OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of American school teachers work second jobs to boost their income. They speak of missing time with family, struggles to complete lesson plans and nagging doubts over whether it's worth the sacrifices to stay in their profession.
Nationwide, 18 percent of teachers work jobs outside school, supplementing the average full-time teacher salary of $55,100 by an average of $5,100, according to the latest survey from the U.S. Education Department, from the 2015-16 school year. That is up slightly from 16 percent in 2011-12.
Teaching is hardly the only profession where people pick up second jobs to pay their bills, and many have the flexibility to do other work in the summer when school is out. However, their numbers help explain the outrage behind the teacher revolts in states including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
The Associated Press asked moonlighting teachers in four states to describe how they balance the extra hours with their day jobs and family responsibilities:
After a day of instructing first-graders at Oologah-Talala Public Schools in Oklahoma, Melinda Dale puts on a janitor's uniform and begins cleaning the very same school building.
"I usually do it right after school," Dale said, "because working with first grade all day, I tend to lose my energy pretty fast."
Dale, who has taught for six years, earns $32,000 a year as a teacher. She spends about 15 hours a week on the janitorial work, which at $10 an hour allows her to earn nearly a quarter of what she makes teaching.
She is trying to save money for college for the oldest of her three children, a high school senior. Her youngest, a first-grader, has to wait for Dale to finish cleaning before she can go home, but sometimes other family members help with the cleaning so she can leave sooner and spend time with her kids.
Her second job forces her to do lesson plans on the weekend, usually Sundays after church and lunch with her family.
One day, her seventh-grade daughter was waiting in the car for her mother and said: "I'm sorry it's come to this, mom."
"It was a very heartwarming but sad moment to hear her say those words," Dale said. "I'll do whatever it takes to be in the career that I'm in, but also provide for them."
As Lyft driver Stefanie Lowe crisscrosses the metro Phoenix area in her Jeep, many of her passengers are surprised to learn she is also a full-time teacher.
"It's super busy to drive during the week, but sometimes I just have to do it," Lowe, 28, said.
She earns just under $37,000 as a first-grade teacher at Tuscano Elementary School. She rents a room, instead of having her own apartment, to keep her housing costs down, but to make ends meet she drives for Lyft on nights and weekends and also picks up tutoring jobs. She drives more during the week when she has upcoming expenses like a car registration payment, medical bills or supplies for her classroom.
By 7 a.m. the next school day, she's back at her classroom. With 32 students, the class demands her full attention. However, Lowe is committed to improving her students' lives.
"These kids are going to be taking care of you when you're older," she said. "Let's educate them; let's make them the best people that they can be."
Lowe left a job in health care in Pennsylvania to teach in Arizona, where the signing bonus from her first job at a low-income Tucson-area school went entirely toward materials for her classroom. At times, she has considered pursuing a different career, but for now she is dedicated to teaching.
"I went to school for this to be my career," Lowe said, "not so I could work three jobs just to be able to afford to go the doctor."
Despite more than three decades of teaching experience, Christi Phillips keeps up her longtime second career as a children's photographer. She enjoys working both jobs, but she feels like she doesn't really have a choice.
"Thirty-two years, I have to have a second job," said Phillips, who teaches first grade at George Ward Elementary School in Mill Creek, West Virginia. "Isn't that sad? That's very sad. Everybody I know has two or three."
Phillips makes $52,000 teaching. That's enough, she said, for her utilities and a car payment. The money from the second job is needed if she and her husband want to eat out at a nice restaurant, buy a second vehicle or take a vacation.
"I can scrape by. I can make due on my salary if I just want to pay bills. That's it," Phillips said. "If I want to live, if I want to do any real living, I can't do it on my salary."
West Virginia teachers, who rank among the nation's lowest paid, received a 5 percent raise after a statewide strike in February. It set the stage for teacher protests in other states.