It’s tough being a teacher — and even tougher living on a teacher’s salary

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Fifth-grade math teacher Stacie Baur in her classroom at Clairton Elementary School. (Photo by Terry Clark/PublicSource)

Compelling personal stories
told by the people living them.

I have been teaching in the Pittsburgh area for the past decade. I chose a career in public education because I couldn’t imagine a better way to change the world.

Teachers educate and inspire the young people who will be the leaders of tomorrow. When I walk into my classroom, I’m witnessing the future take shape.

But it’s tough being a teacher, and it’s even tougher living on a teacher’s salary.

I hold certifications in elementary education, special education and English as a Second Language [ESL]. My bachelor’s degree is from Robert Morris University, and my master’s is from Waynesburg University. I paid my own way through college and graduate school, and today I owe about $130,000 in student loan debt.

With my degrees, my certifications and my decade of experience, would you believe that my salary is about $43,000 per year? I teach fifth-grade math in the Clairton City schools, but you don’t need a math degree to know that after I pay my $650 student loan payment, there isn’t a whole lot left to cover my other monthly expenses.

So, to make some extra money, I wake up at 4 a.m. to teach an online ESL class for children in China. I do that for about two hours before heading to school to start my regular teaching day. I even work the online job over the weekend, from 4 to 10 a.m. both days. Even with the extra income, it is still tough getting by.

I am not alone. There are hundreds of other teachers like me, serving in struggling school districts who are barely scraping by.

Gov. Tom Wolf has a plan to raise the minimum teacher salary from $18,500 to $45,000 per year and to provide state funding to struggling districts that want to pay their teachers more but don’t have the local resources. The governor wants teachers like me to be able to focus on educating my students, not worry about how I’m going to pay the bills. For me, this change would mean a $2,000 raise — a significant sum. For others, the change may be more and even convince them to not leave teaching as a profession.

Clairton math teacher Stacie Baur talks to Alex Spence (right) during an after-school student leadership program on May 10. Listening is Ka’mya Burrell (left). The students were making thank you cards for teachers. (Photo by Terry Clark/PublicSource)

There is bipartisan support for the proposal in the General Assembly. I think that policymakers basically understand that when we level the playing field and give struggling school districts the resources they need to attract the best and brightest to teach, that’s good for students.

Every year, I see teachers leave my school district because of the low pay. Sometimes they go on to teach in neighboring school districts that pay better. Sometimes they leave the profession altogether.

When people ask me why I stay, the answer is simple. I enjoy and love my job. My students – my kids – need me. And I’ll never leave them. I am a teacher and don’t want to be anything else.

My husband and I want to buy a house. We talked about having a family. The sad reality is we don’t think we can afford to do so. In addition to my other jobs, I take part in multiple extracurriculars for the school district and have very little time for anything other than work.

All educators should be paid fairly, and students should have every opportunity to be in classrooms with great teachers. That’s the goal, and I’m proud to play a small part in it.

Stacie Baur is a fifth-grade math teacher in the Clairton City School District. She can be reached on Twitter @BaurStacie.

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