Assignment after assignment, conference after conference, loan after loan… and for what? To graduate from the top teaching university in the state and be paid just above the poverty line. I am constantly wondering how I am going to be able to eat healthy, dress professionally, hold a roof over my head AND pay back student loans with these wages. Financial concerns have woken me up in the middle of the night in tears multiple times though I have held a part-time job all throughout college working at least 30 hours a week – dropping a class every now and then when I did not have time for class and a job. However, making $7.5 as a barista at Starbucks does not cover rent, utility bills, food, gas and tuition, fees, and books. It has taken me 6 years to achieve my bachelor’s degree simply because of money. And the best part? If I stay and teach in Oklahoma, I will continue treading water, trying not to drown in my student debt.
I’ve voiced my financial concerns with acquaintances and here are a few responses I have received:
- “What did you expect? Teachers only work nine months of a year.”
- “Teachers are babysitters. Get a real degree like business. That’s where the money is at.”
- “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
- “Why don’t you just get married and have your husband pay for everything?”
You cannot make this stuff up, people.
So, I thought if I cannot talk to others about my concerns, I could write about it.
According to Oklahoma State Department of Education, in the 2015-2016 school year, Oklahoma teachers made the following salaries..
Teacher salaries are not the only thing continuously being cut in Oklahoma; to teach effectively, you need certain supplies depending on the lesson, but schools often cannot provide them.
Tulsa World reports, “[Jameica] Seay, 30, a prekindergarten teacher at West Nichols Hills Elementary School, figures she spends between $800 and $1,000 of her own money on students annually.
‘You just do what you have to do,’ she said as she prepared for the start of her eighth year as a teacher.’All my students are my kids, and I feel like I’m their school mommy.
‘Whatever they need, if it’s not provided for me I’m going to provide it for them. It’s not their fault that we’re having budget cuts and funding issues.'”
The Washington Post created a chart reflecting the average teacher salary in 2013, the results have remained relatively the same over the years.
But, Olivia, the cost of living in Oklahoma is so low, it evens out right? Wrong.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute states, “It costs about 90 cents on the dollar to live here, but we are paying teachers less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to the national average. To bring our teacher pay and cost-of-living into balance, the average Oklahoma teacher would need a raise of about $6,500.
Even that understates the problem, because we must compete for teachers against neighboring states with similar costs of living. Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas all have a cost-of-living within 2 or 3 percentage points of Oklahoma. But their starting pay is in many cases thousands of dollars more.”
Because of this, my classmates are all torn between staying and leaving. Some want to continue living in Oklahoma after graduation because it is their home, it’s all they know, and they aspire to fix a broken system. Others, myself included, see a more comfortable life waiting for us in a neighboring state.
When I was in grade school, I would line my stuffed animals up on my bed and walk around my room pretending to teach them my simple addition math homework. Though I have always had a passion for teaching, I was afraid to pursue a career in education simply because of the low salary. However, in 2013, I switched my major from nursing to education and decided I would find a way to make it work. Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to make it work for me is to swim away.