What It’s Like Being an Underpaid Teacher in Virginia

Every Wednesday, I wear something red, take a picture for social media, and tag it with #RedForEd. I do this because I’m a public school teacher who knows our public schools are underfunded. I wear #RedForEd as part of a unified campaign in Virginia to bring awareness to the lack of funding and to advocate on behalf of my students–our future, the most important members of our Commonwealth.

Lisa Zargarpur, a music teacher in Fairfax County, poses in #Red4Ed garb.

The problems in the state’s public education system keep mounting every year. In Virginia, we have 1,000 unfilled teaching positions. Every year, we lose good teachers because of increased workload and requirements to fulfill administrative tasks. How is the state supposed to keep good talent in the classrooms if teachers are expected to do more with less time and aren’t properly paid for it?

Why is Teacher Pay So Low in Virginia?

Teacher pay in Virginia ranks 34th in the nation. Yet, the Commonwealth is one of the wealthiest states in the country. It’s really mind boggling for me to think that Virginia has so much money in its coffers, but lawmakers in Richmond don’t believe that our schools and our teachers are worth the investment of higher pay.

How are teachers supposed to save for retirement if they aren’t paid enough? I have to be VERY careful about budgeting so I can plan to retire, but I worry about our newest teachers who have student loans to pay off while still making ends meet. How can they consider retirement when there is little money left over to save at the end of the month?

On top of that, Virginia schools are in serious need of an upgrade. 60 percent of Virginia’s schools are 40 years or older. That means we have to teach in crumbling buildings where rampant reports of mold and pest infestations make the learning environment unsafe for teachers and students.

And since the Commonwealth isn’t building new schools or hiring more teachers, class sizes are growing. I have more students to supervise and large class sizes take attention away from the students who need it most. We have so many students that our schools are literally overflowing with them. I teach in Fairfax County and we have 20,000 students who go to class in trailers. The trailers are meant to be temporary structures but now seem to be permanent fixtures on school grounds.

#Red4Ed Takes Over the Capitol

A few weeks ago, thousands of Virginians marched on the State Capitol to demand more funding for our public education system. I was there and happy to see thousands of Virginians stand in unity in support of our public schools.

Speakers at the rally told us to hold our elected leaders accountable and make sure we get funding for our schools. We must prioritize education. Over the years, every school board district

has tightened their budgets by cutting essential programs because lawmakers in Richmond don’t give them enough money. School districts are often praised for doing more with less. This must stop–Richmond can’t keep justifying cuts to education.

More Money for Education NOW

During this General Assembly session, lawmakers have proposed a 5% increase over the next two years to increase teacher pay. While it’s a good start, it still isn’t enough. Virginia teacher pay, at a minimum, must be brought up to the national average.  The General Assembly must restore K-12 funding to pre-recession levels so that there is funding for additional guidance counselors, for infrastructure, and for programs for our at-risk students.

Just as #RedForEd is about bringing awareness, the #Red4Ed march is just a first step in showing our power and unity in support of public schools. Everyone is needed for our critical next steps to fund our schools. Contact your legislator and tell them to raise teacher pay and to give more money in the budget to Virginia’s schools.