Tori Koerbler: A plan to pay teachers what they’re worth |
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Tori Koerbler: A plan to pay teachers what they’re worth

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf (left) delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg on Feb. 5. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is at the center, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is at the right.

When I was in fifth grade, the kickball game at recess was the best part of the school day. My teacher, Mr. Mettler, would lace up his white New Balance sneakers, take the ball from the closet and get the game going in the school yard.

He could have taken recess time to grade papers or prep his next lesson, but he chose to spend it kicking a ball around with his students.

Mr. Mettler inspired me to become a teacher, and like him, I put my students first every day.

Every student in Pennsylvania deserves to have the very best educators. Teachers, after all, play a vital role in student achievement.

That’s why I’m so happy that Gov. Tom Wolf has put forth a plan to raise the minimum teacher salary, which is now $18,500. He wants teachers like me to be able to pour our hearts and souls into educating our students, not worry about how we’re going to pay the bills.

I have been teaching for the past four years, and I make about $37,000 per year. The governor’s plan would raise my annual salary to $45,000 next year.

I am one of about 3,100 educators across the commonwealth who would benefit from the governor’s proposal to raise teacher salaries. Three out of four of us are women, and half of us — myself included — have more than three years of experience.

Many of us are contending with a mountain of student loan debt. Some will give up on the profession or seek teaching jobs in another district or state.

Wolf’s plan would bring teacher salaries much more in line with what other similarly educated professionals earn in the state.

I had the opportunity to meet Wolf recently in Harrisburg. I told him I wouldn’t have to work a second job that takes me away from my family on the weekends, if this proposal were enacted.

In addition to being a full-time teacher and mom of three, I work weekend shifts at a kielbasa shop to make ends meet. On top of that, I’m pursuing college course work to obtain my Level 2 teaching certification — a requirement for my job.

I want to spend more time with my husband and children, but it’s tough when you’re working two jobs and going to school.

Like many of my colleagues across the state, my family struggles financially with student loans, college tuition costs and mortgage payments on a modest house. Even grocery shopping is a challenge. Some weeks I look at what my family needs and the grocery budget I have, and ask myself what we can do without.

I didn’t become a teacher to make big bucks. I became a teacher to make a difference, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

One of the best moments in my day is when a student finally understands something, and you see that look in her face, that light in his eyes. That’s what it’s all about.

Teachers introduce students to great books, new languages, and the wonders of history and science. We stay after school to give our students the extra help they need. We challenge them to do things they never thought they could.

We work closely with parents to meet the varied needs of our students. We pursue rigorous professional development requirements to be at the top of our game.

Sometimes, we even put on sneakers to play kickball with students during recess.

Teachers like me want to be in our classrooms teaching the next generation, but it’s so difficult to support our families on salaries that trail behind what other professionals earn. We shouldn’t have to work second jobs that limit the time we can spend with our own children.

It’s time for teachers’ salaries to catch up and reflect the many roles and responsibilities we have today.

Tori Koerbler is a third-grade teacher in the Panther Valley School District in Lansford, Carbon County.

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