I am finishing up the first week on my new job as an instructor in the writing lab of a community college. I am grateful to have found this job, after 13 months of being unemployed after my layoff as a college instructor. Yesterday, I got a letter from the unemployment office with information about how much money I got in 2012 from unemployment (for tax purposes). I did a little math in my head and discovered what I had suspected was true; I made more money from unemployment than I will from my part-time teaching job. I have no benefits and cannot work more than 19 hours a week. Why only 19? If I worked 20 or more, they would have to give me health insurance, etc. In addition, even though I work for a school that is part of the state school retirement system, the school does not contribute to my pension in that system.
Now, I took this job with my eyes wide open. I knew the job was low-pay, short hours and no benefits. My hope is that it will be a foot in the door to move up to something better. And, of course, the knowledge that unemployment doesn't last forever, coupled with the slow job market, convinced me to take the position. But all this makes me wonder about the bigger picture. What does it say about us as society when teachers are paid so little and denied benefits? Are our values askew? If we truly value the education of our young people, why do we discourage good people from becoming teachers by requiring them to incur tremendous school debt to become qualified teachers and then offer them jobs where the salary makes it difficult if not impossible to pay off their student loans and eke out a decent living? I know none of us go into teaching to get rich; that is not the point. Still, it sure would be nice to make more than the greeter at Walmart and to not have to worry about how to pay for medical care.