Op-Ed: I Love Teaching in Denver, but I May Have to Find Another Profession

Denver teachers at a recent school board meeting.EXPAND
Denver teachers at a recent school board meeting.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
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I was raised by two teachers who divorced and both remarried teachers. My sister is a teacher, my grandpa was a teacher, my cousin is a teacher, and four of my aunts and uncles are teachers.

When I chose to become a teacher, I was not naive to the fact that I would not make a lot of money. I knew that I’d be working more hours than what I get paid for. I knew work would sometimes have to follow me home — both with paperwork and the emotional weight that little bodies with big problems create. I chose to go back to school to get my master’s in special education because I wanted to be someone’s favorite teacher. My favorite teachers (family included) shaped me. My fifth-grade teacher told parents in a conference that “I was the daughter she always wanted.” That is a compliment that has followed and shaped me for fifteen-plus years. Everyone has those one or two teachers that made them feel like they could be somebody. I want to be that teacher.

I do not teach for the money. However, I need money to live, and my current salary — the one that Denver Public Schools and Superintendent Susana Cordova dictate — might be the reason I have to leave a career I love.

Susana Cordova, superintendent of Denver Public Schools.EXPAND
Susana Cordova, superintendent of Denver Public Schools.
Courtesy of Denver Public Schools

The expiration of Pro-Comp (DPS’s pay structure) was both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because I was hopeful we would have a new paycheck — one not just with a bigger number, but a paycheck that actually makes sense. My paycheck is different by a few dollars or more every single pay period. When I ask other teachers about it, they say they experience the same thing and have no Idea why. I have contacted payroll, and they either don’t respond or don’t give a clear answer. Pro-comp is incentive-based pay; we get bonuses for being in a high-performing school based on standardized testing, being rated as “effective” by our evaluators and for achieving our student learning objectives that we create at the beginning of the year.

There are so many issues with this pay format. For starters, getting a bonus based on standardized test scores is ridiculous. These standardized tests are not built around the curriculum, and children are not built to take a test for two hours at a time. And low numbers do not correlate with bad teaching. I am a special-education teacher, and though students can opt out, many do not, and their test scores do not help my school get into the high-preforming range. My students reach their appropriate and personalized goals, and these do not align with what the state assesses.

Even though my own students probably didn’t contribute, I was in a green school and received a one-time $1,000 bonus. I am a young teacher who has rent and college loans to pay, so I’ll take anything I can get. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t insulted by the fact that administrators who received a bonus brought, on average, $10,000 dollars to the bank. One administrator received a $34,720 bonus on top of their $198,229.08 salary. Their bonus alone is only a few thousand less than my take-home salary. Am I mistaken in saying administrators would not have jobs without teachers?

We want more money, we want a paycheck that makes sense, we want to be able to make more based on years of experience and across lanes based on education. We are asking for money that we know exists.

The process in fighting for what we deserve has been long and stressful. The anxiety and stress levels at my school are palpable. Many of us can’t afford to go on strike. All of us are conflicted with the thought of leaving our kids to be taught by strangers who are incentivized by double pay. I plan on standing with peers outside of the school as we watch our kids walk in without us. I won’t get my daily hugs or “I love you”s from my students. I will stand with my peers with a heavy heart and empty pockets. I will spend the days of the strike wondering if Sally is getting her snack reminders or If Joe is getting his daily pep talk. I will spend the days of the strike wondering about what I’ll need to do in order take make rent. I’ll spend the days of the strike wondering how my district sleeps at night knowing this all could have been avoided.

Zoe Yabrove is a DPS teacher and former Westword intern.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds on topics of interest to the Denver community. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com.

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