While studying to become a teacher in Greenville, North Carolina, Christina Burchette supported herself by working nights and weekends at the local Old Navy. But when she got a job teaching AP biology at a high school nearby, Christina stayed on at Old Navy in order to supplement her teaching salary and make ends meet.
"I kept my retail job because I knew teaching wasn't going to be enough to pay the bills," said Burchette. "If I didn't work a second job, I wouldn't be able to be a teacher."
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 16 percent of teachers nationwide are forced to work a second job outside the school system. In North Carolina, however, that number is closer to 25 percent -- third-highest in the entire country. When you include teachers who take second jobs within the school system, more than half of North Carolina educators -- a full 52 percent -- work second jobs to supplement their salaries.
So while most teachers in other states enjoy a short break from the hectic school year during the holiday season to spend time with their families, many North Carolina teachers are working seasonal retail jobs just to make ends meet. One such teacher, Denise Smith of Chatham County, is the subject of a short video from Progress NC Action spotlighting teachers who work second jobs:
Why are so many more teachers in North Carolina working second jobs? For one thing, the National Education Association has ranked North Carolina 42nd in the country for teacher pay. A 2015 Wallethub survey found North Carolina to be the second-worst state in the country for teachers, a small improvement from the 2014 study which ranked the Tar Heel State dead last.
"I know there are other states and countries where teaching is an honored profession, but I don't feel like it's that way here," said Christina, who has been teaching for four years. "It's great when people tell me they appreciate teachers, but the politicians don't seem to agree."
Right now, North Carolina's average teaching salary is about $9,500 less than the national average. In fact, teaching salaries in North Carolina have declined more in the last 10 years than any other state in the country at a rate of 17.4 percent.
Although Gov. McCrory and his Republican allies claim they're "doing their best" when it comes to teacher pay, North Carolina educators have been sounding the alarm for years. "This constant beatdown by Gov. McCrory has almost made me wish I never became a teacher," said Thomas Drago, a high school teacher in Chapel Hill. "I am working more hours now than ever before, when I should be getting close to retirement."
Thomas works second and sometimes even third jobs -- usually extra teaching and tutoring work -- to supplement his meager state salary. "Between my multiple teaching jobs, I have little or no spare time for my family," said Drago. "I have distanced myself from friends, and can't maintain any kind of social life -- just to make ends meet."
"These politicians don't understand the hours we put into teaching, the toll it takes and the investment we put into it," added Burchette.
The average teacher in North Carolina works 53 hours per week, according to NCES data. But when you factor in lesson planning, grading papers, and bus duty before and after school, many teachers work far more hours than even that. Christina says working a second job does take away time she could spend going that extra mile to help her students succeed.
"When students ask if I can tutor them after school and I'm not able to be there for them, it just kills me," said Christina. "I know I could be a better teacher if I had more time in the classroom, but I have to pay the bills."
In other words, North Carolina's failure to pay teachers a living wage is hurting student success. This failure is compounded by the fact that North Carolina's per-student education investment is among the lowest in the country, raising serious questions about whether North Carolina lawmakers truly comprehend the long-term damage they are doing by allowing the state's public education to deteriorate.
"They don't understand what it takes to do the job well instead of just being a babysitter," said Christina. "It makes a big impact on yours students when you have good experienced teachers in place. You can't pay enough to have good teachers instead of a long-term sub -- it's just priceless."