I can’t count the number of times I have sat in church and listened to pastors say, “Live within your means” in regard to spending your money wisely. This was always used as a statement to keep yourself out of financial trouble and to be sure that you weren’t living a more lavish life than you could afford. I generally agreed with this statement, especially as a naïve college student. But what happens when living within your means is not even livable?
Last week, 10,000 teachers gathered at the state capital in Columbia, SC to protest and advocate for the education system. I want to take a moment and set some facts straight. There were a lot of rumors flying around before this took place, some so far from the truth it was laughable.
Firstly, teachers were not going to protest because they’re greedy and only have to work 190 days a year. I do not know a single teacher who doesn’t work at least 1-2 side jobs to make it work. This also means they work a full-time job during the summer. Teaching students requires you to stay current and up-to-date on the happenings in our society, which means you constantly have to recertify or educate yourself; in other words, you’d better be working on your Master’s.
With the inflation of college tuition, I beg to ask how the education system expects teachers to properly educate students if they can’t even afford to educate themselves. A starting teacher’s salary after taxes is only $2,000 above the poverty line. I hope that puts some things into perspective; no longer are we able to tell our kids they can go to college and be set up.
Secondly, and more importantly, might I add, teachers were advocating for their students. The state superintendent claimed that teachers were abandoning their students and leaving countless employees out of work. This is a perplexing statement considering teachers were arguing for students to receive adequate funding, not even above-average funding. Additionally, why would it be the teachers’ responsibility to control other employees and their pay? Again, wouldn’t that fall under the concept of trying to raise the pay in general? Some districts were telling teachers they were not allowed to protest because their students relied on them for a meal. How does this fall on the backs of teachers who were leaving to advocate that students do get a meal?
Thirdly, it should come as no surprise that the rate of mental health has risen. There is nothing more heartbreaking than watching a student suffer from depression and not be able to seek help. Many teachers are lucky. They leave work worrying and come back the next day to see their child happy again. Many are not. I can’t even count the number of times I or a co-worker have gone home and cried because we did not know if these students were going to make it. How many emails have been sent out late at night to get in contact with a parent so that they will mediate in time? How many phone calls have ended in heartache? Mental health counselors are necessary for our schools for the epidemic on our hands, and not just for depression. Many students suffer a variety of mental illness, and they are too young to be aware of how to handle it.
So I go back to what these pastors say. I understand that we are to live within our means. But what happens when our means are unlivable? Do we just stand by and not do anything to reform the broken system we have found ourselves in? I don’t agree with this statement anymore.
I remember coming back from the protest and being hugged by my boyfriend as he said, “I’m so proud of my civic activist.” I can’t help but be reminded of another civic activist who invoked change for countless lives that came after Him and died on a cross because of it. As always, I try to live by the mantra of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I did not abandon my students on Wednesday. The teacher was still in session. I gave them one of the most important lessons I could: to use your voice and stand up for what is right.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on abbyfricke.com
Featured Image by Joshua Eckstein
In-Text Images by Abby Fricke