On National Teacher Day, I spoke to two educators about the economic disadvantages they face — and what needs to change

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May 9th is National Teacher Day, and the week of May 8th-12th is Teacher Appreciation Week.

For other professionals, it’s easy to understand how to climb the corporate ladder. Essentially, you need to be efficient at all costs, stab your co-workers in the back, and wear your ruthlessness like a badge of honor. The finance district and legal fields are great examples of that dynamic in action.

The same cannot be said for teaching.

National Teacher Day is about more than memes and random texts to your 3rd grade clarinet instructor. This year, National Teacher Day can extend throughout the month of May and beyond if we help support teachers in a more sustainable way. It has the potential to be something more.

I spoke to two other educators about how we can help, and how they currently survive as teachers.

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Here is the problem.

Many educators — particularly those from marginalized communities around the country — enter this line of work because they have some level of intrinsic motivation. The pay is not great (approximately $47k on average) and the hours are long. There is a certain altruistic drive in the best teachers that pushes them to put in more than 45 hours each week so that their students have a good experience when the bell rings.

In this society, though, “helpful” careers don’t afford much in the way of financial success. Most of the things that help people make more money in other careers would be antithetical to a good teaching environment.

Beyond the reality of those factors, teachers often have to spend their own money to buy supplies. One out of ten teachers spends over $1,000 on out of pocket expenses each year despite the fact that they can only claim $250-$500 on their taxes. This is important because 99.5% of public school teachers spend their own money on supplies. Our favorite teachers from childhood likely worked 50+ hours a week.

Although the smile of an educated child is fulfilling, it certainly doesn’t pay the bills. Many teachers have an overwhelming amount of student loan debt in addition to potential car loans, mortgages, credit cards, insurance, and childcare. There are privileged individuals who suggest that paying off college debt is easy, but teachers give up a larger percentage of their income to repay student loans than other fields than their non-teacher peers because the earning potential is substantially lower.

All is not lost, though. We can develop solutions to address the economic disadvantages that teachers face. Let’s listen to two teachers who have experienced this directly.

Selah has taught in public, charter, independent, and private schools. She has even been a college professor. Funny enough, she has never had time to celebrate National Teacher Day because she’s usually teaching or preparing to teach. Selah’s personal solution focuses on being more independent and understanding your worth as an educator. This is why, for example, teachers have turned to freelance writing to supplement their income. In Selah‘s case, she often develops curriculum or solicits independent contracts.

Because teachers are so undervalued, her personal suggestion for a solution is to become entrepreneurs while you also teach.

She says, “So many educators are restricted by bureaucracy and I would encourage those who are passionate to put more value on their skillset.

Misty, a public school teacher, thought about what schools can specifically do to benefit their teachers. She thought back to her experience, remembering how economics played a role in her decision to stop being an educator:

“Thankfully I attended undergrad on scholarship, so I don’t have college debt. Many of my colleagues weren’t as fortunate so they feel some type of way when deciding whether to buy supplies for their students. The main reason I stopped teaching was because I spent more on supplies than on gas every month.”

Misty’s suggestion for ensuring less debt is for schools to host loan forgiveness and repayment programs, or put a bulk buying program into effect. Either of these options would go a long way helping teachers deal with their financial reality. Principals can bring in professional development speakers to discuss tax breaks that alleviate teachers’ burdens. She believes that schools should front more of the bill when it comes to the problem.

But what can you do to help?

How would you solve the economic hardships involved in education? This year for National Teacher Day, you can talk to teachers you know about how you can help make their lives better. National Teacher Day is today, May 9th. Show your love by supporting those who give so much and ask for little in return.

Happy National Teacher Day!

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