Above: East High School science teacher Anna Noble
“I really love teaching. I just can’t afford to do it anymore.”
Anna Noble has two master’s degrees, 15+ years of experience in her chosen field, an exemplary work history and students who return year after year to thank her for the education she provided. Her former students have attended Ivy League schools (think Harvard and others) and have gone on to accomplish great achievements in science and technology. Through her work she has, quite literally, helped to change the world.
Yet, the East High School science teacher can’t afford to purchase a home in Denver to provide stability for her two children. She struggles from paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet. And she’s being forced to choose between the life of purpose she desires and the need to provide for her family.
“I’m a pretty quiet and compliant person,” Anna said. “I’ve always worked to be a good employee and a good teacher. I’ve done everything right and given it 15 years of my life. But I literally can’t live off of my paycheck anymore. It’s not sustainable.”
With a master’s degree in chemistry and another one in education, Anna is not without options. And lucrative options at that. One friend with similar credentials makes 10 times her annual DPS base salary, she said. Other friends with advanced degrees make an average of five times her salary. Although Anna loves the work she does and is proud of her 15 years with the district, she questions the sustainability of continuing to work within DPS.
After a decade and a half of keeping silent and quietly staying the course, Anna decided last month to join the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and fight on behalf of Denver teachers. She appeared before DPS officials at May’s bargaining session and DPS Board Meeting.
“There’s really no reason for me to stay,” she told DPS representatives. “There’s nothing I can do to bring up my salary. I’m 42 years old and I thought teaching was going to be my career forever. But DPS is not valuing career teachers.”
Anna’s students have become chemists, scientists, researchers and engineers, among other professions. They work across the country and around the world generating revenue for companies, uncovering new discoveries and creating new products and services. In terms of economic development, Anna (like all teachers) is a one-person job creator. But in DPS, she feels like an expendable commodity despite her years of consistent service.
“It’s not going to change unless I step up,” she said of her reason to become active with the Union. “It’s kind of my last-ditch effort. If something doesn’t happen in January (with DPS salaries), I don’t know if I can stay.”
It’s a sentiment heard from teachers throughout Denver. Weary from their tireless work and dejected by the district’s lack of real action to address problems, teachers are contemplating leaving Denver or the teaching profession entirely.
“Teachers are professionals but we’re not treated as professions, particularly those with degrees in science and math,” she said. “My profession is as noble as anyone else’s profession, and I like to think I put my degrees to good use to better society. But that doesn’t translate into a living salary in DPS.”
Anna has tried to find ways to make her meager salary go further in Denver. She volunteers for extra district work whenever possible to make additional income. But with two teen-agers at home and 175 students on average to manage, there’s little time to devote to outside employment.
“It’s sad, because honestly I actually wanted to be a teacher and I chose it knowing that I wouldn’t make as much money,” she said. “But I chose it because I knew it would make me happy. I really love teaching. I just can’t afford to do it anymore.”