Intangible Rewards

Teaching is not a lucrative profession.  I leave home at 5:30 AM and arrive home between 5:30 to 6:00 in the evening so it’s certainly a full-time job but even so the pay is so low that my kids are still eligible for free lunches at school.  This is something of an embarrassment, especially now that I see firsthand how the “free and reduced” population is spoken of by staff at school.  Whenever a conversation comes up about low scores or failing students you can be sure the “free and reduced” group will be held up as the culprit or excuse.  As in “Well, we have over 50% free and reduced, so what do you expect?”  The “free and reduced” kids are widely thought to come from “broken” homes with unemployed or under employed parents, many of whom haven’t “bettered” themselves.  I always feel uncomfortable during these conversations, especially as my colleagues don’t know that I could fit into some of their pigeonholes albeit as a square peg forced into a round hole.

We remain solidly in poverty despite my fulltime job.  Once taxes and benefits are deducted from my earnings I have just enough to pay for phone, utilities, car insurance, food and gas (this expense has increased with my daily commute to about $300 a month).  There’s little left to put aside in savings for the propane delivery, anticipated car repairs or other expenses.  I sometimes rethink my decision to take the teaching job instead of the consulting job but then I remind myself of the list of pros and cons I made (for instance having to repay my scholarship) and apply myself to frugal budgeting and just (still) hanging in there.  I’m unsure whether the part-time consulting job I was offered back in July (which was to start in October) is still going to go forward but it will be very helpful if it does!

In the meantime, as others in the profession do as well, I concentrate on the intangible rewards – those incandescent moments when a student ‘gets it’ and lights up in excitement.  Some days those moments are paltry and infrequent and the frustrations loom large and I leave school tired and depressed.  Today was a bit like that hence this less than cheery post!  Nevertheless as my readers know I am quite good a persevering through less than optimum conditions and even though I’m very new to the profession I’ve already learned how variable the days can be.  There will be more good ones ahead to keep me going.

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9 Responses to Intangible Rewards

  1. Lynn says:

    In our district, any and all kids who want it can get the free breakfast. The cafeteria is the only place kids can wait if they come to school early, so there is really no stigma, and one can’t assume a kid waiting for free breakfast is from a needy family. For lunches, the cashier has a machine with a screen and the kids punch their student ID numbers on a keypad. Nothing is said to the kid, but if it’s free lunch I guess there is not charge; if not, the parents put money “on account” and the cost of the lunch is subtracted from what’s on deposit. If it gets to zero or overdrawn, the school sends a note to the parent to put more money on their child’s account, but either way, everybody who wants a lunch gets one, and nobody but the Cafeteria Lady knows which kids are free lunch. Some kids just like the cafeteria food better than home packed lunches, or it’s more convenient. I hope it’s like that in other places–kids aren’t identified as free lunch. One other thing…again, here in our district but maybe everywhere…income counts but assets don’t, so a family with lots of money that just lives on savings qualifies.

  2. Peg says:

    In an urban school system, not far from our area, they have been plagued with numerous problems including hungry kids. They tried vouchers and unmarked cards but kids always seem to know who was getting reduced or free food. The older the kids, the hungrier they were, because pride cameth before the food. Then the school received money from several sources, enough for free food for all. Now they offer all kids free lunch ( and I think free breakfast too but I understand breakfast is simple fare such as a grab and go cereal pack and milk ) the difference is very noticeable, attendance has skyrocketed and kids are more involved in the learning process. It made all students equal, at least in food and having food security of two meals a day and eliminated any social stigmatism with food, all of this has helped kids focus on studying. Behavior problems are still around but are becoming less intense and the number of incidents is beginning to turn around as well.
    As for the income, non-profits rarely can compete with for profit industries but teacher salaries normally get better the longer one is in the system. Also the first few years are the hardest in any job. You are earning every penny and then some but at least now you have some form of a regular income. Sure, most if not all of your money is actually obligated before you see a dime from the paycheck, but that is true for a whole lotta us, especially families on one income. This year you will have heat. It may not be as much as you desire, but it should be enough to keep pipes and people from freezing. Next year, your lesson plans will be easier and you may earn a bit more, perhaps enough to raise the temp 5 degrees. The following year, a bit more – you see the deal. Hang in there! – Peg

  3. Pat says:

    Can you encourage training on a system-wide level about poverty and its affect on children and parents, as a way to help counter some of the attitudes you’re experiencing among other teachers?

    Beth Lindsay Templeton, CEO of Our Eyes Were Opened (, has done numerous poverty simulations with schools and community groups in South Carolina and elsewhere. She posted online today some of the responses from teachers at one SC school district:

    Templeton has also published several books on poverty-related issues, both self-published and one which she was asked to write for an academic publisher:
    Understanding poverty in the classroom: changing perceptions for student success, by Beth Lindsay Templeton. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, c2011.

  4. Marianna says:

    I dont know how many times as I was raising my kids I heard all the sad statistics about kids raised by single parents. I and they didn’t fit that stereotype any more than the ‘free and reduced’ stereotype. Unfortunately it’s still very difficult to raise a family on one salary, much less a woman’s salary.

  5. Linda P. says:

    Teachers should be paid more. Period.

    You’re unfortunately right about the prejudice. I just saw a post on Facebook that showed two open refrigerators side by side. One purported to picture the refrigerator of a family with “No Job in America” and showed a refrigerator crammed with foods and stacked with sugary snacks. The other purported to picture the refrigerator of a family that was “Middle Class in America” and it was almost empty. That’s the kind of stupidity in which one group of people has been pitted against another to engender more political support to a certain group. They obviously understand little about what it’s like for some families.

    • bogart says:

      I saw that same picture, also on FB, from a family member who, sadly, is a lot closer to the “No Job” reality than, perhaps, they want to admit (i.e. they perceive themselves as middle class, but one is not working due to health issues and …). It frustrated me to see it posted in that context (or any context, but especially that one).

  6. Lynn says:

    I wish teachers were paid better! But on the bright side, I bet your retirement savings is long gone, and teachers do get a pension. In a few years, you may be very glad of that.

    • boxcarkids says:

      I think teacher “pensions” have evolved, Lynn. I will get whatever I put into retirement -which will be nothing for some time – and the district will add 3% match which will be mine if I work 10 years!

  7. bogart says:

    As a mom to a kid who attends and benefits from public schools, thank you for the work you do. He’s not at the level you’re teaching yet, but he also has wonderful teachers and I am thankful every day for the work they do.

    When I walk him to school, I see the kids lined up for the free breakfast and am always surprised — I don’t mean that in a bad way — by who’s there. Not in the sense of “Oh my god, I didn’t realize ___________ was poor,” but rather, as a reminder that many people in my community, including people who are partnered and living in nice single-family homes with “respectable” (good) educations and/or careers are not financially secure (again, I don’t mean that in a bad way or as a criticism — at all. It’s just a reminder of how tough our U.S. system is). So — yeah. Free and reduced, whatever. And certainly, there are kids in my kid’s school’s free meals program whose families are more obviously living in poverty, but there are others who appear to be (and likely are) somewhat more stable financially but who are, obviously, nonetheless living with challenges to their financial well-being.

    I’m glad to know there are wonderful moments. Also, I hope your kids are enjoying school!

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