Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


Choosing this profession shouldn’t include so much self-sacrifice

By TEA President Beth Brown

We’ve seen it; we’ve heard it; perhaps we’ve even said it: “Teachers are in it for the outcome, not the income.”

I hate that expression. Abhor it. Loathe it entirely.

I was recently reminded why when an educator friend shared she was leaving the profession to work for a transportation company because she could “have less stress, earn more money, and have more opportunities for advancement.” While I am happy her decision will be better for her and her family, I grieve for her students and her colleagues. And I grieve for our profession because my friend is not the only talented educator choosing an alternate career or retirement.

I have been an educator for twenty years, and I chose this profession because I love helping students discover their potential and pursue their dreams. Watching students’ confidence grow as they develop their interests, ability to communicate and work with others, and critical thinking skills is both exhilarating and inspiring, and every educator who’s experienced that “light bulb moment” knows what I am talking about.

I did not choose the demand that I sacrifice all my free time to do work that cannot be accomplished during the school day because I am busy covering classes or attending meetings on any multitude of new initiatives.

I did not choose the expectation that I fund my own classroom. Tennessee educators spend, on average, more than $500 per year on basic classroom supplies, books, technology, and even cleaning supplies; elementary educators often spend twice that amount.

I did not choose the internal conflict that arises when I know a student needs more one-on-one attention, but I simply do not have the time because I have 34 other students in the class (and five other classes).

I did not choose the forced decision between paying some of my bills late or working one, two, or sometimes even three side jobs because I do not earn enough money to comfortably provide for my family and do the job I love.


Expecting educators to accept the mindset that they do not deserve professional compensation and respect because they chose this profession is both insulting and foolhardy. Failing to recognize educators deserve compensation that correlates with their professionalism, experience, and training negatively impacts educators AND students. The ensuing educator shortage leaves positions unfilled, educators overburdened, and students without the resources they need.

For folks who enjoy platitudes like “Teachers are in it for the outcome, not the income,” I offer two more.

While “money does not buy happiness,” it does pay for things that our students and educators need, such as additional staff to provide students much-needed one-on-one instruction; high-quality curriculum; nurses and counselors at a reasonable staff-student ratio; and clean, safe school buildings. Tennessee cannot have “champagne taste on a beer budget.” If we are serious about making Tennessee the best place in which to teach, learn, and live, we must get out of the bottom five in per-pupil funding. It’s affordable; it’s right; it’s time.


Share This: