OPINION: Why I refuse to teach even though my degree is in secondary education

Brandon Flanery

bflanery@uccs.edu  

As I finish up my final year of college as an English secondary education major, I refuse to teach after graduating. I’m literally getting a degree that I will refuse to use. Here’s why: 

     I have spent the last two years working alongside teachers who are run ragged. 

     They create a curriculum for in-person. Then a pandemic hits. They have to teach remotely — something their districts didn’t teach them to do. Then districts try to make parents happy, so they bring students back in-person. But they can’t have all the students in-person, so they cohort the children. Some students stay home and learn from their computers, others go into the classroom. The teacher has to find a way to teach both at the same time, all while making sure all their students are socially distanced and not touching each other.  

     This is all in addition to the bullshit that teachers have to deal with on a daily basis, including being blamed for everything, and it’s simply not enough. 

     To be frank the “Oh-my-God-you’re-changing-lives-Good-for-you-for-wanting-to-be-a-teacher-You’re-making-such-an-impact” only goes so far. A better paycheck would be a better “thank you” than a red apple, especially with Colorado’s cost of living drastically increasing. 

     According to a study by GOBankingrates.com, the median income in Colorado Springs is $58,158, and to live comfortably, you need a household income of $83,000. 

     In other words, if you’re a teacher, you’re not living comfortably. 

     Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree, I could start teaching with a salary of $39,273 in Colorado Springs School District 11. 

     As a teacher, I will have to somehow find an additional $18,000 somewhere, which is why one in five teachers hold a second job, according to federal Bureau of Labor statistics. And no, I can’t work harder to make a bonus or something. Pay within the teaching world is composed of two things: time in and years spent in education. 

     To help my peers who chose better degrees and have no idea what the pay scale of education looks like, imagine a depressing Excel spreadsheet where years of education are the columns and years in are the rows. 

     The absolute max I could make in District 11 is $81,351 — that’s after teaching for 22 years with my doctorate. 

     Now you can get a picture of why education is a dying field. 

     And yet, Colorado passed the legalization of weed in 2012 to help support education. Fun fact: none of it goes to teacher salaries. It only goes to school construction projects. 

     In fact, according to a study run by Common Sense Institute, “from 2007 to 2017, the share of spending allocated to instructional salaries declined by 3.5 percentage points.” In the same study, it mentions that “95 percent of the state’s rural districts are below their area’s cost of living.” 

     So we’re building more schools, but we’re not paying teachers more, even though the cost of living in Colorado Springs has significantly increased over the past 24 years.  

     We, as a society, have abused and taken advantage of teachers’ passion. The reason that cities and states can get away with paying teachers horribly is because teachers “aren’t in it for the money. They’re there for the kids.” 

     And as long as teachers are willing to stay in a horrible field “for the kids,” that’s all they’re going to get. 

     We live in a capitalist society. We are all about “supply and demand.” Teachers have a unique opportunity to increase demand for the first time in a long time. 

     There’s a pandemic. Parents are frazzled. They want their kids back in school. They are desperate, and teachers are quitting and retiring early because they are being treated like trash. At District 20’s Challenger Middle School, over half of the elective teachers quit this past spring, and they won’t be the last ones. After this horrible year, teachers are buying retirement years to get out early. They can’t handle the pressure of doing everything for everyone with terrible pay. They just can’t. 

     Here’s the perk to the pandemic: teachers have the cards. It’s time we use them. 

     Let’s refuse to simply go along with the terrible pay and trash benefits that keep us locked in terrible districts and make us not want to move. It’s time to not let our dream of making a difference rob us of a dream of a decent living. 

     We’re worth more. You’re worth more. It’s time we act like it. 

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