For most teachers, a second job is a way of life

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, July 12, 2014

As a single mother in Mississippi, it was almost impossible for Sherry Davis to support her family on her teacher’s salary.

Davis has been teaching business and computer education at Loyd Star High School for 17 years. She was not planning to become a teacher and the first few years on the job were tough.

“I always said I’ll starve to death before I teach and I’ll starve to death if I teach,” said Davis. “It’s tough – you constantly have to do what you can to make ends meet.”

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To help with expenses, Davis became a realtor at Joyce Asken Realty as a way to supplement her income. With two jobs she was able to take care of her children and grandchildren.

“I had to have a little help,” said Davis. She added that now she is working on her master’s degree, which will ultimately increase her pay, while still working the two jobs.

Mississippi has one of the lowest salary levels in the nation for public school teachers. In 2013, Lincoln County entry-level teachers with a bachelor’s degree made $30,900. For some, this could be the only money generated for a family. The average Mississippi household income is $37,095 according to the 2012 census, which is the lowest in the nation.

In April, Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Teacher Pay Raise Bill, which went in to effect July 1. The bill will increase teacher salaries incrementally over the next two years. Teachers working during the 2014 to 2015 fiscal year will receive a raise of $1,500, with an additional $1,000 the following year.

The legislation also allows for merit payments beginning in 2016. The bill will add $125 to a paycheck each month, which is half of the average cost of groceries for a single person per month.

“It’s a great gesture but teachers don’t get paid enough for what they do,” said Terry Brister, superintendent for the Lincoln County School District. “Some of those teachers spend more time with the kids than their parents do.”

Mississippi education was ranked fourth from the bottom in the 2013 Quality Counts report by Education Week. Students were not reading on grade level, very few were proficient in math and only 12 percent of high school graduates were considered college ready in all four subjects.

Teacher’s salaries increase with seniority and reward career service at the expense of entry level salaries, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The department notes that every compensatory decision for teachers is focused on improving student achievements, their argument being that revised compensation structures could better support and drive effective teaching.

Even though Mississippi is at the bottom of the stack when it comes to education, teachers remain in the state.

“I love the kids and that’s why I’m here,” said Davis. “I love this state, I love Wesson and I love Brookhaven. The benefits outweigh the negatives by far. It’s not all about the money, but it sure would be nice to only have one job.”