will be able to afford to live. (By the way, the raise on my sixth year is a whopping $472.50 extra that year. This is just under $40 extra a month, before taxes.) When I have to call my student loans and ask for a forbearance or deferment on the very loans I took out to become a teacher, I wonder why a working teacher cannot afford the cost of teacher training, or much else for that matter.
I chose my job for the love of it, not the money. But please don’t understand that to mean that I think current teacher pay is fair, reasonable, or livable. I am tired of teachers being made to feel guilty when we ask for more money. Professional athletes make millions, but people don’t question their love and passion for what they do. Teachers are not asking to be millionaires. We just want a pay that reflects the hard work that we do. The budget needs to be re-prioritized. We cannot expect to have successful school systems and an educated, capable future work force if we do not invest in education today. Part of that means paying enough money to hire and keep the best teachers. As a teacher, I am a public servant, providing the service of education to my community. Parents and supporters in the community, I ask you to stand with North Carolina teachers. Call and write North Carolina legislators and demand that action be taken to raise teacher pay, so we don’t lose any more hard-working and qualified teachers who are leaving the state or the profession for better pay.