This week last year I wrote the following note on my Facebook. In light of this day has rolled around again this year, it bears reposting.
As a teacher, one of my pet peeves is people who think that teachers get a paid vacation over summer. We don’t. Some of us get paid year-round, because our school districts have opted to pay us our salaries over 12 months instead of 10, but we are not getting paid to be on vacation. We are getting paid for the work that we finished doing in June. Many of us also work a second job over summer or during the school year in order to get by. For those of us with kids, we are home with the little ones in order to save the cost of sending them to daycare, which would outstrip the financial benefit of having a summer job.
While some teachers get paid every two weeks throughout the year, there are many districts throughout the country where this is not the case. In my district, where teachers are not paid year-round, the first real paycheck of the year is a kind of annual ritual. Not getting paid from July 3 through (essentially) October 8 can be a recipe for financial disaster, but it can also be an artful demonstration in corner-cutting. As it’s an election year, and there’s an exciting new trend of “blame the teachers for the poor state of American education” going around, I thought I would share some of the things that teachers actually do with our first real paychecks of the year. This is not exactly everything that I have done with my first paycheck this year, it’s more of a “greatest hits” of the past eight years worth of first-weekend-of-October activities.
Now, I understand the counter-argument here. It goes something like this: “You people can’t budget your pay across 12 months? How irresponsible! How can you possibly be trusted to teach our kids?!” To this I say, I DO budget my money, and I can manage to pay myself over the summer because I transfer a certain amount of money into a separate account that I pay myself out of every two weeks over the summer months. But every year, in September and October, there is a three week gap between our first paycheck of the year, which is partial and based on how many days we have worked in pre-service, and the second full paycheck, which arrives in the beginning of October. Experienced teachers can plan ahead for this, but a new teacher, one who has just started in the system, has been in school for 32 working days (plus five paid federal or local holidays) and has only been paid once. For many people, this is a financial disaster. What’s more, for a third year teacher, one who has not received an appreciable raise since starting out teaching as a result of suspended COLAs and a freeze on step increases, this is a nightmare. And I don’t even have kids of my own. So, here it is, a list of things we do with the largess of that first paycheck.
1. Happy hour. Have two beers instead of a Diet Coke. Consider actually ordering food. If you don’t drink, you probably bought a pint of Ben & Jerry’s (not store brand) ice cream or a nice bar of chocolate.
2. Put gas in the car. There were three teachers at the Exxon station across from school today. All of us coasted into the parking lot on fumes.
3. Go to grocery store. Buy items that one has used up from the store cupboard (canned goods, flour, sugar, pasta, spices that one has run out of, restock TP). Purchase lunchmeat to replace PB and J sandwiches that one has been eating for the first three weeks of school.
4. Buy an actual cut of meat from a butcher instead of ground beef / turkey from the supermarket.
5. Go to the Farmer’s market and buy the nice-looking fall fruits and veggies that one has been lusting after all month.
6. Go to Target. Purchase household supplies that one has been diluting since the middle of September (Windex, bathroom cleaner, Tilex, hand soap, laundry detergent, stain remover, bleach) and other expensive but optional items (paper towels, kitchen sponges, shaving cream, hair conditioner, Q-tips, hand/body lotion, Britta filter replacement cartridge, printer ink).
7. Pay VA personal property tax bill on the car (Due Oct 5). The sticker runs out on November 15, but the bill is due on October 5 unless you want to pay the late fee.
8. Begin to pay of any credit card debts accrued over summer.
9. Begin to pay the bills that one has strategically had come due at the end of October (car insurance, etc.)
10. Repair major and minor household appliances that have been broken since August.
11. Take car to the mechanic over the funny knocking sound and or smell of gasoline that one has been ignoring since school started.
12. If applicable, take the toll road to work instead of the back roads. Breeze through the toll gate without worrying that the little red light will come up when your EZ-Pass goes through.
13. Raid the late “Back to School” sales in the dollar bins in search of school supplies that you KNOW your classroom will be out of at the end of the year. This is for my peeps in elementary school classrooms who are given a ration of supplies that can’t possibly last the entire year, especially if your students forget to put the caps on the markers and glue sticks.
14. Oil change / tire rotation – 2,000 miles overdue. Luxury item? Car wash.
15. Go to the dentist. Reschedule the appointment that you cancelled in the first week of September because you couldn’t afford to go and wait for the six-week reimbursement period.
16. Dry cleaners. Take all of the clothes in that you haven’t had cleaned since the start of the school year.
17. Buy belated birthday cards for anyone whose birthday unfortunately falls between September 8 and October 8.
18. Pay the PTSA and school “social committee” dues that one has been avoiding for five weeks.
19. Begin saving for next summer. This includes saving for the tuition for graduate school. Since step increases and COLAs are frozen, the only way to make more money is to pay to take more graduate classes. This despite the fact that the school district (which is overwhelmed by the layoffs of the central office staff) is over a month late in coughing up the partial reimbursement for the classes I took this past summer. I paid my tuition in May, submitted the grades and reimbursement request in August, and if I’m lucky, the district will pay their part of the tuition (which covers about 60% of one of the three classes I took) on October 22.
20. If enough money is left to cover October bills and food, indulge in one of the following luxuries: manicure/pedicure, eyebrow waxing, massage, bottle of nice liquor, dinner out with friends, weekend road trip, new pair of shoes or sweater, or a cup of coffee not made at home.