It's long past time for teachers to be compensated for the work they actually do

When people talk about teacher salaries, they often talk about teacher schedules—or what they think are their work schedules. Depending on where you live, school hours might go from 8:00 to 2:30. And teachers are usually contracted for around 180 days a year. With a 6 or 7 hour work day and summers and holiday breaks off, aren't teachers making decent money for the hours they work?

Umm, no.

The assumption some people make is that teachers only work their contracted hours, but that's simply not true for most teachers. One teacher broke down the extra hours she puts in beyond her contract and estimated that she actually works 42 hours a week, and actually works 250 days per year. That's a pretty normal, full-time job, for which she only gets paid part-time wages. Scholastic reported that a survey of 10,000 teachers found that most work 10 to 11 hour work days, with those who advise extracurricular activities clocking even more than that.

Salaries for teachers vary a lot by state, but according to Business Insider, in the majority of school districts starting salaries for a new teacher is less than $40,000 a year. In 300 districts, it's less than $30,000. If we consider that teachers do work full-time hours, that's less than the proposed $15 per hour we've seen proposed as a minimum wage.


My brother currently works as an art teacher. I've seen his pandemic hybrid school schedule—in addition to photos of him up planning at 1:30 am—and it's absolutely bananas. Having been a teacher myself, I'm familiar with the amount of work teachers put in beyond school hours—and not just in terms of time, but in emotional labor.

Teaching itself—as in instructing students on how to write essays, how to do algebra, how to analyze history—is somewhat of a challenge with dozens of unique students, but that's not really the hard part of teaching. The hard part is caring about those dozens of students on a personal level, advocating for them in a system of standardization and testing that doesn't acknowledge their unique gifts, dealing with parents who take out their parenting frustrations on the school, and feeling like society doesn't value your work even though you know it's vitally important.

And the real kicker is that the system would suffer greatly if teachers only worked the hours they are paid to work and only used the resources they are provided. We've created a culture in which teachers are expected to work sacrificially, which is ridiculous. Teachers are skilled professionals. They deserve to be paid as if their time, knowledge, skills and experience are exceptionally valuable because they are.

Of course, there are plenty of jobs where people work beyond their expected work hours. But such jobs usually come with bonus incentives or high-paying salaries or some other perks that make up for it. It's like teachers are expected to see the rewarding nature of working with kids as enough—but that expectation doesn't account for the fact that working with kids is as stressful as it is rewarding.

Sometimes it feels like we as a society take advantage of the fact that teachers care so much. Generally speaking, people who go into teaching do it for the right reasons—to help kids learn and grow. It's a job that requires an emotional investment in order to do it well. We know that good teachers are going to be good teachers whether we pay them well or not. They're going to put in the hours and make the sacrifices regardless, and our system exploits that dedication in so many ways.

I've worked in a lot of different jobs, and teaching in a public school was by far the most challenging work I've done. I loved it, but it was hard. I know a man who worked as a garbage collector and in sawmills and the logging industry for 30 years before he became a high school math teacher. He says teaching is the hardest job he's ever had. Long hours, 6 to 7 days a week. Rewarding and meaningful work, of course, but definitely not easy.

It's time to stop expecting the work itself to be the reward and acknowledge that teachers deserve not just decent but competitive incomes. Teachers shouldn't have to be saints or martyrs—they deserve to have their work recognized with salaries that reflect their real value. I haven't taught in a classroom in more than two decades, so I have no skin in the game myself in saying that I think teachers should be paid bucketloads of money. Not just the average for their education and skill level, but beyond it.

In paying teachers extremely well, we would retain more good teachers who leave the job for financial reasons and we would recruit more top people to the profession. We would show as a society that we truly value education and see it as the best investment in the future. And we would all be the better for it.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."