OKLAHOMA CITY – Hundreds of thousands of American schoolteachers work second jobs to boost their income. They speak of missing time with family, struggles to complete lesson plans and nagging doubts over whether it’s worth the sacrifices to stay in their profession.
Nationwide, 18 percent of teachers work jobs outside school, supplementing the average full-time teacher salary of $55,100 by an average of $5,100, according to the latest survey from the U.S. Education Department, from the 2015-16 school year. That is up slightly from 16 percent in 2011-12.
Teaching is hardly the only profession where people pick up second jobs to pay their bills, and many have the flexibility to do other work in the summer when school is out. But their numbers help explain the outrage behind the teacher revolts in states including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
The Associated Press asked moonlighting teachers to describe how they balance the extra hours with their day jobs and family responsibilities:
After a day of instructing first-graders at Oologah-Talala Public Schools in Oklahoma, Melinda Dale puts on a janitor’s uniform and begins cleaning the very same school building.
“I usually do it right after school,” Dale said, “because working with first grade all day, I tend to lose my energy pretty fast.”
Dale, who has taught for six years, earns $32,000 a year as a teacher. She spends about 15 hours a week on the janitorial work, which at $10 an hour allows her to earn nearly a quarter of what she makes teaching.
She is trying to save money for college for the oldest of her three children, a high school senior. Her youngest, a first-grader, has to wait for Dale to finish cleaning before she can go home, but sometimes other family members help with the cleaning so she can leave sooner and spend time with her kids.
Her second job forces her to do lesson plans on the weekend, usually on Sundays after church and lunch with her family.
One day, her seventh-grade daughter was waiting in the car for her mother and said: “I’m sorry it’s come to this, mom.”
“It was a very heartwarming but sad moment to hear her say those words,” Dale said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to be in the career that I’m in, but also provide for them.”
As Lyft driver Stefanie Lowe crisscrosses the metro Phoenix area in her Jeep, many of her passengers are surprised to learn that she also is a full-time teacher.
“It’s super busy to drive during the week, but sometimes I just have to do it,” said Lowe, 28.
She earns just less than $37,000 as a first-grade teacher at Tuscano Elementary School. She rents a room, instead of having her own apartment, to keep her housing costs down, but to make ends meet she drives for Lyft on nights and weekends and also picks up tutoring jobs. She drives more during the week when she has upcoming expenses such as a car registration payment, medical bills or supplies for her classroom.
By 7 a.m. the next school day, she’s back at her classroom. With 32 students, the class demands her full attention. But Lowe is committed to improving her students’ lives.
“These kids are going to be taking care of you when you’re older,” she said. “Let’s educate them; let’s make them the best people that they can be.”
Lowe left a job in health care in Pennsylvania to teach in Arizona, where the signing bonus from her first job at a low-income Tucson-area school went entirely toward materials for her classroom. At times, she has considered pursuing a different career, but for now she is dedicated to teaching.
“I went to school for this to be my career,” Lowe said, “not so I could work three jobs just to be able to afford to go the doctor.”
John Andros knows the drill well after more than a decade of double duty teaching high school and then working at Dick’s Sporting Goods. He packs lunch and dinner, puts an extra set of clothes in the car for his retail job, and sets off knowing he won’t be home before his daughters go to bed.
There was a time earlier in his career, when he was making less than $40,000 teaching, when he considered giving it up to pursue a management job at Dick’s that would pay over $50,000.
Now in his 19th year of teaching, with two master’s degrees, he has reached top scale – $88,000 annually – as a special education teacher at Plainville High School in Connecticut. But he still works 15 hours a week at Dick’s and tutors because he feels like he’s still catching up financially after years of much lower earnings in an area with high property taxes and a high cost of living.
He paid off his college loans three years ago, and he and his wife only recently got out from a requirement to pay mortgage insurance because they didn’t have enough for a full down payment when they bought their house.
“I became a teacher because I figured I’d get home and get my kids off the bus and do all these things. I never thought in a million years I would still be working so much. This was supposed to be a two, maybe three-year thing. Financially it never worked out,” said Andros, whose wife works part-time as a health aide.
He makes a point to stay home with his daughters at least two weeknights, but as he looks to build up college savings for them, he frets over the volleyball and field hockey events he misses.
“I love what I do. The kids haven’t changed. That part of it hasn’t changed. But my daughters ask me all the time, ‘What do you think of me becoming a teacher?’” he said. “It’s a tough question to answer.”
Despite more than three decades of teaching experience, Christi Phillips keeps up her longtime second career as a children’s photographer. She enjoys working both jobs, but she feels like she doesn’t really have a choice.
“Thirty-two years, I have to have a second job,” said Phillips, who teaches first grade at George Ward Elementary School in Mill Creek, West Virginia. “Isn’t that sad? That’s very sad. Everybody I know has two or three.”
Phillips makes $52,000 teaching. That’s enough, she says, for her utilities and a car payment. The money from the second job is needed if she and her husband want to eat out at a nice restaurant, buy a second a vehicle or take a vacation.
“I can scrape by. I can make due on my salary if I just want to pay bills. That’s it,” Phillips said. “If I want to live, if I want to do any real living, I can’t do it on my salary.”
West Virginia teachers, who rank among the nation’s lowest paid, received a 5 percent raise after a statewide strike in February. It set the stage for teacher protests in other states.
“A lot of people think, ‘Woo, you make tons of money,’” Phillips said. “If you compare my salary to maybe somebody who works in fast food, I do. But if you compare my salary to somebody who works, say, at our local hardwood plant here, not so great. There’s people there probably making as much as I am without the education, without the years of service.”
Talley reported from Oklahoma City, Melia from Burlington, Connecticut, and Raby from Charleston, West Virginia.