New Short Documentary Reveals Tradeoffs of Teachers’ Second Jobs: Teacher Salary Project Continues Push for Equity, Professionalism

This week, The Teacher Salary Project released a brand new short film in their series on the state of teaching in the United States. “Laney’s Story” profiles a public middle school teacher who works two after-school jobs and spends her nights bartending just so she can afford to stay in the classroom. Laney fears she won’t make enough to pay her bills—and fears even more that she can’t give 100 percent to her students because she is so over-worked and exhausted.

“At some point you have to take care of yourself, you have to take care of your own family,” Laney tells us in the film, “and on what I’m making, we wouldn’t make it.”

Laney’s story is not uncommon. According to a recent study by Center for American Progress, teachers in the United States have the lowest starting salary among comparable professionals. Another study by McKinsey notes teachers’ salaries have essentially stagnated for 40 years. In 30 out of 50 states, pay has gone down. Meanwhile, California faces a teacher shortage and has seen a 55 percent decrease in enrollment in teacher credentialing programs (compared to a 30 percent decrease across the nation). In its current state, the teaching profession is failing to attract, retain and value qualified teachers to do this critical work.

The film is the second in a series of new shorts from The Teacher Salary Project—a nonpartisan organization founded in 2010 by educator Nínive Calegari, Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Vanessa Roth, and best-selling author Dave Eggers. In 2011, The Teacher Salary Project produced the documentary, “American Teacher.” Now in its fifth year, the organization continues to raise awareness around the impact of our national policy of underpaying and undervaluing educators. The Teacher Salary Project remains committed to working with everyone in the country to ensure teaching becomes the prestigious, desirable, financially viable, and professionally exciting job we know it needs to be.

Recently, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan introduced a plan to reduce prison spending and use the savings to spend directly on raising teachers’ salaries. By reducing prison spending by 21 percent across the country, we could double teachers’ salaries in low income schools. The impact of this proposal is clear: If teachers like Laney were appropriately compensated they would no longer need to work two and three jobs outside of the classroom. Instead of struggling to pay rent, they would be able to fully devote themselves to our nation’s children.

“It makes me really upset to think I’m not giving them my best,” Laney says in the film. “I have so many other things that are going on. And I feel like what I give them now is amazing, because I won’t give them any less—but it can’t possibly be my best.” As the U.S. Department of Education continues to approve State Plans to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators (Equity Plans), the question of how to recruit and retain enough strong teachers for all students remains a high priority and this new film hopes to broaden the dialogue about the importance of pay in doing so.

The Teacher Salary Project plans to move forward with more films and initiatives to amplify and support teachers voices. The goal is simple: A nation where we pay our teachers what we think our students are worth.

view the film