Remember that "What-I-Did Over-the-Summer" essay teachers had you write the first week of school? Most kids hated it and would have relished throwing the question back at their teachers.
We did. For the thousands of Washington-area children returning to school, here's a sampling of what their teachers were up to this summer, and a preview of extra jobs they'll hold during the school year. (Thirty-one percent of all teachers work second jobs during the school year, and 28 percent during the summer, according to the National Education Association.)
If you happened to take a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride through Old Town Alexandria this summer, chances are your driver was Cecelia Kope, 31, a special-education teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools. For her carriage stint, she earned $390 a week (plus tips) to supplement her $20,000 annual salary.
And in D.C., that lifeguard who blew the whistle on you may have been a physical-education teacher from Ballou Senior High School. A French teacher at Ballou sells real estate year round.
Many teachers went back to school or took to the road. Louise Dzierzon, a 24-year veteran now teaching business education at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, spent her summer touring the Orient.
But despite some bravura, prudent budgeting and enthusiasm about summer adventures, kids--if they asked--would hear an underlying tone of teachers' increasing bitterness over their monetary status.
The sounds of salary discontent are apt to be louder among parochial school teachers and in Virginia, where the $18,707 average teacher's salary is 31st in the country, and in Maryland, where the $22,786 average teacher salary is 10th. Monetary complaints may be a bit more muffled in D.C., where the average teacher's salary, $26,048, ranks second nationally (behind Alaska).
But among the mutterings about poor pay, there are resigned sighs and whispers about leaving the profession.
"Our society is really in a strange state of mind right now in that we will pay someone more money to put a roof on a house than we will pay for someone to work with a child's mind," says Sam Kistler, 41, who's taught industrial arts at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville for the last 13 years. "That's not right."
Three years ago Kistler incorporated a skydiving company to provide a permanent supplemental income for his family.
His salary of $27,000 "is not very much," he says, "when you have a master's degree and have been in a profession for 17 years."
Many of his colleagues, says Kistler, hold down second jobs, including truck driving, mail-order businesses, dog breeding, business consulting, accounting, secretarial work and tutoring.
Says Jerry Lowe, 28, who teaches music for the Catholic Archdiocese of D.C., and spent a good part of his summer on a ladder painting house exteriors, "I'll be leaving teaching soon to go into computers.
"It makes me sad," he adds, "that I have to leave something that I've wanted to do all my life and that I love so much, but there comes a time when survival becomes more important."
Lowe earned $1,700 as a painter to beef up his $15,000 yearly income from teaching at various private schools, including Georgetown Day School, St. Jude's, St. Mary's and St. Camillus. He also makes about $500 during the year teaching private music lessons.
One quintet from Bethesda's Our Lady of Lourdes School backpacked through Europe for most of June and July. The teachers, all in their mid-twenties, planned the trip two years ago. Each saved $2,000 from their $10,000 annual incomes to cover the trip's costs.
Reflecting after that long-awaited trip, Brenda Enzler says she "loves" teaching seventh and eighth grades at Our Lady of Lourdes, but plans to leave the profession "real soon."
Anybody in teaching, "isn't in it for the money," she concedes, "but I just can't afford the life and it's a shame that everyone has to hold a second job . . ."
To supplement her salary, Enzler house-sits frequently, which pulls in an extra $2,000 a year. And last spring she made $250 a month working weekdays, 3 to 6 p.m., in a law office. This fall she will take math and computer courses with the hope of switching to a more lucrative career in the computer field.
Meanwhile, Fairfax County paid for first-grade teacher Raquel Saenz, 47, to study the intricacies of the Atari 400 and 800 computers for the county's elementary school computer-literacy program.
"It was like learning a brand new language," says Saenz, of Franklin Sherman Elementary School, McLean.
A veteran teacher of more than 20 years, Saenz says she used to work second jobs when her salary was lower. "I've known teachers so bad off financially they have threatened to apply for federal aid just to embarrass the school system."
In Fairfax County, she says, teachers receive their pay over 12 months and do not have the option of being paid 10 months only, which, claims Saenz, "allows the county to collect interest on our paychecks for two months. I would love to receive my pay over 10 months."
Another reason teachers say it is hard to make ends meet is because they must take extra courses--and often pay for them--to keep their jobs.
"It's not uncommon to pay $350 for a course you're required to take, and then come back in the fall to find the class has been cut," laments a 34-year-old English teacher at a Maryland public school, who experienced that fate upon his return last week.
Ever since she began teaching third grade at Indian Queen Elementary School in Oxon Hill seven years ago, Susan Brooks, 31, also has worked, twice a week, the 4 p.m. to midnight waitress shift at the Capital Centre.
"I make $20,000 a year teaching . . . I make $60 to $100 a night as a waitress. That's why it's so hard to give up," says Brooks, who has an 18-month-old daughter.
"If I ever did quit it would only be because my husband's salary had gone up. I know mine is never going to be much higher."
"Even more teachers in the South hold second jobs--about 40 percent--because they're paid less than the national average," says new NEA president Mary Futrell. "The trend will continue as long as teachers are paid so little.
"The current status of pay for teachers in this country is horrible," says Futrell, 43, who is on leave from her business education teaching job at George Washington Junior High in Alexandria. "The average beginning salary of a school teacher this year will be $13,000, which is approximately $5,000 below other similar white-collar professions."
Area public school administrators admit they are concerned about their teachers' discontent over pay, especially in Prince George's County, where teachers rallied at last week's Board of Education meeting.
"We are saddled with salaries that we know we need to improve," says Brian Porter, a spokesman for P.G. County Schools. "We also must live within a very strict budget."
Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent William Burkholder says getting more pay for teachers is his "number-one priority" this year.
Of teachers holding second jobs, Burkholder says, "I don't have any objection as long as the second job doesn't interfere with their teaching.
"We have very fine teachers who would not be able to teach if they didn't have second jobs. Many of our teachers who hold other jobs must do so to survive."
Dennis Johnson, principal of Ballou Senior High School in Southeast (which has the largest D.C. school enrollment) says that although D.C. teachers' salaries are higher, he is "upset" with generally low teacher pay. "We encourage our teachers to apply for grants for supplies, scholarships and stipends."
Unlike some school administrators, Johnson urges Ballou's teachers to take evening and summer jobs. "It helps to add to their incomes . . . I'm in the same boat. I may start teaching at the college level in a couple of years for additional income." He has a wife and three children.
Johnson, 44, who currently earns $40,000 a year, remembers working nights as a janitor and cashier during the eight years he taught seventh through ninth grades.
Meanwhile, one desperate 25-year-old Silver Spring English teacher decided the only way he could survive this summer was to live in his Volkswagen Bug, also headquarters (lawn mower and other equipment on top) for a lawn service he started.
He parked his Beetle in public parking lots, and when he was too tired to pitch a tent next to it, slept in the back seat. He used friends' homes to shower and make phone calls.
That teacher, who asked not to be named ("I'm embarrassed") made $3,000 from his lawn business in two months.
"I'm earning twice as much as from teaching," he says, "but it's seasonal."