Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 16 2013

can I afford to be a teacher?

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Before I was in TFA, teaching was all I ever wanted to do. I absolutely love teaching. But as I look at my options for next year, I’m forced to think practically. Can I afford to continue teaching?

Before I started teaching, I had no debt. I had paid off all of my student loans, and I had savings. As of right now, a year and a half into my career, I have thousands of dollars in credit card debt and $500 in savings. I barely make it through each month without overdrawing my bank account. I can’t keep living like this.

Now, I understand that I could manage my money better. I know that some teachers do take home more than $1700 a month. The other teachers at my school, the ones who seem to have a social life, are all married and living off of their husbands’ income. Their teaching paycheck is their “fun” money. And my cost of living right now, in rural Arkansas, is probably the lowest it’s ever going to be.

So, internet, is teaching as a single adult financially viable?

(By the way, this whole thought process is spurred by this article:

8 Responses

  1. Tee

    I think it’s hard to answer that question without knowing where your money is going. Are you paying for groceries, rent, electricity, and cable and overdrawing your bank account? Or are you going out every weekend and overdrawing your bank account?

  2. 2ndyearcm

    I am not sure this is something you would consider, but I make that much per paycheck. A move?

  3. Woefully Underpaid

    Short answer: No.

    Long answer: It depends on what your long-term goals are. If you want to be able to pay off your debts, buy a house or live in a decent neighborhood, go on modest vacation, or live the life than any intelligent, educated, American adult hopes to live, then teaching is not the way to get there. I don’t know about your district, but the community in mine has very little respect for the teaching profession and think all teachers are overpaid no matter what we get paid. Therefore, salaries have been frozen for 4 years and teachers have not even gotten inflation/cost of living raises for this year. We likely will not get them next year either. This essentially means that we get paid LESS every year because cost of living continues to rise and the value of a dollar continues to decrease. My salary this year will not buy me the same things next year but that’s what I’ll have to live on while I finish up my TFA commitment.

    Teaching makes sense longer-term if you have student loans because PSLF will wipe most of it out after 10 years and for some people that’s the only way to ever accomplish that.

    Teaching makes sense long-term if you have parents who help support you or a trust fund and you really love what you do.

    Teaching makes sense in the long-term if you have a spouse who has a stable job with sufficient income to pay your paycheck wholly or in-part “extra” income that goes towards savings or reducing debt.

    Teaching makes sense in the long-term if you lack the skills or motivation to pursue another career path.

    Teaching makes sense in the long-term if you are currently satisfied with your living conditions and can even see places where you can cut back and still be happy.

    So…in short, if you don’t plan on having children, pursuing further education, traveling, buying a home, moving into a “good” neighborhood, buying anything that isn’t on sale, making more than your minimum monthly credit card payments, buying name-brand food products, eating in restaurants, or “indulging” in anything, then stay in teaching for the long haul.

    Otherwise, start looking for a job that will afford you the opportunity to have a real and meaningful life.

    • Meg

      It seems like you have as little respect for the teaching profession as the people you speak of in your community. “Teaching makes sense in the long-term if you lack the skills or motivation to pursue another career path…Otherwise, start looking for a job that will afford you the opportunity to have a real and meaningful life.”

      For the sake of the students you teach, I certainly hope you possess the “skills” that will allow you to pursue another career path as soon as possible. Also, comments like this are why people hate TFA.

      • Tee

        I could be wrong here, but I read the comment differently. I interpreted the commenter as saying that the current treatment of teachers is so abhorrent that it will result in the failure to attract new teachers who are qualified and motivated. In other words, not that all teachers are underqualified, but that if the current trends in education continue, it will not be feasible for any more qualified, hard-working people to enter the profession.

        • Woefully Underpaid

          That is exactly what I meant. The public has developed this notion that teaching is a “calling” and not an actual profession that involves talent and skill. I love teaching and I’ve been working with kids for years. HOWEVER, the fact that I am drawn to the profession of teaching and have a desire to have a positive impact on the lives and trajectories of my students does not mean that I am not a self-respecting, hard-working, intelligent professional. Teaching is a profession where the professionals in it are not treated as or considered to be professionals. It is, quite frankly, insulting to anyone with a modicum of self-respect. Working absurd hours for a fraction of the pay I would (and have) received in other fields all while being treated as if I must be some sort of under-qualified idiot to have wound up a teacher is hardly worthwhile to me or any other teacher.

          I’m not denying the fact that there are people teaching who are of questionable intelligence and/or even more questionable skill. They are not, however, the norm. They will, however, become the norm if teachers continue to be berated, bullied, and paid a wage that is not commensurate with the professions that provide more attractive salaries and benefits.

          As for why people hate TFA, THIS isn’t it. People hate TFA for many, many entirely valid reasons. If you can’t recognize at least some of those reasons then you really aren’t very useful to helping the organization grow and develop. I don’t think TFA is a lost cause but it needs work and a lot of it for it to become the organization that it aspires to be. Those kinds of positive change don’t come from the yes-men. They come from those who can offer compassionate criticism that identifies a problem and looks for solutions.

  4. Woefully Underpaid

    I will add this: If you love teaching but can’t afford to stay in it, there are PLENTY of ways that you can stay connected to education and/or the demographic you serve without having to live on a pitiful teacher’s salary and see your profession lambasted in the media as a cesspool of greed and laziness.

    You can tutor (for pay or as a volunteer), become a big brother/sister, volunteer at local school, become a mentor for a student or group of students and teach them about whatever career you’ve chosen to pursue after teaching, get involved in a nonprofit that provides students with non-educational opportunities that help expand their horizons and introduce them to the arts or sciences, create a website with resources for students who are struggling in your content area, teach Saturday school, etc, etc, etc.

    When there is a will, there is a way. The way just doesn’t always involve remaining a full-time educator.

  5. Lindsay Schoenig

    Hi! My name is Lindsay Schoenig. I am a former Delta teacher and current grad student writing my masters thesis on identifying the barriers to the adoption of the community school model in Mississippi Delta public schools. I have created an anonymous online survey that I am looking to have ms delta public school teachers fill out. I would really appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to complete the survey and maybe pass along the link to your colleagues and other teachers you know in the region. Here is the link to the survey:
    Thanks so much!

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rural Arkansas, eh?

Mississippi Delta
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"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln