IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – As a teacher in Idaho Falls School District 91 and with a second job as a server at Jakers Bar and Grill, some of Jess Marboe’s workdays can last up to 15 hours.
When she worked a third job – teaching English to children overseas through VIP Kid Teaching Portal for $8.50 an hour – some workdays would run even longer: 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., she told the Post Register.
By Tuesday night she’s exhausted. She’s been up since 7 a.m. teaching fifth-graders at Fox Hollow Elementary School before heading to Jaker’s on Lindsay Boulevard .
Just 30 minutes after Fox Hollow students get out of school, Marboe can be seen at Jakers serving customers during the middle of the week.
Her teaching salary at Fox Hollow is $37,350. Working at Jaker’s she makes $3.50 an hour plus tips. Marboe typically works two nights a week and often picks up additional shifts at the restaurant.
“I’m a little tired,” Marboe said with a smile while serving two tables around 4 p.m. on March 12. “I feel like I’m always on the go.”
Forty-thousand may sound like a decent income for a 25-year-old, but Marboe, who graduated from the University of Idaho in 2017, needs the second job to make ends meet. She’s not the only Idaho Falls teacher who works multiple jobs during the school year.
Many teachers in Idaho, including Thunder Ridge High School Spanish teacher Kara Kearsley, work jobs either delivering pizzas or with online teaching courses to make ends meet.
Kearsley works at Royal Theaters every other weekend, trying to support her three children and her work toward a master’s degree.
“I don’t think you can have top-notch education in Idaho if you don’t have great educators and, in order to have better educators, we have to pay better,” Marboe said.
Nearly 1 in 5 public school teachers have second jobs during the school year and 55 percent of teachers are not satisfied with their job pay, according to a 2018 report by Education Week.
Idaho’s legislators have pushed hard for increased teacher pay during the previous five years in an effort to help the state stay competitive with neighboring states that pay more.
The average Idaho teacher made $47,504 during the 2016-17 school year, thousands less from what teachers in Oregon ($61,631), Washington ($54,147), Wyoming ($58,650) make in an average year and significantly less than Montana ($51,422), according to data from The Washington Post.
Idaho was ranked the 44th-best state in average teacher salary for the 2017-2018 school year, officials at the Idaho Education Association, an advocacy group for Idaho public education, said.
Idaho’s career-ladder, a multi-year plan to increase teacher pay that started in 2015, has had some success, as teacher pay has increased by 12.5 percent since the legislation was passed, according to the Idaho Statesman. The Idaho Senate and House have passed legislation that would increase the pay of teachers on the lowest three “residency” rungs of the state’s teacher pay scale to $40,000 by 2020-2021.
But Idaho teachers are still struggling financially and, in some cases, emotionally and mentally.
“I love what I do in all aspects, I would do my job for free, but that’s not a reality,” Kearsley said. “I would (work for free) if I could, but I have to work multiple jobs. It’s difficult … And emotionally and mentally exhausting.”
Kearsley said teachers “have to get creative” in finding second jobs – including working sporting events and school dances to make extra money. In her second year in Bonneville Joint School District 93, Kearsley makes $37,445 and works anywhere from 6 a.m. to 9 to 10 p.m. on any given day due to her involvement as a student council adviser.
She said burnout is a reality for teachers just starting out.
“Our work never stops,” Kearsley said. “There’s definitely burnout, but not enough to go, ‘Yeah, not doing it.’ I would do it for free, but that’s not logical.”
In 2017, the Idaho State Board of Education created a workgroup to study the state’s educator pipeline.
The teacher shortage is a national problem, but the workgroup’s report found evidence that it is worse here than other states, according to previous Post Register reporting. Of the teachers who started during the 2013-2014 school year, 30 percent had left by the 2016-2017 school year, which is at the very high end of national estimates of 19 to 30 percent attrition over a similar time frame, the report said. Rural districts lose teachers more quickly than urban ones by a few percentage points each year, a pattern that held consistently from the 2013-14 school year through 2015-16, when 16 percent of the teachers in rural districts left compared to 13 percent in urban ones, the report said.
“I don’t want to teach anywhere else,” Kearsley said. “I’m just surviving and doing what I have to do.”
Idaho Education Association president Kari Overall said two issues are perpetuating the problem: the rising cost of college education and the steady rise of Idaho’s cost of living while wages remain stagnant.
The average cost of college for the 2018-2019 school year was about $10,000 for in-state public schools, $21,629 for out-of-state public schools and $35,676 for private schools, according to data by U.S. News – and that’s just for tuition and fees. In Idaho, the average cost for tuition and fees and on-campus dormitory housing and meals at the state’s four-year public universities is $15,966 per year, but that doesn’t include books, transportation or entertainment.
The website studentloanhero.com reports that members of the Class of 2018 graduated with an average of $29,800 in student loan debt and that their average monthly student loan payments are $393.
“Most early career educators have to do something in order to supplement their (lives) and maintain and survive,” Overall said. “They’re students that are leaving with $80,000 in student debt, and that’s from Idaho universities, and they have to make ends meet with thirty-six, thirty-seven thousand dollars a year.”
Marboe said some Friday nights she comes home from Fox Hollow, sits on her couch and asks herself “what am I doing?” and feeling as if she is going to cry due to exhaustion.
But knowing she still can have a positive impact on a student’s life and her community, despite the low wages, keeps her going.
“I think in America, we say we value education and we say we want the best for our children and the best education for our children, but then we don’t take the steps,” Marboe said. “And we aren’t proactive about it. It’s kind of one of those things we just sweep under the rug. We keep sweeping it under the rug and it doesn’t get any better.
“While I think most Americans have all intentions of improving education and funding education better, it’s kind of like, ‘OK so when?’ When are we actually going to do it?”