According to Bernadette Hampton, president of the South Carolina Education Association, “starting teachers in South Carolina earn 15 percent less than college-educated professionals in comparable occupations. An educator’s starting salary,” she said, “should be comparable to that of other college graduates who have similar education, training, and responsibilities. An estimated 62 percent of teachers work second jobs just to make ends meet.” (Greenville News)
We were seated in a fine seafood restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. Right on the water it was and the menu boasted fresh local catches with a well-stocked bar. It was the middle of July and with sidewalk-egg-frying daytime temps coupled with matching humidity, the town was making hell jealous.
We had just come from a one-hour horse-drawn-carriage historical tour that, we discovered, doubled as an sauna. We were well-entertained and totally-drenched in sweat. When you perspire, you are damp. But in Charleston in July, you leave perspiration for the woosies. In Charleston, you sweat. Full-on, sopping wet, marinating in your own bodily excretions sweat. You feel as if you should have been dressed in Depends from top to bottom.
But there we were in this lovely and oh-so-blessedly air-conditioned restaurant. In our party, there were smiles all round the table. The complaint department was closed. It was there in mid-bliss when Jane Anne showed up. Bright eyes, vivacious smile and chirky voice that asked, “What can I get you to drink?” Here was an angel, barely disguised, and everyone at the table lit up like a sparkler.
Not sure how it happened, but even though the restaurant was packed, Jane Anne served us not only promptly but cheerfully, and even made a little time to talk. I don’t remember every word she said, but this was certainly the gist of it.
“I’m actually a teacher,” she said. “First grade. But there’s no way a teacher can make it on a teacher’s salary around here, so I took this job for the summer; and now I have a dilemma. I actually make more money here at the restaurant than I do at school and I’m tempted to drop the teaching and work full-time here. But… I love teaching. I love the kids. I would much rather spend my days coming up with creative ways to get their little minds whirring than serving fried shrimp. Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “I enjoy serving you and all the customers. I love seeing you savoring the food and toasting to all good things. But I am a teacher. Have always wanted to teach. And my soul is filled when I’m with those kids. But I have to eat and pay the rent and keep my car running. And this restaurant enables me to do that. Oooops. Got to go.” And off she went to deliver beer and soda and scallops and oysters to the masses.
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world,” wrote Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who was shot by the Taliban for attending school and advocating for the education of women.
Jane Anne is but one teacher – one teacher who is passionate about teaching. One teacher who finds utter delight in her students. One teacher whose infectious joy in her work can change countless little lives if she is given the chance. What will it take for our well-paid legislators to realize the overwhelming importance of offering these potential world-changers a living wage? Jane Anne is an excellent waiter. But how many kids will miss her gift because she has to make a living?