It’s 8 a.m. Monday and your child’s grade-school teacher is in the class writing the day’s lesson on the whiteboard. She woke up at 6 a.m. to get her children dressed and ready so she could be prepared prior to the arrival of yours.
It’s now 4 p.m. and after educating, supervising and mentoring your child for an entire school day, the same grade-school teacher is rushing from the classroom to her second job at a local pizzeria, where she may find herself serving you and your family dinner until 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.
She’ll rush home and repeat the process for the week, while she tries to parent, maintain her mental wellness and plan lessons that stimulate and prepare children for the future that awaits them.
It’s now Saturday, and instead of spending time with her family, the grade school teacher is offering lessons on horseback-riding techniques at the third job that she carries “just to make it,” said the sixth-grade teacher, who asked not to be identified.
“I’m not even buying extras,” she added. “I’m literally paying for the house, utilities, the car, gas, groceries and that’s pretty much it.”
Birthdays have to be minimal, she said, “and we don’t do extras. We don’t take vacations.” Instead, vacations are the pool in the backyard, movie nights on the couch and game nights with the family.
“I try to cut costs whenever I can,” the veteran teacher said, and it’s been that way since 1996, when she first began working two jobs and the “off-and-on” third.
In recent weeks, teachers at every school district in the SCV sought raises or expressed concerns with their current pay, prompting a few to share personal stories of hardship related to higher costs of living, increased workloads and the rising cost of benefits.
Some of them take on extra jobs, even if it means missing out on participating with their own kids, said the sixth-grade teacher who moonlights at a local pizzeria.
“It’s hardest for my family because my kids are very active,” she added. “They know I’m working and trying to pay the bills, but it’s still hard because I don’t want to miss out on important high school activities or memories.”
A Newhall School District teacher — who also asked not to be identified — took the responsibility of a second job when her son was in college to help him with tuition and remain debt free, which was something that she found important. Her husband had just started a business, which, like many startups, wasn’t an instant success from the jump, so she felt she had to do something.
Today, when she’s not doing it for free to help low-income children in her community, the same teacher continues to tutor in an effort to save for retirement or for potential emergencies.
“My husband (who’s now a successful businessman in the community) said I’d have to save as much as I can so I can keep the lights on in case something happens to him,” she said. He’s been sick before, “so I have to be cognizant of the fact I could be a widow one day without his income and the stuff that he pays for.”
“My situation is different from teachers who have to do it,” she said. “I have colleagues that couldn’t turn on their lights if they didn’t have a second job,” so they’re doing everything they can to make ends meet.
“If you’re a teacher (and) you have two children living in this area, wouldn’t you want your kids to be able to have the same life as others?” she asked rhetorically. “Yes, so you find a job, tutor or something, so you’ll make money so your kids can go to camp.”
The NSD teacher remembers her father telling her when she was first starting out as a teacher that she will never be rich — which many teachers said they knew going into the job — but she never imagined struggling to afford basic costs.
California’s cost-of-living has been cited as one reason why teachers are unable to live and retire in a community in which they’ve spent a lifetime teaching, but others believe they simply haven’t been compensated fairly in decades.
Today, California’s average monthly rent is 50 percent higher than the rest of the country, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.
As a result, “We have had many teachers have to sell their homes and move into something that costs less,” said Suzanne Graff, the Castaic Teacher Association union president. “Some have had to refinance their home loans to get by for the next few years.”
When teachers receive raises, they’re 2 or 3 percent increases, one Hart district English teacher said, “which is enough to afford nothing.”
“I’m making more money at the restaurant than I am teaching full-time after getting my bachelor’s degree and teaching credential and spending thousands of dollars,” said the aforementioned sixth-grade teacher, who encourages the public to Google the salaries of their local educators.
She has thought about moving, but her family is why she stays.
“I would never uproot them out of school and away from friends,” she said. “Santa Clarita is our home.”
Besides, another teacher added, when teachers go from one district to another, the pay scale starts back on year five, meaning teachers have the potential to lose thousands of dollars in salary if they leave their current school for a city with cheaper rent.
“If I were to go teach math in the Hart district after teaching for 15 years,” she said, “then the pay scale restarts. If my husband moves his business to Orange County, then, same thing.”
The problem is a state problem, not a district problem, she added. A lot of teachers are a little older and starting to have kids age into high school, so they’re paying for car insurance, college and other substantial costs that weren’t there 10-20 years ago.
Katrina Stroh, a 19-year teacher in the Newhall School District who is serving as a teacher on special assignment, said she is all too familiar with the situation.
With her kids now in competitive cheer, which costs $10,000 per year, as well as lacrosse, track and cross country, Stroh said she teaches yoga and pilates classes, and sells beauty products along with clothes and accessories on Poshmark.
“I also tutor as often as the opportunity arises,” she said, “and I’m always on the hunt to make an extra buck whenever I can to keep up with my Santa Clarita and California lifestyle.”
Having a second job originally started as a hobby, Stroh said. “When I didn’t have kids, I began working another job as a way to stockpile money for the time off I’d take when I eventually did have children.
“I went back to work and realized there’s a much larger demand for time as a teacher. It wasn’t uncommon to stay up until 2 in the morning planning, prepping or learning a new grade level,” said Stroh, who’s also certified to teach English learners.
Stroh, like many teachers in the SCV, found herself at home at night constantly thinking about how to help her students.
“Let’s think about her health and happiness that would be in jeopardy due to the heavy workload,” Graff said, as she described the situation of a friend in the Castaic Union School District.
Not to mention, Graff added, “We have many families paying $1,400 or more out of pocket for medical insurance per month.”
Beth Campanella Judge commented during a video live streamed by The Signal that her health benefits cost $20,799 a year and the district covers $8,054 of this.
The 31-year Newhall School District teacher said the remaining $12,745 comes out of her paycheck, leaving her approximately $4,500 a month to support a family of four.
Despite the increasing job demands, the decreasing family time and the often hectic lives they live, Stroh and all the teachers interviewed for this story were adamant that they’d make the same decision again, knowing the challenges that lay before them.
“It isn’t about the pay,” Stroh said. “The district has highly educated professionals that could have chosen any profession, but they chose teaching.
“It’s obvious that we didn’t do it for the accolades or the money,” she added, “because I am going to teach anyway, and I know (every teacher) feels the same way.”
Teachers are preparing kids for jobs as doctors, lawyers and inventors that will invest in the community, Stroh said.
“Teachers are our superheroes,” Graff added. “I appreciate each and everyone of them who dedicate their entire existence to educating our future leaders, thinkers, motivators, free spirits and more.”