How young teachers handle money and the Common Core

ErinEvery now and again, I find a writer that pulls me in with their words and keeps me hanging on for more. This summer, I found a personal finance blogger, Erin Lowry, who not only knew her way with words but wrote engaging and honest stories about money. Erin is not a teacher, but blogs about the struggles that Millenials face when it comes to money. You can find her on Twitter (@BrokeMillenial), Facebook, or at her blog, Broke Millennial. For this post, she interviewed three young teachers about their new career and the financial journey that goes along with it.

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Each year, thousands of new teachers enter the job market looking to mold minds and change young peoples’ lives. Movies like Freedom Writers and Coach Carter idolize the very real way a good teacher can change the course of a struggling child’s life. What these movies often fail to emphasize are the financial burdens teachers often take on — regardless of their school district.

The members of the Millennial generation are graduating college with an average of nearly $30,000 of debt, only a few thousand dollars short of the average starting salary for a teacher.

This debt burden can impact where fresh-faced teachers elect to start their careers.

For Samantha Driscoll, a 28 year-old teacher in New York State, her years of teaching for a low-income school district could save her thousands of dollars.

“I am hoping after this year, I can get some of my loans forgiven,” said Driscoll. “If you work in a low-income school district for five years, you can apply to get some of your loans forgiven.”

Driscoll, a middle school math teacher, hopes her specialty will help her out financially — and not because she understands the formulas to balance a checkbook.

“Teachers in the science and math fields are more likely to get this to happen,” Driscoll explained. “So I can only hope, but this would help out greatly.”

Driscoll, who found employment immediately after graduating from her undergraduate program, still lived at home for two years after college. Her less-than-ideal accommodations enabled her to pursue a master’s degree while teaching and pay off her education in full.

Stressed teacher man wearing stylish clothes in front a blackboard.

Jay Clifford, a 24-year-old first year teacher in New York State, took a similar approach.

“Right now, I’m living at home, so student loan payment or not, I’m rich,” joked Clifford. “Actually, I’m saving. Saving so that I can move out before I become the next Tripp from Failure to Launch. Then again, I wouldn’t mind being Matthew McConaughey for a bit…”

Driscoll and Clifford share another common issue, their teaching salaries aren’t enough to cover the bills and save for their futures.

“I coach two varsity sports. I love coaching and the connection that you make with kids,” said Driscoll. “However the main reason: I need the money for my loans.”

The funds from her coaching stipends exclusively go towards paying off her loans.

Jennifer Brewer, a 27 year-old graduate student, uses coaching as a way to pay of her master’s degree while she’s in school. After being offered four assistant coaching jobs for women’s basketball, Brewer elected to accept one with The College at Brockport.

“Here, I get a salary and two classes paid for each semester,” said Brewer. “I have been taking two classes each semester since I’ve been here to help have less debt.”

While her coaching experience will help her long-term job prospects, Brewer sometimes struggles to find the balance between her school responsibilities and working with young athletes.

“It’s very non-traditional hours and you have 15 girls you’re watching over on and off the court,” she explained. “I feel like a therapist at times.”

The elusive struggle to find balance aside, Brewer is right where she wants to be. As the daughter of a teacher, she understood the financial pros and cons of a life as an educator. Ultimately, she sees the benefits in being on the same schedule as her future children and already has plans for her summers.

“We [teachers] need that break – time to prep for the upcoming year and the Common Core,” said Brewer. “This is also the time we can work in Summer School, driver’s education, or another seasonal job.”

Working a second job in the summer time is a relatively common practice for teachers.

“I work at Verizon on Saturdays and Sundays so that I can crank it up in July and August to 30 or more hours a week,” explained Clifford.

The side income not only alleviates the pressure of debt repayment, but also helps secure a financially stable future. Even teachers working to pay off loans should start planning for retirement.

Driscoll advises young teachers to be proactive about their financial futures starting with week one of employment.

“I signed up for a retirement plan with Northwestern Mutual,” said Driscoll. “I have 100 dollars being deducted out of my checks.”

Unfortunately, even making all the right financial moves doesn’t guarantee a teacher will stay in the profession forever. Even young teachers aren’t taking well to the Common Core and modules being rolled out across the country. Driscoll wonders if it’s worth the money to tolerate the changes that makes her feel teachers are being viewed as ineffective.

“I have thought about taking more classes and being able to teach at a community college,” Driscoll remarked. “I have taken some exams for other careers to keep my options open.”

According to PayScale.com, the average middle school teacher’s salary stood at $42,000. Only seven thousand more than what a starting teacher earns. Assuming that young teachers eventually plan to marry and start families, it’s no surprise they’re looking for ways to increase their income or change careers to boost earning potential. Particularly if they feel their power to be effective and creative in the classroom is being stripped away.