By Samantha Silva

Boyle Heights Beat

A teacher’s job comes with a great amount of responsibility, but that’s not often reflected in earnings. Although the value of a good teacher can be seen in the achievements of their students, teachers are some of the lowest paid professionals.

Teachers begin their careers at lower salaries than those in many other professions. And the salary differential only grows over time, when compared with other industries. In cities with a high cost of living, such as Los Angeles, some teachers take a second job to try to get ahead.

Sonia Cortez, 41, is one of them. “I did survive a long time with just my teaching salary,” says Cortez, a Boyle Heights resident who has been teaching for 20 years. “I was only able to get by.”

Cortez still owes money from student loans for her education for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, debt that initially totaled almost $75,000.

She now uses weekends and evenings to cater and plan dessert tables for parties, a business she started to supplement her income.

The additional work allows Cortez to express her creative side and gives her family the ability to do things they could never do before. “We wouldn’t be able to do anything extra or have money saved for a rainy day,” she says.

Romina Ramos, 38, a chemistry teacher at Roosevelt High School, also has a part-time job as an agent with World Finance Group. She likes the added pay and the benefits, including additional life insurance. Ramos says she’s learned to manage her finances better, too. “I felt like it would help me become more literate when it comes to my finances and not just simply waste, waste, waste.”

And Curtis Cruz, 43, a substitute teacher at Roosevelt High School, works during school vacations as an Uber driver to supplement his income and pay off school loans.

“When you borrow money, you eventually have to pay it back,“ says Cruz.

“There are five of us, so it’s a little bit hard to raise a family.”

Juggling a complex work life

Cortez says during the week she teaches from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  and dedicates her evenings, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and most weekends to her side business. She spends Sunday nights doing lesson plans for the week.

“The days of being spontaneous are long gone,” she says, and any social events are planned far in advance. If her children have parties or sporting events, she relies on family members to help out with rides.

At first, Cortez felt the second job cut into her family life. She was convinced she was spreading herself too thin. But with time, “I have been able to provide a better balance for my kids and home life.”  Still, she admits, “There are times that I am simply exhausted.”

Even though it cuts into free time, many teachers who take a second job say it’s a necessity, especially for those who want to buy a home.

A comfortable lifestyle is not sustainable on teachers’ salaries in many California’s cities, says Ulrich Boser, co-author of a 2014 study from the Center for American Progress, who found that 16 percent of teachers take on additional work to get by.

“California teachers, including those at the highest step of the pay scale, have low purchasing power when it comes to feasibly owning a home in urban areas,” Boser found.

Teachers get pensions and summers off, unlike many other professionals. But their wages are 23 percent lower than those of other college graduates, according to a 2015 survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, beginning teachers earn $50,368 a year, with the median teacher’s salary around $75,000. Teachers earn regular raises for the first nine years, but after that increases only come if they continue their educations. The highest paid teacher in the district, with 34-years experience and a doctorate degree earns $80,074.

Cortez remains hopeful that her party business will allow her to meet her goals. “I would like to be a homeowner one day and be able to pay for my kids’ college tuitions without too much stress,” says Cortez.  “My teaching job alone cannot do that.”

Since she started her part-time gig, Cortez says, “I’ve been able to pay off some small debts and do a few more fun things with my kids, like take a real vacation.”

This phrase is a great way to convey the idea that teachers have to go to school a lot and take on debt. That’s because it incorporates the point into the narrative of the story. That makes this graph unnecessary: “In order to become a teacher, one must get a bachelor’s degree, obtain a teaching credential and pass a series of certification exams. Many had to take out loans in order to pay for their education.”

Photo above: Romina Flores teaches chemistry at Roosevelt High School and works part-time as a financial advisor. Photo by Samantha Silva.

Samantha Silva is a senior at Roosevelt High School.

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Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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