If you guys have been around Surviving a Teacher’s Salary for a while then you know that my husband is the teacher in our family which puts me in a unique position to be the wife of a teacher! The teaching field is overwhelmingly dominated by female teachers but male teachers are a little more spread out. My husband has always been either the only male teacher or one of two male teachers in his past schools and the unfortunate “dumping” ground for troubled boys in the Title 1 schools he taught. It’s almost like he’s a school mascot. In fact he was the only male student in most of his college courses as well.
My husband and I were very fortunate to meet our freshman year in college and over that 4 year time period I eagerly shared his passion for educating elementary aged children and spent countless hours cutting out laminated projects and creating old-fashioned bulletin boards. This was long before the age of Pinterest which provides a wealth of ideas and creative resources! I supported his decision to teach 100% and still do – no matter what.
When we graduated college together neither of us could find jobs in our prospective fields (mine was biology) so we did what we could to make ends meet for the first few years. His first job offer came to him from across the country so we quite abruptly quit our corporate jobs, packed up our meager belongings and started out on our new adventure to follow his passion for teaching. And holy smokes what a ride it has been! Truly nothing has prepared me for the journey we were about to embark on.
He accepted the first job offer that came around because he was SO incredibly excited and passionate about teaching and I was thrilled to see his dreams begin to start. What we didn’t realize in hindsight is that it landed us in one of the poorest counties in Florida, one of the most illiterate areas in the USA and more than 90% of his students were not only transient but they either did not speak English at all or English was their second language.
Although it was a real eye-opener as a first year teacher he had a rock solid principal who taught him a lot and helped shape him to the teacher he is today. The principal and teachers were absolutely what made that school thrive – no doubt about it.
In my eagerness to support my husband as his teaching career launched I most certainly was not prepared for the rough road ahead – both financially and the stress that it brought to our entire family. There are obviously plenty of things that factored into this including the birth of our children, an autism diagnosis, pay freezes, lousy insurance and doctors, etc.
It was easy to look at family and friends who had landed those teaching jobs that paid 6 figures and think of the easy road they had, although knowing that scenario is few and far between. Through all of it here are a few things I have learned.
Be STRONG. Be PATIENT. Be SUPPORTIVE.
There will NEVER be a school that gets it 100% right. Ever. Not for their teachers. Not for their students. I don’t care whether you’re in a private school, a public school, or homeschooled. There are some INCREDIBLE schools out there and phenomenal life-changing teachers. But with the quick pace of technology growing, the change and growth of medical diagnosis and generational shift, curriculum forming, state testing, pay issues, and new requirements all across the board education is an evolving process and it always will be.
There is no cookie cutter one size fits all when it comes to education. The education our children received 50 years ago is not the same education they need today. Don’t get me wrong – there may be some rock solid aspects of that education to carry over, especially in light of our clearly failing system today, but it can not completely encompass the problems that today’s society faces. And unfortunately it seems that trial and error tends to be the path education follows right now.
Don’t EVER EVER EVER sacrifice your family for your teaching position. Ever. I can’t tell you how many teachers we saw SO stressed out that they not only drove their health right into the ground but also the well being of their family. I’ve seen teachers under stress succumb to strokes, seizures, hospital mandated bed rest, permanent disability, etc. Serious illnesses due to the stress of the job – even ultimately death (obviously there were some underlying issues that were pushed to the brink). It’s heart wrenching.
If you cannot stay healthy due to stress you are not only not helping yourself but you’re not helping your students. It’s a downright tough call when you need to find a different school, change careers, or relocate but stand strong when you need to make that decision. The specific Title 1 school my husband was at for 5 years is the reason we picked up our family, headed back across the country to a new location, and started over again.
I can tell you my husband felt like a failure and like he was “giving up” on “his” kids at school. It was the scariest, hardest, and best decision not only for my husband and his career but also for our family.
It’s OK to consider another career alternative. Teachers are absolutely BORN – there’s no doubt about it. The vast majority of teachers that I know (and based on those that polled in on our Facebook page here) knew they wanted to be a teacher as a child. If you need a change there are so many other areas where you can still teach children that are not in a typical classroom setting. From tutors, virtual school, curriculum development, training workshops, educational director, youth organizations, children’s publisher, teaching abroad, academic advisor, teach home bound children, TPT Creator, etc. – there are so many alternative options to stay within the field yet creatively branch out.
Be prepared to have your heart broken. And then broken again. By that I mean those heart wrenching stories of children who lose a parent. Children who end up on the streets. Children with medical conditions. Children who are abused. Children who only eat when they receive a school lunch. It happens and it’s VERY real and it’s everywhere. Not once did I ever think twice about my husband providing extra food for students in his class so that they could eat – even if it meant we had to cut our own family grocery budget short. I never flinched at the thought that it could cost him his job – it was the right thing to do and I pray that if it were ever my children in that situation someone would do the same for them.
You might need a second income, in fact you probably will. For many people surviving an entire family on a teacher’s salary is near impossible. It’s NOT impossible, but I won’t lie – it’s tough. (It’s kind of the whole reason I started this blog to begin with!) It takes some creative and sometimes extreme budgeting to make it work. And even then sometimes you’re not sure how it will all pull together.
I’ve done all sorts of random odd and end “jobs” over the years from watching kids in my home to selling our chicken’s eggs, selling on eBay and doing online surveys to help contribute to my husband’s income – especially those 6 years he taught in Florida on a beginner teacher’s salary thanks to a pay freeze. Some years we went without Christmas presents and we almost never went on vacation but we were happy knowing that teaching was my husband’s dream and he was making a difference in the lives of children and other teachers every single day.
It’s Rewarding and a Life Investment. Watching the excitement in my husband’s face when his struggling student finally “got it” or the relief when a child gets the needed diagnosis and help that they’ve been needing for years – it’s rewarding. Knowing that those students are SO insanely lucky that they were put in my husband’s classroom for the year because their maximum potential will be pushed to help them succeed. They will be loved to the fullest and given the utmost patience. They will be taught good manners and always be seen as an individual – not a test number.
The feeling you have knowing that because you slipped an extra apple “on your desk” after lunch means that a child is getting food that day. Watching students as they pass from grade to grade and eagerly run back to hug you when you see them out in town. There’s no feeling like it and THAT is why teachers do what they do. It’s a life investment. They aren’t in it to dream of the money or prestige (because quite frankly there usually isn’t much of either!) – they selflessly portray patience and perseverance to fight for their students and push them to be the best that they can be.
EVERY SINGLE DAY teachers are making a difference. EVERY SINGLE DAY. That’s a huge burden to bear and a huge encouragement all wrapped up in on big ball of passion! It may be hard as heck but I encourage you to follow your heart and do what is best for you and your family. You can not tackle the entire world and fix the problems of the educational system but you absolutely CAN make a difference in the life of each and every child that comes through your door. Every single child. One day at a time.