How I Respond When My Students Ask Me, “How Much Money Do You Make?”

How much money do you make each month? That is perhaps one of the most repeated questions I’ve heard from my students in all of my years in education. I think that there are several reasons why my students ask me this question. First, they want to know why I chose teaching as a profession when I could be in a different, higher paying profession. Second, they want to know how I’m managing to raise a family in the Bay Area considering how low teachers’ salaries tend to be. Finally, my students ask me how much I make because this is a taboo question, and no one likes to explore the forbidden more than teenagers do.

In all respects, I always answer my students as transparently as possible when they ask about my salary. There isn’t a single student who I’ve denied knowledge to my yearly and monthly salary. The response most students give me when I tell them my income is that of shock and surprise, and they tell me that most teachers shoo them off and scold them for asking such a personal question. Now, I understand the reason why most teachers want to keep their salaries private, but I prefer to share my salary with my students for this reason: I want to debunk the myth that teaching is a low-paying profession, and in the process, I want to inspire my students to enter the profession and become teachers themselves.

It is not a secret, nor a lie that teachers get paid less than members of other professions, and that number is steadily dropping. This makes it difficult for teachers to make ends meet, especially those teachers who rely on their single teacher pay and live in expensive places like the Bay Area. However, I have an issue with constantly painting a picture of teachers’ salaries as too low because that turns our students off to teaching. The reason most children want to become doctors, lawyers, and engineers is because our society financially compensates these professions at much higher rates than teaching. As one of my students put it, “Why would I stress here making so little money, when I can become a Youtube star and make hundreds of thousands of dollars more than you?”

I like to share my income information with my students so that they understand that teaching is not a low-paying job in the grand scheme of things. Yes, we are one of the lowest paid professionals, but that’s exclusively relative to other professions. It is difficult to make ends meet on a teacher’s salary, but that’s also relative to the amount of debt a teacher holds, and where they decide to live. For example, I’ve worked at schools where the average rent for a house near campus is about $2,000/month, but teachers decide to live 15 miles away from their workplace, in Berkeley, where rent is 4 to 5 times that amount. It is obvious that amount of rent would make teaching as a profession almost an insult. 

In the end, I agree that teachers should get paid more than we do, but I do not want my kids to think that they won’t make it on a teacher’s salary. I want my students to come back to teaching, and if I can help them see that teaching will not lead them to financial ruin, then I will share as much of my financial information as possible. If you do not like sharing your teacher income with students, that is completely okay. I just wonder—what if your response can inspire confidence in your students that becoming a teacher is a great decision and that money will not be an issue? I’ll let you know what results I see when my former students start funneling back into our community as teachers, ready to continue inspiring other children to take on this sublime profession.

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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