Podcast Transcript: Teacher Pay: Texas Teachers Deserve a Real Pay Raise

Morgan Smith: Welcome to the Intersect Ed Podcast, where the stories of public education policy and practice meet. 

I’m your host, Morgan Smith. 

Today we are talking about Texas teachers, and how much we pay them. Or I should say: how much we don’t pay them. 

What started as a slow drain — as stagnant pay forced teachers out of the classroom during the hardships of COVID, the economic downturn, and inflation — has now accelerated into a crisis. Texas public schools simply can’t keep the teachers they need in the classroom. It’s hard to overstate the urgency of what’s happening. 

School districts, already operating on skeleton crews, are dropping advanced and elective courses because there are no teachers to teach them. They are combining classes — sometimes even recruiting parents to fill in — because there are no substitute teachers. And the teachers who remain are working second and third jobs just to pay basic household expenses. All of this has led a heartbreaking number of Texas educators to say they are seriously considering leaving the profession. 

Right now in Austin, lawmakers are deciding how to spend a record-breaking $33 billion surplus, with tens of billions more in estimated growth in revenue over the next two years. And, as the hours creep closer and closer to the last day of the 2023 legislative session, they are not deciding to spend it on teachers.

Yes, you may have seen headlines about some major legislation — Senate Bill 9 and House Bill 100 are two of the proposals out there that would increase teacher pay. But here’s what you need to know about those bills: they don’t come anywhere close to moving Texas teacher pay in line with the national average OR bumping their salaries enough to keep up with inflation. 

JoLisa Hoover: I think there’s been a moment where some people in society have said, “Teachers, if you don’t like it, you can leave,” and our teachers have left. 

Morgan: This is JoLisa Hoover, who spent 26 years as a teacher in Texas public schools before joining Raise Your Hand in 2019. She was named the organization’s Teacher Specialist in 2022. 

JoLisa: In the beginning of the pandemic, our teachers just pivoted overnight, and redesigned their entire career. They were making sure kids got fed. They were distributing technology out into the neighborhoods. They were checking in on families, and they were really just lifted up as heroes, only for a few short years later to be villainized for a variety of things and their pay has just been very stagnant. 

Morgan: As a part of Raise Your Hand’s work developing policy recommendations for the 88th Legislature, their statewide team of Regional Advocacy Directors met with Texas educators ahead of the legislative session. They heard from over 697 teachers from 79 different school districts. During the legislative session, JoLisa and the team brought more than 75 teachers on a weekly basis to the Capitol to speak with their lawmakers.

JoLisa: The teachers are talking about how their money just isn’t going as far as it used to, and in particular, that’s hit teachers hard because their pay had already been stagnant before some of the recent inflation has hit all of us. And so they’re already in a job that penalizes them for choosing teaching, financially, and then to have the pay stay quite stagnant, it’s been really hard for our teachers. 

Morgan: JoLisa says there’s one word that keeps coming up over and over again, when teachers talk about the state of their profession: stress. The stress of not being financially independent. The stress of working a second job, and still not being able to meet the needs of their families. The stress of not being able to pay for medical procedures, home repairs, or make their rent. The stress of driving long distances to work each day because they can’t afford to live where they teach. 

JoLisa: I heard teachers talk about that they’re doing what they need to do to make ends meet, but it can be embarrassing to see your students while you’re working your second job, and yet our teachers are purchasing their own supplies because they need them to do their job. They are buying extra snacks for kids who are hungry, buying coats for kids who don’t have them, and so they view their job as being part of the essential bills that they have to pay, is keeping their students supported.

Morgan: If you don’t have any public school teachers in your family or your social circle, you may be surprised to know just how many of them work second jobs to pay the bills. Teachers will tell you that on any campus, you never really have to ask who’s selling what, because any brand you can think of that can be sold by a person is represented somewhere on campus.

Laura Marder: So in our particular district, I don’t know a single school teacher that does not have some sort of side hustle or second job that they work. Either that or a very supportive spouse who is able to contribute to the finances of the home. And unfortunately with them doing those things, it takes away their energy because they’re drug in different directions. They’re not able to fully utilize themselves and put that effort into their kids. These teachers are doing everything from working retail, they’re tutoring students on the side. I know some teachers that wait tables, and several teachers that own small businesses and work different company roles outside of teaching. And so they leave here from school and they go straight and they do that and then they do it all over again the next day. Those people should be leaving work, going home, taking care of their families, and taking care of themselves, so that way when they come back to work, they’re energized, ready to go, and ready to put all that energy back into their students.

Morgan: This is Laura Marder. She is a high school biology teacher in a small, rural district in northeast Texas (Mineola ISD). She’s been teaching for nine years. 

Laura: So the beauty of being in a small rural school is that I have the honor and privilege of teaching just about every student that comes through our doors at the high school. And so not only do I get to build relationships with those students, but also have connections with those families as well. And so we get to kind of walk through their lives together. And I have such a huge impact on so many people’s lives, and it’s just very satisfying and very rewarding work.

Morgan: Laura also told me about the double bind that Texas teachers face. It’s not just that they don’t make enough to pay their own bills, they are often using their salary to pay for classroom supplies. To make her classroom materials go further, Laura has students double or even triple up on lab experiments. But the small stipend she gets from the district doesn’t cover everything her students need. So she pays out of pocket to keep stocked with much-needed basic items like school supplies, cleaning products, and provide something that’s become increasingly common in Texas classrooms — a food pantry.

Laura: There’s other things that teachers do all the time that people don’t even think about. We know the importance of making sure that our students’ social and emotional needs are met. And part of that is making sure that they have what they need to be successful. I know teachers here that make sure that kids have clothing, that they have shoes that have, like myself, for example, I have a mini fridge in my classroom, and I know that there are a handful of kids that on the weekend don’t have food to go home with on the weekend. And they know that when they leave my class on Friday, they go in and take what they need. And I just keep it stocked and we don’t ask questions. It’s just one of those things that we do because we love and we care for our students, and it’s just so important that those needs are met so that way they can be successful at school.

Morgan: Another common theme when you talk to Texas teachers: they aren’t in it to get rich. They chose their profession because they knew the joy they got out of being in the classroom meant more than being able to take lavish vacations or even shop at the fancy grocery store. 

Eva Goins: In all reality, we just want to be compensated for what we do. I know that I will never see six figures as a teacher, and money isn’t everything. I always tell my students, “I don’t do this job for the summers, and I don’t do this job for the money. I do it for you. I do it for you because I care about you and your future, and I want to make sure that you have the best opportunities ever. You can rest assured, I am going to fight for you. I am going to advocate for you, and I’m going to give you my best always.”

Morgan: This is Eva Goins, who’s been in the classroom for 22 years. She’s an 8th-grade teacher in Northwest ISD, in suburban Fort Worth. You can hear the enthusiasm in her voice when she talks about her kids, and what she’s willing to give up for them. Over the years, that’s included waking up at 3:50 a.m. each morning to teach English to children in China before her school day began. 

But even someone like Eva, who remains as dedicated to her job as someone could possibly be, has had her moments when she’s thought about leaving. One of those times happened on a road trip at a Buc-ees — the popular chain of mega country stores and gas stations that originated in Texas. 

Eva: We were coming home, and we decided we wanted to stop at Buc-ees, because you have to. It’s just one of those things. As we were coming out, they have these huge colorful billboards, and I don’t know why, I think it was the money, the numbers, it was just numbers on this sign. I read it, and it said, “A carwash manager is making six figures.” I’m sitting here going, “Wait a minute, hold on. I’ve been teaching for 22 years. I have a bachelor’s, I have a master’s, I’m working on my doctorate right now. Even at my highest education level, with a doctorate, I will never see six figures as a teacher in the current state, ever. Here a guy or girl, a lady who works at Buc-ees as a carwash manager can make over $100,000?”

I’m thinking, “Why? I’m a teacher, and I take my job very seriously because these are the minds of the future, the ones that are going to be taking care of our generation. I’m trying to give them an education to become critical thinkers, and to follow their dreams, and someone can just get a job as a car wash manager and make a substantial amount more money than I do as a teacher.” But, what’s sad about the whole thing is that I think people have gotten to the point where they realize teachers, we’re different folk. We think with our hearts.

I think about all the teachers that are in my school and people that I’ve worked with, and they have huge hearts for students. They have huge hearts for the kids, and they actually worry more about their kids that they teach than their own kids, because by the time they get home, they’re exhausted. I think that a lot of people have taken that, and just like, “Well, you know what? They’re going to figure out a way. It doesn’t matter what we throw at them, or how much we don’t pay them, they’re going to find another job to help figure out how to pay for their living expenses. But we’re going to institute this because we know that they’ll take care of it, because a teacher has this huge heart, and they love their kids, and they’re going to do whatever they have to do in order to be there for their students.”

It was disheartening, and I was like, “I could leave. I could go and apply, and put my application in at Buc-ees, but then I wouldn’t be happy.” I wouldn’t be happy because I wouldn’t be with my kids. I wouldn’t be with my students who get excited whenever they write a sentence, or whenever they write a poem, and it blows them away. They’re like, “I did that?” And I’m like, “Yes, you did that. You have that inside of you.” It’s disheartening, but I think people, they just realize that we’re going to do the job, unfortunately. It’s sad, but that’s the way things are.

Morgan: What Eva is describing is what Raise Your Hand calls the Texas Teacher Tax. It’s similar to a gender wage gap, but it goes beyond that. It’s the pay cut that’s forced on teachers because of their devotion to their students — a giant chasm in pay that teachers face when compared to other professionals who hold degrees and manage hundreds of people and responsibilities each day. And while teachers in other states face similar challenges, unfortunately, this particular problem is Texas-specific. Historically, as lawmakers have made cuts to public schools, Texas educators have made sure those cuts affect their students as little as possible, even if that means making deep sacrifices in their own personal lives. But even teachers have their limits — and in 2023, so many have reached them. 

Here’s Laura again. 

Laura: We want respect. And respect starts from the top down. We want to be paid for the professionals that we are, for the people that have multiple certifications that do these jobs day in and day out that other people don’t want to do. And we don’t want to be rich, but we want to be able to live comfortably. We want to be able to keep the lights on and not have to work two or three jobs. Teachers are tired. I literally have seen teachers before that I taught with that decided that they couldn’t even afford to have children. They made the decision to go to work every day, to take care of other people’s kids, to put their time, talents, effort, and energy into other people’s children, but yet they won’t get that satisfaction for themselves because they can’t afford to do it. And it’s heartbreaking. It shouldn’t be that way.

Morgan: So far in this episode, we’ve heard from two current public school teachers who are sticking it out. Despite the odds, they still have the capacity to stay in the fight. Now we are going to hear from one who doesn’t. After next year — which will be her 29th teaching — Mariza DiNapoli is leaving her job as an 8th-grade special education teacher in El Paso ISD

Mariza: Currently I’m teaching students that struggle, that sometimes have low self-esteem, and that don’t like school because they struggle. I love to help them, to see them grow, to build up their self-esteem. It’s really fulfilling to me when I get to see that and when they like to come to school and when they see the growth and when they’re proud of themselves. That is something that, it’s a great feeling to have. So my number one thing is just being with my students and teaching them, showing them that they are capable at their different levels and that they can achieve something.

Morgan: Mariza’s superpower is an ability to connect with students with particularly difficult emotional disturbances. In other words, given her experience and talent, she is exactly the kind of educator the state should be trying to make sure stays in the classroom. But she told me that she just can’t do it anymore — eating a bar for lunch every day so she can complete paperwork so she doesn’t bring it home, managing all of her students’ vastly different individual needs without the proper support, helping her students through crying episodes and severe anxiety over taking the state required tests that they will surely fail — all of this, for so very little pay. 

Mariza: I went to the profession because I loved the challenges. I loved the teaching. I knew that for sure it wasn’t going to be a huge money-making adventure here. But at a certain point, like I said, after 28 years and seeing my salary, it saddens me that we’re not being compensated. I mean, it’s not fair that we work so hard and we have all these things that we have to do that the state’s requiring us, the laws are requiring us, like all the documentation and paperwork, yet we’re not compensated and we’re not treated like professionals. It’s kind of degrading to me, and it saddens me.

Morgan: She also feels invisible to the people in charge of making education policy. 

Mariza: I wonder if our principal knows everything that I’m doing as a special education teacher, I even wonder if our superintendent knows. I wonder if our board members know. And even higher, I wonder if our state representatives know everything that we’re doing and all the time that it takes. I wish they would follow us for a day, be in our shoes for a day, see all the paperwork that we do, and experience it. I would invite them. I would love to do that so they could actually see what goes into just one day of a special education teacher.

Morgan: As this episode airs, it will be teacher appreciation week. Kids around the state will be bringing flowers, cards, and special treats to the teachers who, for many of them, are the only adults in their lives they can trust to show up. 

Here’s JoLisa.

JoLisa: I think everyone has a favorite teacher. When you think about, what does that teacher deserve to be paid, I recently was talking with some students that were visiting the Capitol, and they told me that they were going and talking about their favorite teacher, and then telling the lawmakers that they thought their teacher should be paid as much as “fill in the blank.”

I said, “What are you telling them?” They would say, “My teacher deserves as much as a rockstar. My teacher deserves as much as a major league baseball player. My teacher deserves to make as much as a dentist, a veterinarian, or a doctor.” And so these kids who are so close to watching what teachers do, they see the value. I think if we all kind of think through about the teachers who have made a difference in our life, we know how valuable that is. 

When we think about all the things you might own, all the things that are important to you, what’s more important than your children? Why wouldn’t we reimburse the people who care for the thing we care most about in a significant way that shows how important our kids are to us?

Morgan: The legislative session ends on May 29. There’s still time for Texas lawmakers to show up for our teachers, just like these teachers show up for our children every day. 

Here’s Laura, our rural high school biology teacher, again.

Laura: The future of Texas, the future of the world, is sitting in our classrooms right now. Every single one of those children are going to go out into the workforce and they are incredible and they’re talented and they need to be supported. If we do not have quality educators standing in front of them every day pouring into them, we’re going to be in big trouble. Now is the time that they need to be making these decisions. We cannot continue to hold off and mess around and wait to increase teacher salaries. We need to do it right now. Teachers are leaving the profession in a mass exodus, and we have got to find a way to keep them in the classroom, to support them financially, and give them what they need so they can best serve the students of Texas today.

Morgan: I want to say a very heartfelt thank you to the three teachers — Laura Marder, Mariza DiNapoli, and Eva Goins — who shared their experiences with me for this episode. 

With just a few weeks left in the legislative session, now is the time for lawmakers to act to give teachers a meaningful pay raise. If you would like to help advocate for a real teacher pay raise, you can find a link that will allow you to email your legislators quickly. Go to Raise Your Hand’s Twitter and Facebook accounts and look for the “Give Teachers a Real Raise” posts. 

And I also want to let you know that to stay informed on critical education issues, you can sign up online for Raise Your Hand’s Across the Lawn weekly newsletter at www.raiseyourhandtexas.org/get-involved.  

To receive text alerts that will allow you to join Raise Your Hand in taking action at key moments this legislative session, text RAISEMYHAND – all one word – to 40649. 

Today’s episode was written by me, Morgan Smith. Our sound engineer is Brian Diggs and our executive producer is Anne Lasseigne Tiedt. 

Thank you for standing up for our Texas public school students.


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