I am a special education teacher for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. I used to love my job.
I build kids’ confidence along with their skills, help them through some of life’s toughest challenges, and have some of the most amazing colleagues and administrators anyone in the profession could ask for. I consider myself well-paid when it comes to the teaching field, and for that I am grateful. But, being a single mom and dealing with the rising cost of being alive, I ventured on to Indeed.com last week to look for some ways I could earn additional income to make ends meet. That’s when everything changed.
I saw a posting for a special education teacher by a company called Staff EZ. Location? The north county cluster of AACPS, where I work. The pay? $100,000. People who were not allowed to be considered for the role? Current AACPS teachers. This is a number I wouldn’t be able to earn even if I spent the rest of my career in AACPS. My heart sank. I had to know what was going on.
My union found out the information that has shaken my faith in the school system. In December of 2021, the school board authorized contracts with staffing agencies to hire 100 independent contractors at a rate of $101 per hour to work as special educators in our schools. This amounts to over $150,000 per school year, per position. For comparison, I earn about $65,000 per year.
I was — and am — humiliated. The board made no effort that I know of to recruit new qualified permanent special educators or retain some of the many that left. The board decided that Special Educators are worth $150,000 each but won’t authorize a 4% cost of living raise so that I can provide for my son. I wrote to the board asking how they could have done this to us. The response I received read, “Special education teachers are hired and paid using a different pay-scale due to the type of specialization they have.” This is not true. We are in the same union and on the same pay scale as all other teachers. I was humiliated that my board did not even know to what unit special educators belong. My humiliation turned to anger.
I had to know more, so I actually interviewed with a couple of these companies. One company required me to be a certified special educator, the other did not. One offered me $50,000 (meaning the agency would pocket $100,000 of taxpayer funds), while the other did not hesitate to say yes to my request of $90,000 (still meaning the agency would pocket $60,000 of taxpayer funds). They said I would not have to work on days the students were not in the building, would not have to engage in after school meetings and duties, and that my job was just to “help” in the classroom. The waste of money, the insult to existing teachers and the knowledge that the board knows my worth but refuses to increase my salary are just more than I can bear.
Teachers are suffering in Anne Arundel County. So many of our peers left the county or the entire field of teaching, leaving hundreds of vacancies that still remain open. The board refuses to ratify our contract for this year. The board is increasing class sizes, excessing courses and reassigning non-teaching positions like media specialists to teach subjects in which they have no certification or experience. We feel abandoned and like we only have one another in this fight.
In 2019-2020, the board thanked us for our dedication to seeing our students through the initial COVID disruption and making it through the hardest year of teaching ever.
In 2020-2021, the board thanked us for juggling constantly changing expectations in virtual and hybrid learning, calling it the hardest year of teaching ever.
In 2021-2022, the board thanked us for re-acclimating and re-socializing kids who had lost almost two years of learning, calling it the hardest year of teaching ever.
Now, in 2022-2023, The board asks us to bravely and tirelessly face this teacher shortage (driven by their policies) in the hardest year ever.
When will it stop being the hardest year ever? When will the board stop asking more and more from us while giving us nothing in return, except the slap in the face of knowing we are worth $150,000 per year, but only paying us a fraction of that amount?
I am done waiting for it to stop being so hard.
Emily Archer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a special educator in Anne Arundel County Public Schools.