In a heartfelt post, an educator shows us exactly how poorly we pay teachers.

Teachers are undervalued. We all know this.

I knew it when I decided to go into teaching as a profession 20 years ago. My idealistic young self didn't care that it wasn't a lucrative career — I just wanted to make a difference and help kids learn.

But when the reality of a five-figure student loan combined with a beginning teacher's salary hit, I realized that what we expect of educators isn't just unrealistic — it's insulting.


And it hasn't gotten better since then.

Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma are saying "Enough is enough."

Right now, the state of Oklahoma is looking at a teacher walkout scheduled for April 2, in protest of the state legislature's refusal to raise teacher wages. The walkout comes on the heels of a successful teacher's strike in West Virginia, in which public schools were shut down for nine days before legislators agreed to a 5% teacher raise, among other concessions.

Oklahoma's teachers haven't had a state-wide raise in 10 years. According to the National Education Association, Oklahoma ranks 48th for teacher pay, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are dead last.

What does that look like in real dollars? The minimum starting salary in the Sooner State for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience is $31,600. The minimum salary for a teacher with a master's and 25 years of experience is $43,950. And wrapped up in those salaries are the "fringe benefits" of insurance and retirement.

Teachers' per-hour pay is painfully low for what they do and for the skill and education required to do it.

One Oklahoma teacher calculated that at her current salary of $40,000, when all is said and done, she earns approximately $12 per hour. (The idea that teachers only work 8-hour days, nine months a year has been roundly debunked by every person who has ever been a teacher. Argue if you must, but this is a mountain I am willing to die on.)

Another Oklahoma educator took to Facebook to explain the reality of the teaching life in her state. Beth Wallis' viral, heartfelt post describing her day begins with her bank account being overdrawn because the gas company overbilled her. (Yes, an extra gas bill was enough to put her in the red.)

Then she describes her heartbreak over finding out one of her kindergarteners had died, and beautifully explains how deeply teachers care about their students:

"This is the third student of mine in four years that has passed and it never gets easier. We love these children, we care for them, we will protect them with our bodies from bullets and tornados. We watch every school shooting go by, wondering if our district will be next; wondering if we'd be able to save them all before inevitably getting shot ourselves. We wipe their noses and dry their tears. We hold their hands and do everything we can to make sure they grow up to be strong, successful adults. We stay after school for hours listening to middle and high schoolers crying over their parents' divorces or identity struggles, taking on the roles as therapist and advocate. We truly, genuinely, and deeply care for their happiness and wellbeing."

When you are a teacher, your students are like your kids.

I know that feeling. You can't do the work if you don't care deeply, which makes every loss, every heartache, every struggle your students experience weigh heavy on your heart.

Wallis goes on to describe the stresses students and teachers are under, and the tensions felt by all as districts weigh the consequences of a walkout. Then she lays out the reality of Oklahoma's education system and why the walkout is necessary:

"If you think this is about greedy Oklahoma teachers who drive Mercedes-Benzes and just put a down payment on a summer home, you're dead wrong. Our students don't have BOOKS, guys. Our classrooms are sitting 30 deep and my district has it MADE compared to any of the major public schools in the state (40-50 students per class). We had over 1,800 emergency certifications this last year in the state. You think your kids are being taught by the most qualified, experienced teachers? They're gone. The few of us who've stayed behind do it ONLY for the kids. Oklahoma kids DESERVE quality, compassionate education and I will provide that as long as I am able ... but that's not going to be forever. What if I were ever to want kids of my own? I can't even afford an extra gas bill, much less provide for a child. I'm nearly 30 with a Master’s degree and still live in a rent house with a roommate in a state with one of the lowest cost-of-livings in the country and I will never be able to afford an actual mortgage if I stay here.

Teachers should not be expected to be martyrs.

Finally, Wallis lays down what is, to me, the bottom line here. This is the part that too many people in our country — and certainly too many legislators — don't seem to have a solid grasp on:

"STOP EQUATING TEACHERS WITH MARTYRS.

We are professionals. We are trained, educated, hardworking professionals who deserve to be paid for the work we do. We're expected to work before and after our contracted hours every single day to get our grades in and plan for quality instruction, but most of us pray that our car can run off fumes just one more day? We're expected to take bullets for students but most of us can barely make rent?"

You don't understand the expectations placed on teachers from all sides unless you've experienced it.

I wish everyone could be a teacher for a year.

Please try squeezing in planning for an entire day of teaching, plus grading, plus dealing with a broken copy machine, plus using the restroom, all within a 45-minute period. Try not to do work in the evenings and on weekends.

Try to keep up with education and training on your own dime and your own time. Try making sure your students are able to learn effectively, despite their struggles with mental health, parents getting divorced, waking up to an empty refrigerator, and more. Try making do with the supplies in your classroom without dipping into your own pocket.

Meme via Education to the Core.

Try communicating with parents who may or may not feel the need to take an active role in their kids' educations. Try keeping your students engaged while also preparing them for endless standardized tests. Try keeping a room full of 6-year-olds quiet through an active shooter drill without scaring them to death.

Be a mentor. Be a counselor. Be a miracle worker. Be a shield. Do it all for one year and tell me teachers don't deserve to get paid more.

In my adult life, I've worked in various professions in addition to teaching. I remember my first day working as an office manager and marveling at the ability to go to the bathroom at my leisure. No job I've ever had has come close to the amount of work that teaching entailed, no job has ever had as much direct impact on our world, and in no other job did I feel so drastically underpaid.

As Beth Wallis points out, teachers are highly trained professionals, and they ought to be compensated as such. We should all stand with Oklahoma teachers, and with all teachers everywhere who have been expected to be martyrs for far too long.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."