A letter from a young teacher

The Gillnetter is taking the step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed letter to the school committee. We have done so at the request of the author, a Gloucester teacher, whose identity is known to us. We believe publishing this essay offers an important perspective to our readers.

Dear School Committee,

I am writing to you as the future of Gloucester teachers. Someone who came here to teach as a proud, accomplished product of the Gloucester Public School System. Someone who planned on making and keeping a career here in the city I love. The city that made me. 

I wake up every day excited to go to work, to engage with, listen to, and learn from my students. My job fulfills me. It is also incredibly challenging. It can be heartbreaking just as intensely as it can be joyful. I am there for my students to help them grow through challenges, traumas, and their many successes. It is so much more than standing and delivering a lesson.

I say this to bring scope to what we do everyday. I am still learning, educating myself, taking courses, and working on my own practice every day. I want to be the best teacher I can be to serve my community, and your children, well.

My publicly available salary as a teacher on Step 5 of the Master’s Track is $55,865. Some may look at this salary and see more than they make. Some may see less. What I want to break down is how this salary affects the life of a new teacher. 

In order to advance that salary I gain “steps.” Each year, I am required to fulfill certain obligations and further my education, often at a cost to me. Each year, in turn, I get a small increase in salary for remaining in the district. I can also seek graduate credits to advance my “track”. This means, I earn another Graduate Degree, for whichI would move over a track, and gain an increase in pay. Step and Track schedules are extremely common in public sector jobs; Police, Fire, DPW, and other city employees all operate on a similar system.

My take home paycheck every two weeks is $1,449.00. That includes my deductions for all taxes, insurances and the like. That means my monthly budget comes a few dollars under $3000 per month. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Gloucester is around $1,400 per month and a two bedroom goes to $2,200 with no or few utilities included adding hundreds to the actual cost of living in town. Based on numbers provided by the Housing Authority as a single person household, I qualify as low income. Many teachers like myself do not have the benefit of a partner’s second income. A single parent with two children at my salary and step, as some of my colleagues are, would qualify as very low income, and would be eligible for Section 8 Housing. Even up to our highest Step and Track, a single parent household of two or more children would qualify as low income. 

Like many of my colleagues, in order to make ends meet, I take on a second job and even a third. I work two jobs all summer, while reworking my curriculum from the year before, adding, changing, and making it better. I pay from my own pocket to further my education. This cost of living adjustment is more than just a few extra dollars to me. It extends my purchasing power to meet the rise in inflation, and allows me to hold together an already tight budget. 

The fact is, I could leave. I could accept a position in another town on the Northshore, or elsewhere. Ipswich pays $56,000 for my same Salary Step and Track, Salem’s last contract for the 2018-2019 School year paid $58,999, Danvers Public Schools last contract offers $64,000, Lynn Public Schools pays $61,000, Manchester Essex Public Schools pays $62,000. We are one of the lowest paying districts in all of our conferences and comparable districts.

I want to stay. I want to serve this community, MY community. But, I sometimes feel I do it at a loss to myself. If Gloucester Public School wants to build a better system, and continue to give our children the education they deserve, it is imperative you understand how your choices, and your offers, are affecting your teachers who are just starting out. We want to stay and build with you. Will you help us?

– A Gloucester Teacher