March 22, 2016

After waving goodbye to his first graders at Malcolm X Academy, public school teacher Anthony Arinwine slings his backpack over his shoulder, gets into his Nissan Altima and becomes an Uber driver.

‘It’s something I never thought I’d have to do,” Arinwine said. “I have a college degree and a paycheck. I thought it would be enough.’

Arinwine teaches in San Francisco but lives in slightly more affordable Oakland, where his $1,700 monthly rent eats more than half his monthly paycheck. Four hours of Uber driving after the 8-hour school day helps bridge the gap.

Arinwine is one of many teachers struggling to live on a public service salary in the Bay Area, where housing costs rank highest in the nation. Many teachers share Arinwine’s frustrations. Bay Area schools have experienced high turnover rates amid an ongoing teacher shortage. The supply of new teachers is at a 12-year-low in California, according a recent study by the Learning Policy Institute, an education research group.”

 The situation irks Arinwine, who admits holding down two jobs is sometimes so exhausting that he had to remind himself why he became a teacher: “I wanted to work in a community and be a model for kids and show them you can do this if you put your mind and effort into it.”

“Emilee Hanson said she loved teaching math at a San Francisco middle school, but her living conditions eventually drove her out. She settled in a suburb near Sacramento, three hours from the disheartening housing prices of San Francisco that forced to into a shared two-bedroom apartment where she slept in the living room.

“I didn’t have doors,” she said. “If someone wanted to cook, it was in my bedroom since the kitchen and living room was all one room. If my roommates came home late, it would wake me up.” Hanson gave up at end of the 2015 school year, after four years of living room life.

‘I asked myself, why am I struggling this hard?’

She now pays $1,000 in mortgage for her house – nearly the same amount as her San Francisco rent.


There is no reason this condition should still exist 100 years after the founding of the American Federation of Teachers, almost 60 years since the beginning of collective bargaining for public employees, ironically in Wisconsin, and 55 years after the founding of the UFT, the largest teachers local in the nation.

When I started teaching in 1970, it was common for teachers to have two jobs, even if one was a summer job. Many of my new colleagues drove cabs, did part time accounting, or tutored simply to be able to afford to live.

Today, in San Francisco the starting salary is @$47k for someone with a Bachelors degree and only slightly more with a Masters. After 28 years with additional masters and other credits the top salary becomes $91K. In NYC the starting salary is @$45K for someone with a Bachelors degree and @$51K for a masters. Over a period of 22 years and the accumulation of at least 30 credits over a master’s degree, the top salary in NYC is $100,049.

Nationally, it is even worse. For first year teachers the median is @$37K. For teachers with 20 or more years it is an abominable @$57K.

We hear talk of the need for recruiting the best and brightest to teach. How exactly does that work when the techies in the Bay area with a BS degree or a finance major in the NYC area can walk in with a 6 figure starting salary and after 22 -28 of work in their field can become one of the Masters of the Universe at Google or Goldman Sachs?

For example at Goldman, the average first year salary is @ $60K and with less than 5 years experience is @$72K. Nine years of experience for someone who has not made it to partner or other positions that add other revenues to salary is @$93K. All of these positions also provide highly sought after healthcare and pension plans along with huge annual bonuses, apparently even if the economy tanks as a result of your involvement. Oh, if you include executives regardless of years employed the average pay for a Goldman employee in 2011 was about $366,000.

In 1970, when I started teaching, the average salary in 2007-8 dollars was $48,343. Forty-five years later that number has hardly budged. In 2009 it was $53,168. For an Investment Banker in NYC that salary, including bonuses, profit sharing, and commission, can reach @$200K+.

Is it any wonder that in today’s materialistic world so many young bright, ambitious men and women who formerly might have considered teaching now “vomit in their mouth” when someone suggests it to them?

According to the HERI-UCLA Survey of freshmen, in 1966 developing a meaningful philosophy of life was essential or very important to @85% of freshmen surveyed while being well off financially was essential or very important to @42 of freshmen surveyed. In the 2015 report 81.9% said being well off financially was essential or very important while 46.5 % said developing a meaningful philosophy of life.

In the 1960s many of the best and brightest though teaching was a way of developing a meaningful philosophy of life. Now that occurs but not that often. Today we often see it in Teach For America corps members who want to show some altruism, but then run off to high paying jobs after their two-year altruistic philosophic lifestyle experience.

Isn’t it simply common sense in our capitalist society to offer our young men and women salaries and benefits that compete with these other fields that do not produce anything but profit?

This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there’s something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me”.

Maya Angelou