I’m a schoolteacher: I shouldn’t have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Raise Pa.’s teacher minimum wage

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By Dottie Schaffer

Teaching is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs that anybody can do. That’s why I chose a career in this profession.

I love being in the classroom working with my students. I live for those moments when a student finally gets something, and it all just clicks. That look on a student’s face in that moment reminds me why I do what I do.

What I didn’t expect was how difficult it would be to make ends meet.

No one goes into teaching to make a lot of money. We do it because we want to make a difference in the lives of our students.

But when the school day is done, my day isn’t. I work a second job as a server at a Harrisburg area restaurant. It’s the only way I can pay my bills and provide for my two children and me.

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For teachers in struggling urban and rural school districts, it’s especially tough.

I work as an elementary academic and behavioral intervention specialist. After three years in this profession, I earn $40,800 a year, which is not enough to pay my college loan and monthly expenses. Even with my second job, there isn’t a lot left after the bills are paid.

I know many other teachers like me who have to work a second or even a third job. I don’t mind the hard work, but I wish that the career I invested thousands of dollars in education to pursue could provide for a modest living and allow me to spend more time with my family.

I’m so grateful that Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators from both parties are getting behind a proposal to raise the state’s minimum teacher salary to $45,000 per year. This proposal will help educators like me. And it will be fully funded at the state level so that struggling school districts will be able to attract and retain really good teachers without raising local property taxes.

The state’s minimum teacher salary is set by law and hasn’t been updated in more than 30 years. A lot has changed in the world — and in the world of public education — since then.

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Being an educator today is more challenging than ever. We have more continuing education requirements. We work with students who have complex needs. And we face the daunting task of keeping students safe in the classroom.

Furthermore, teachers often spend their own money to buy resources their students need or to make their classrooms feel like home.

Salaries should reflect the ever-expanding expectations that are placed on educators like me.

If we do that, more teachers will be able to do what they do best in the classroom, without having to rush off to a second job when the dismissal bell rings.

I want to be there after school to provide my students extra help, not worrying if I have enough time to get to my other job. And remember that my work as an educator doesn’t end when the school bell rings. The lion’s share of a teacher’s lesson preparations, grading, and parent contact is done once we’ve left the building.

When it all gets to be too much, overworked and underpaid educators start eyeing the exits. I’ve seen it happen, and when high teacher turnover becomes the norm, it is the students who pay the price.

When teachers are paid fairly, more high-quality educators will stay in classrooms where students need them most.

I’m proud to be a teacher and have no plans of calling it quits. But some days it’s tough to balance everything. Teachers and mothers can do a lot — but even we have our limits.

I hope 2019 is the year when lawmakers and the governor throw us a lifeline by raising the minimum teacher salary.

Dottie Schaffer is an elementary academic and behavioral intervention specialist in the Steelton-Highspire School District in Dauphin County.

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