I grew up in a single-parent home where my siblings and I were taught to work hard for the things that are important in life. That work ethic is what got me through college and has allowed me to stick with a fulfilling career in public education.
I work as hard as I can every day because what I do makes a difference in the lives of the students I teach. I know educators from across Pennsylvania who share this work ethic. We share another thing in common, too. We aren’t paid enough to make ends meet.
I am one of more than 3,000 teachers statewide who would get a boost in salary from Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to increase the state’s minimum educator salary from $18,500 to $45,000 per year. The governor proposed the salary increase during his budget address in February, and state lawmakers from both parties are seeking cosponsors on legislation to enact it. The minimum salary law hasn’t been updated in more than 30 years.
I’m a sixth-grade social studies teacher in the Reading School District. This is my third year with the district. I have stuck with it, despite the challenges, because of my amazing students. In sixth grade, kids are brimming with potential and enthusiasm. I try to harness that energy and cultivate it. I want my students to know that, with a little hard work, they can do anything they set their minds to.
When the school bell rings, my day is not over. To provide for my family and me, I have taken on after-school jobs as a tutor, a baseball umpire, and an intramural sports coach. I also am taking graduate school courses to earn my level II teaching certification — adding to my student loan debt.
When all is said and done, I go home to grade papers and prep lessons for the next day.
I don’t mind the late nights. Every student in Pennsylvania deserves to have the very best teachers. When I became a teacher, that’s the vow I made — to be the best I can be.
But I do think that teachers deserve more. So does Gov. Wolf.
If enacted, the governor’s plan would have a tremendous impact on my life. It would lift up my salary, allowing me to focus more on the needs of my students and less on the anxiety of how I’m going to pay the next bill.
Raising the minimum teacher salary will help school districts across the state attract and retain the best and brightest to teach in our schools. The plan is fully state funded, giving struggling districts a leg up to offer more competitive salaries to talented, young educators they might otherwise lose to other wealthier districts.
Good teachers are needed now more than ever. Pennsylvania is in the midst of an educator shortage, and low pay is contributing to the problem in some parts of the state. Since 1996, the number of undergraduate education majors in Pennsylvania has declined 55 percent, while the number of newly-issued in-state Instructional I teaching certificates has dropped by 71 percent between 2009-2010 and 2016-2017.
I became a teacher to make a difference, not to earn a big salary. But I do believe teachers should be paid fairly, so that they don’t have to work second and third jobs just to get by.
I hope state lawmakers from both parties agree and support the governor’s plan to pay teachers what they are worth.