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    Posted September 10, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Teachers: Why do you teach?

    Why DO I Teach??


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     WhatTheHuh says she wanted to add a voice 'from an often overlooked demographic of teachers' -- those who are not in unions. She teaches art to students with behavior problems at a private school in Fairfax County, Virginia.

    'I don't think that people understand that many non-union teachers (especially those in non-profit private education schools) are on even lower pay scales than union teachers, and we usually don't have the protection that unions provide, nor do we have pension programs, instead relying on our fickle 401k plans for our retirement. And in the case of teaching difficult children who are not suited for public school programs, it seems like we work twice as hard, with less to show for it. Yet there is little choice for us, because these children need an education.'
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    I currently teach students with behavior issues. My students have been put out of the public school system and are anywhere from the age of 6 to 22. My school is a private, non-profit school that is funded both by private donations and the counties and cities of the children we serve. The teachers at my school are non-union, so we are paid even less than what the unionized teachers make, and yet we have all the students who are too difficult and disruptive for those teachers to teach. Our salaries are prescribed by the tuition level set by the counties and cities that send the students, and thus at the mercy of jurisdictional financial limits and budget cuts often resulting in pay freezes, step restrictions and salary caps. Yet despite our stagnating salaries, we are still expected to have our students pass the SOL tests and meet the standards dictated by NCLB. We get students who are in middle and high school who cannot yet read or do basic math, and we have to work ridiculously hard to make up ground lost over years and years of unsuccessful education. Our school day begins in mid August, and doesn't end until the end of June. That's right, i said our school DAY--because to be successful with this population you have to basically work around the clock for 10 months. Our summer break--if we don't spend it teaching in the extended school year program--is spent collecting new ideas and curricula for the following year, and once August is here, it's back to a 24-7 grind, facing children who are professionally challenging and emotionally draining not to even mention the constant threat of physical violence, which many of our kids are prone to.

    And so, why do I teach? I teach because I love what I do, and despite losing kids to the judicial system and street violence, there is nothing like seeing them succeed. Having a child who everyone had given up on attain his or her high school diploma is a feeling quite unlike any other in the education field. And I teach because I hope that in some way I will be able to make a difference that may turn around the life of even one of these kids. The odds are against me and the others who teach this population, simply because no matter what we do here, we turn them back to dysfunctional homes, dangerous neighborhoods and easy-money crime, which is incredibly difficult to compete with. But every now and again, we have one succeed beyond expectations--getting into a 4 year college program, being accepted into a work program, being successfully employed and living independently--and within the law--in the community.

    I am in my 19th year teaching. I am pretty sure that if I had worked at a retail store or fast food restaurant for this long I would be making considerably more money. Because we do not have a pension program, when I am no longer teaching I will not have a pension to rely on. My 401K has been brutalized through the stock market. I am single, so my measly salary is not one of supplement, but is how I survive. I live and teach in one of the most expensive areas in the US, and live paycheck to paycheck for all intents and purposes. My plans for my retirement future are structured around winning the lottery or, if that fails, working until I die.

    It is a financially sad state of affairs for teachers today. I hear all these politicians talk about wanting to make the US number 1 in education, but salaries continue to be sub-par, and budgets and programs continue to be cut. It won't be long before the caliber of teachers will be commensurate with the salaries, which will BOTH suck.
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