Rural Teachers Should Consider Social Work as a Supplemental/Alternate Career Path

A guest post by Frankie Wallace

 

You may have fine-tuned your teaching style over the years, spent countless hours creating your lesson plans, and researched everything there is to know not just about the subjects you teach but how the students themselves learn. And yet, if you’re a teacher — and one working in a rural school in particular — chances are it doesn’t matter how good your track record is, you’re still probably being underpaid. At a certain point, the truth sinks in, it’s hard to make a decent living as a rural teacher. It’s a realization that is all too familiar to rural teachers throughout the United States.

But as you stand there, scratching your head and fighting between the fact that you entered this profession to help children learn and find their potential … but you still need to pay your bills on time, don’t give up. Your case isn’t hopeless. While opportunities for advancement and career success can tend to stall within the rural teaching profession, there is another option that has become more and more appealing in recent years. We’re talking about social work.

Here are some of the reasons struggling rural teachers should consider supplementing their income as a social worker.

The Teacher’s End of the Deal

Let’s first take a look at the personal side of the equation, breaking down some of the pros and cons that affect you, the teacher, when considering the social worker option within your existing career.

 

The Benefits of a Social Work Side Hustle

The first and most obvious answer here is cold, hard cash. While you may pour your heart into your teaching, as we already touched on, at some point you’ve got to pay that mortgage so you don’t become that crazy teacher living out of their car. But there are other reasons besides financial factors at work here.

One easily overlooked benefit is the fact that the two career choices — teaching and social work — tend to work within very similar fields. While one is focused on teaching students, both highlight that innate human desire to come alongside those who are in need and help them through adversity. The complementary nature of both careers makes it much easier to “double up” by becoming certified for both.

Yet another great modern advantage to broadening your career into the realm of social work is that you can get many certifications and even full-fledged degrees online with little difficulty and often at your own pace these days. This doesn’t only make the education and credentials of becoming a social worker more easily accessible, though. It also allows you, if desired, to go the whole nine yards and create an entire alternative career path as a possibility for the future.

The need for social workers isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it’s projected that the number of workers required may rise a hefty 16 percent from 2016 to 2026. That provides a nice career safety net, freeing up any struggling rural teacher who might otherwise have few other options.

 

How Extra Work Can Push You Too Far

Of course, as any educating veteran will tell you, teaching is anything but a relaxing career choice, with most teachers constantly struggling to keep their heads above the water. After all, the average modern teacher is dealing with a variety of challenges including an increasingly recognized diversity in learning styles within their own classrooms.

That said, you need to make sure to avoid burnout in the quest for supplemental income. After all, it’s estimated that teachers make approximately 1,500 decisions a day. Therefore, it’s important to keep perspective when trying to weigh your options. It’s also helpful to remember that there are ways to avoid that mental and physical burnout such as exercise, yoga, and that age-old favorite, an afternoon cup o’ joe.

The Student’s End of the Deal

While the pros and cons to a teacher of going the social worker route are fairly straightforward, they aren’t the only things to consider. There are far-reaching external impacts that any social worker can make as well, many of which are as profound as any teacher might find themselves producing within the classroom.

 

Why Are Social Workers Needed in Rural Areas in Particular?

It’s a tragic fact that students in rural areas tend to struggle profoundly with both direct issues like substance abuse as well as more indirect (yet still nefarious) elements like low socioeconomic status. While the former can be detrimental to one’s health and even lethal in certain cases, the latter can be just as debilitating in the long term, as the lack of career opportunities that most rural students face can be crippling.

Thus, becoming a social worker in a rural area can allow a teacher to also aid in the battle against things like the ever-worsening opioid crisis as well as get hands-on experience in the struggle for their students to succeed after school hours and outside of the classroom. After all, when it comes to social work, students are just the tip of the iceberg, with rural social workers diving into the heart of one of the U.S.’s most actively struggling demographics. Their service is required not just for schools but for hospitals, nonprofits, and even prisons.

Don’t Give Up!

If you’re a rural teacher, don’t give up hope. The struggle to make ends meet may be very real, but it isn’t one with zero alternatives. Considering social work as a viable supplemental income or even an alternative career path is an excellent option that has become both accessible and needed in the modern era more than ever before.

 

If you liked this article, you may want to consider giving this one on creating inclusive classrooms for students with disabilities a gander, as well.

“Is It Paid?”

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I received an email from our principal asking who would like to join a new committee that central office had created. It seemed they wanted someone from each grade level. There are three third grade teachers in my building. None of us wanted to do it. One was pursuing a doctoral degree. I was already piloting a new science program and, being the new guy, had taken one for the team and signed on to attend bi-monthly leadership team meetings. That left the third teacher — let’s call her Joyce — as next man up and she knew it.

I sometimes wonder if anything would ever get done in a school if it weren't for guilt. Click To Tweet

I sometimes wonder if anything would ever get done in a school if it weren’t for guilt. Because guilt was the only reason Joyce even considered accepting this request. She wasn’t interested in the committee’s work and she’d served on district committees in the past whose recommendations had been ignored. Joyce can be a bit disagreeable, though, so she wasn’t just going to roll over. Instead, she replied to the principal with one question.

It’s a question I suspect few professionals are ever forced to ask or even wonder.

“Is it paid?”

A hush fell over the crowd.

For some reason, this question is considered impertinent in education. They’re the words of a sassy six-year-old talking back to her mother. How dare teachers ask such a thing? Shouldn’t the opportunity to do good by the students of our communities be enough? What are we, greedy opportunists who operate transactionally, only volunteering our time if we can personally benefit? Aren’t we team players? Don’t we want what’s best for kids?

Joyce knew all this. She relayed the story to us with the unmistakable glee of a rebel who’s just defiantly thumbed his nose at Authority and the undercurrent of fear as she waited to see how Authority would fight back.

Authority replied via email: “I’ll look into it.”

Which meant it wasn’t paid.

In a just world, the question should never need to be asked. Professionals should be paid for their time. Employers should offer to do so. It should be the expectation, not a favor. There should be no need to “look into it” because the answer should be, “Of course it’s paid! Why would you even ask such an outlandish thing?”

The education world is not just. Because if anything, teachers are more entitled to extra pay than other professionals when you consider the fact that teachers’ extra work will never personally benefit them unless they are paid.

Lawyers work crazy hours in the hopes of making partner.

Small business owners burn the midnight oil because they’re building something they hope will pay off in the end.

New hires slave away to impress their boss enough to receive a promotion.

There are no promotions in education. Every extra minute of unpaid work that a teacher performs beyond their contract is done solely for the benefit of others. They will personally receive nothing, ever. There is no brighter tomorrow because you sacrificed today. Teachers just start over every fall.

Which is why “Is it paid?” should be only a first step. The real question ought to be, “How much does it pay?” And the answer to that question should determine whether or not you’ll take on the additional responsibilities. Because there is a cost to doing so. There are no free lunches. Give here and you’ll have less to give over there. Every decision is a trade-off, so the question really becomes, “What are you willing to give up to take on this new task and how much should you be compensated in order to do so?”

The answer should never be nothing.

We all place a value on our time, but districts force us to place their value on our time. Most offer an hourly stipend that can’t be negotiated by individual teachers asked to do more work. When we’re lucky enough to be offered extra duty pay, it’s a Hobson’s choice — take it or leave it. Most of us take it because we’ve been conditioned to be grateful for anything, even an amount well below what we think our time is worth (and also typically well below the “hourly rate” we earn teaching).

Teachers should demand more. We can’t expect our employers to value our time when we give it away so cheaply.

Districts should pay more. They have in their employ a group of professionals who regularly tell us they are stressed, overworked, and exhausted. People are fleeing the profession and fewer replacements are joining the ranks. It’s exploitative to ask people who are telling you they are overwhelmed to do more and not offer to pay them fairly for it.

Since teachers already have too much to do, district leaders should not ask them to do more unless the time they are asking them to spend on the new work will be of greater value than the time they would have spent on their own work. And if you can’t afford to pay teachers to join your new committee, then you can’t afford to have a new committee.

If the work is important, pay people to do it. If the work is really important, pay them more. And if it's not that important, then why are you asking your teachers to do it? They already have enough to do. Click To Tweet

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Related:

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

When Teachers Should Work For Free

Regular readers of this blog know that I believe professionals should be paid for their work. I believe it even more strongly for teachers because unlike their counterparts in business, teachers will never earn a promotion or a pay raise based on their willingness to donate their labor. While others may put in 60 hours of work each week, many of them do so with the belief that they will personally benefit from such a sacrifice at a later date. That’s why I bristle when people who aren’t teachers make the argument that everybody puts in extra hours, so teachers should quit whining. Teachers’ extra hours are different because those hours are almost always given selflessly, which is why asking teachers to donate them is exploitative.

That said, there are times when teachers should be willing to work for free.  Here are four.

To Set Up Their Classrooms

Let me be clear. Teachers should be paid to set up their classrooms. They aren’t doing it for fun, they’re doing it because their work, which is done on behalf of the school district, requires that it be done. The logistics are tricky for the district, though. Should teachers who spend 20 hours Pinterizing their rooms be paid more than minimalists who only spend 3? Might not some teachers, those without kids or who dislike their spouses, perhaps,  just spend eight hours a day for an entire week, tinkering around in their rooms, so they can pile up the dough? It’s easy to see why districts don’t offer an hourly rate to teachers for this work.

Districts could, however, and should, offer a flat-rate. Respectful employers should negotiate a dollar amount to give every teacher, knowing that every teacher will be spending some time setting up their classrooms. They never will because they don’t have to and they know it. They know that no self-respecting teacher is going to show up at the school open house or the first day of class without having most things in place. District leaders also know that they will not be blamed if teachers do exactly that and say, “Well, the district won’t pay me to come in, so I don’t.” That makes the teacher look bad, not the district. If it makes you look bad in front of kids and parents, you will work for free, and so you will continue to do so. It isn’t ideal, but it’s understandable, and there’s probably no fixing this particular practice.

To Make Your Job Easier

As much as I wish it were not true, there is no way to do this job without putting in some time outside of your contractual hours. Having done this for 18 years now, 15 of them at the same grade level and with the same district, I have a ton of advantages that many teachers don’t enjoy. I’m familiar with the curriculum. I have a library of lessons that can be counted on. I’ve found efficiencies through trial and error. I am able to leave school at school almost every night by focusing on what’s most important, constantly asking myself why I am doing what I am doing, utilizing technology, and taking practical steps like getting rid of homework and focusing on written feedback instead of grades in writing (I write about these strategies and others in my book, Leave School At School).

Even so, I still come in 45 minutes to an hour before school every day. There are just too many things to do. Not coming in early would add considerable stress and make the job all but impossible, which is why one of the dumbest things unions do when they are in the middle of contentious contract negotiations is tell their teachers to work to the contract. Teachers hate doing this because it makes their job even harder than it already is. Being unprepared makes everything more stressful.

Work for free when doing so makes your job easier.

To Have a Say

I have served on three interview teams and I wasn’t paid for any of them. These were full days, requiring me to drive 30 minutes each way without any reimbursement and listen to new teacher candidates earnestly share why they would be the best hire. This was time given to my district to help them select the best people to educate the kids in their community.

I have also served on a district committee to evaluate a new reading program, and I know a number of teachers who joined a team of fellow teachers, district leaders, and community members when the district went through restructuring. While all of this work was performed on behalf of their employer, it was all consequential to teachers. I want to have a say in who my colleagues will be, which reading program I’ll be forced to use, and how a transition to a new building will be handled.

Teachers should be willing to work for free to have a say in their work conditions.

To Personally Benefit

Money is not the only form of compensation. Teachers might choose to work for free if they personally benefit in other ways. If you are passionate about something, then working for free won’t bother you because you’re doing something you love and your “pay” is the joy you feel while doing it. I work with a teacher who is passionate about Make a Difference Day. Most years, she spends hours coming up with and implementing ideas to make this day special for the whole school.  She derives immense pleasure from it, more satisfaction than any amount of money would give her (well, maybe not any amount).

I am an unpaid member of the district’s technology team, but that doesn’t mean I’m working for free. First, I like technology and use it a lot in class. It’s made my teaching more efficient, relevant, and fun. So I benefit in those ways. Second, I like knowing and having some influence on what direction the district is heading in with respect to technology and I enjoy bringing staff concerns to the district. Third, I benefit because members of the tech team receive piloted devices and programs. I had one of the first Chromebooks in the district and I have one of a handful of SMART boards in my classroom. I’m being “paid” in other ways, so I’m willing to work for something other than money.

Be Careful

The danger comes when teachers see their entire job this way. When you claim that teaching is your passion, you’ll be willing to take on countless extra duties without pay. If teaching truly is your calling, you’ll feel no resentment over serving on every committee and attending every after-school event. Rather than exhaust and demoralize you, you’ll get a charge out of it.

The problem is this: While you may enjoy donating your time, many of your colleagues do not. And when enough teachers are willing to work for free, working for free becomes an expectation and those who don’t do it suffer unfair reputational harm.  No teacher should feel like they have to work for free. Years of selfless teachers giving away their time has led to a culture of exploitation. Districts don’t even think twice about asking teachers to work for nothing.

So be careful. Although your motives may be pure and you really want to do whatever it takes to help kids, the consequences of working for free can hurt your colleagues and it already has hurt the profession as a whole.

 

Related Articles:

Teachers’ Extra Hours Are Different

American Teachers Should Work Less

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

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Classroom Crowdfunding 101: Crowdfunding Tips for Teachers

Summer has flown by, and teachers all over the country are preparing to return to the classroom. This means writing lesson plans, learning about incoming students, and creating welcome packs and letters. It also means buying classroom supplies, which often turns into an out-of-pocket expense. How can you as a teacher reduce, or even eliminate, this expense? Many teachers have turned to classroom crowdfunding.

If you’ve never heard of crowdfunding, have concerns about classroom crowdfunding, or are looking for tips on improving your next classroom crowdfunding campaign, this post will help you start off on the right foot.

 

What is Crowdfunding?

In a sentence, crowdfunding is the practice of raising money for a project through small amounts of money from a number of people. Typically, it’s done online. You may have seen crowdfunding campaigns for all sorts of projects from new inventions to businesses to paying medical bills to classroom funding. The goals of a crowdfunding campaign can change the nature of it slightly. (For example, inventions usually use rewards-based crowdfunding while businesses might use equity crowdfunding.)

Classroom crowdfunding, then, is the practice of raising money through donations for a classroom project through small amounts of money from a number of people.

 

Why Choose Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is one of many ways to save on classroom supplies, field trips, and other classroom projects. You might choose to crowdfund over other more traditional fundraising methods, or you might use two methods at once. As a teacher, you might choose crowdfunding for some (or all) of the following reasons:

  • You have a supportive and involved community of family, friends, and colleagues.
  • You have a specific project you’re looking to promote and get off the ground.
  • Your project requires a deadline.
  • You have several projects you hope to fund.
  • You want to teach your students about the elements of fundraising.

These are just a few of the reasons you might choose classroom crowdfunding. As you read about the basics of crowdfunding and the tips for a successful campaign, you may find more personal reasons, as well.

 

The Basics of Crowdfunding

Successful classroom crowdfunding campaigns require time and attention, but they do not need to be complicated. In order to start a classroom crowdfunding campaign, you only need to take three steps.

  1. Choose a crowdfunding platform.
  2. List your crowdfunding information.
  3. Share your campaign.

Let’s break these three steps down.

 

#1 Choose a Crowdfunding Platform

With the rise in popularity of crowdfunding among all industries, there’s a dizzying amount of platform choices out there. Some platforms cater specifically to teachers. The two most well-known platforms for teachers are Donors Choose and Adopt-a-Classroom. As you’ll see, there are reasons to use one of these platforms, and there are reasons to choose a different platform. Here are several other popular platforms.

When researching the different platforms, you’ll want to ask yourself a number of questions.

Do I need flexibility in the items I choose? Some crowdfunding platforms require you to choose from a list of items rather than choosing a total amount.

Can I reach my target goal once the fees are factored in? Each crowdfunding platform has its own fee structure. Make sure the fees aren’t too high to reach your goal amount while still asking donors for a reasonable amount.

Have any of the platforms successfully funded projects similar to mine? If you find a platform with several projects similar to yours that have been funded, odds are it’s a good platform for you.

Do I plan on running an all-or-nothing crowdfunding campaign? Some platforms work on an all-or-nothing basis. In other words, if the project is not completely funded by the deadline, you will not receive any funds.

Does my district have any rules or guidelines about crowdfunding? More and more school districts have guidelines in place regarding crowdfunding and which platform(s) teachers can use. Check with your district before choosing a platform.

Will I give donors something in return? Most teachers use donation-based crowdfunding, where donors give without expecting anything in return. Some platforms, however, require a gift in return.

 

#2 List Your Crowdfunding Information

Once you’ve chosen a platform, it’s time to tell your story. How much money do you need? Why are you raising this money? Who is it going to help, and how? Share how these funds will benefit your students without using teacher jargon. The tips section will give more details on how to share your information in the best possible way.

 

#3 Share Your Campaign

After you’ve crossed your T’s and dotted your I’s for your classroom crowdfunding page, it’s time to share it with everyone you know (and even people you don’t know). Successful campaigns build on their community first, so send your campaign to family, friends, colleagues, and your students’ families. Encourage them, in turn, to send the information onto others. You can send your campaign through email, social media, or through any websites you manage.

You may also find that there are organizations, businesses, or even strangers out there interested in your campaign. Reach out to any potential donors with a personalized message as to why your campaign affects them. Then, again, encourage them to share it with others.

 

6 Tips for a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to go through your classroom crowdfunding campaign with a fine tooth comb to make it as successful as possible.

#1  Be specific.

What exactly will the money go towards, item by item? Some platforms even allow you to request money for specific items. Or, you could make a list on Amazon of the items you want rather than asking for the money.

Also, if there’s something unique about your project, highlight it. Similarly, if your campaign aims to fill a specific gap, highlight that as well. For example, if you’re a science teacher who wants art supplies because your school cut art classes, this story will draw donors in.

Finally, make sure to focus on the students, as donors want to help kids above all else.

 

#2  Share pictures and videos.

Make them as high-quality as possible. Donors won’t necessarily expect professional camera work (especially if you’re raising money for technology!), but it should show a clear picture of what you’re aiming to do and tell a clear story. If your students appear in any of your pictures or videos, make sure you have permission from their parent or guardian.

 

#3  Look at other crowdfunding pages.

Examine how other teachers set up their crowdfunding pages. What do you think makes them successful? Do you find yourself motivated to give to any of them? Why or why not? This information will help you strengthen your own campaign.

 

#4  Ask for less.

Some teachers have found that by asking for less money, they’re more likely to reach their goals. These teachers recommend asking for $100-$200 for your first project.

When you ask for less, it also makes it easier to always have a project up. Some teachers point out that corporations or individuals will sometimes fund the projects of every teacher in their area. Having a project up might pay off in unexpected ways.

 

#5  Identify your donors.

While the basic message of your campaign will remain the same, how you posit that message may differ according to who you’re appealing to. Parents will give different amounts and for different reasons than alumni or colleagues, for example.

 

#6  Use your campaign as a teaching opportunity.

Transparency is key when it comes to crowdfunding campaigns, and that goes for your students, as well. By teaching them through the process, you’re not only involving them in the classroom; you’ll also be able to show your donors every single benefit of giving to your campaign.

 

The best way to know if classroom crowdfunding is right for you is to try it out! The risks are minimal, but the potential rewards are great. Within a short amount of time, you can launch a classroom crowdfunding campaign that will take your classroom above and beyond.

 

Kristen Seikaly began writing on topics in education for her website, Operaversity. Now, she primarily writes about educational games for Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search. This is her first guest post for Teacher Habits.

 

How Teachers Can Give Themselves a Raise

.

Work fewer hours.

That’s it, really. I probably don’t need to explain it, but you did click over here and you likely expect more than three words, so…

Here is how working for others… uh, works. You agree to do a job. Your employer agrees to pay you. You come to an arrangement whereby you will work for a certain amount of hours, and in return, they will give you a certain amount of money.  For teachers, the amount of work and the amount of money is almost always spelled out in black and white in a contract. For instance, mine says,

“The teacher’s normal day shall be seven (7) hours and six (6) minutes, unless permission is granted by the principal to leave earlier. Professional development half-days shall be three (3) hours and thirty (30) minutes with the start time to be determined by the building administrator.”

“Teachers shall be entitled to a duty-free uninterrupted lunch period of not less than thirty-five (35) minutes.”

And farther down the document, there’s a salary schedule that states exactly how much I will be paid for my labor.

So it’s pretty cut and dry. There’s an exchange. Work for money. Tale as old as time.

Now, when it comes down to it, we’re all hourly employees. Your investment banker friend might pull down 100K but he’s also working 60-hour weeks. So while he drives a nicer car, wears fancier clothes, and takes cooler vacations than you, he also mostly drives that car to work and back, is only seen in his fancy clothes by other bankers, and doesn’t take many vacations because he works all the damn time. He’s trading additional time for more money, and as a result, his hourly rate would be something like:

$100,000 divided by (60 hours/week x 50 weeks/year) = $30/hr + no personal life.

You, on the other hand, made a different choice. You chose time over money (or at least, that’s what I did and what you should be doing). You make a much more modest income, but you also work fewer hours (and if you don’t, you should).

If you feel like you’re underpaid as a teacher, it’s probably because of one of these reasons:

1. You’re young and pay for new teachers hasn’t moved in eons.
2. You work in Oklahoma West Virginia Arizona.
3. You work too many hours.

Let’s say you’re a mid-career teacher making $60,000. You work 10-hour days, plus you put in 10 more hours on weekends. Your hourly rate is:

$60,000 / (60 hours/week x 38 weeks) = $26.31

(And this assumes you don’t work over the summer. But if you’re working 60-hour weeks during the school year, I have a sneaking suspicion you’re not one to spend your summers on a beach, so your hourly rate will be even lower.)

If you want a raise, there are only three ways to go about getting one (short of leaving for a higher-paying job, and good luck with that).

You might work more, although you have to be careful. The math doesn’t always work in your favor. If your district is offering less than your hourly rate (which is likely), then it’s not really a raise. It’s just more work for more money, but not enough money to make it worth your while (unless you have no life and nothing better to do with your time, in which case, I’m sorry).

You can stick around for another year and get a small raise (unless they freeze steps, which is certainly a possibility, isn’t it?).

Or you can work fewer hours, which:

–boosts your hourly rate of pay.

–gives you more time to do the things you really want to do in life.

–is something you can start doing tomorrow.

So here’s how to feel richer than an investment banker:

Let’s say you’re not crazy and you don’t work 60 hours a week. You work fifty because you tell yourself it makes you a better teacher. So:

$60,000 / (50 hours/week x 38 weeks) = $31.58/hour

That’s investment banker money and you still get the summers, Spring Break, and Christmas off. Look at you, high roller!

But if you’re working 50 hours a week, then you’re donating more than 10 hours every week, or more than 380 hours over the course of a school year. If you don’t believe me, check your contract.

If instead, you work a reasonable workweek of 40 hours — which for many of you is actually more than what you’ve agreed to work when you signed a legally-binding document that governs employee-employer relationships the world over — then:

$60,000 / (40 hours/week x 38 weeks) = $39.00/ hour

And you’ll also have a personal life (although you’ll still be tired and useless on Friday nights, no matter how quickly you get out of the building).

So if you want a raise, stop working so many hours.

It sounds simple because it is, and yet so many teachers have a hard time doing it. If only there were a book that could help them…

(Disclosure: I wrote it):

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