By: Tim Bean
Getting your first career paycheck is monumental for anyone on a professional track. Psychology aside, it is the moment you become a professional. It is a rite of passage as important as learning to ride a bike. But this rite of passage was a pittance. Not small, but a pittance. A financial gesture.
In 2004, at my first teaching position, new teachers had to go a lengthy three weeks before receiving their first paycheck, and three weeks without income is a loooong tiiiime in your twenties. By the time payday arrived, I was low on gas and scooping spending money from a change jar. That Friday, as soon as school let out, I hustled to my mailbox, where a business envelope with the school’s masthead waited (you still had the option for paper checks in 2004). I slipped it into my coat pocket, said my goodbyes to the staff and went straight to my car to tear it open.
That was my paycheck for two weeks’ of teaching. A base pay of $28,500, divided into 26 checks, after taxes, Social Security, union dues, medical insurance and the other acronyms that bleed paychecks, I had $612 to show. Through college I worked as a meat cutter and made more without hauling home papers to grade, painfully concocting lesson plans or dealing with “challenging” students. The worst of it hit home when I realized this was my salaried pay. For the next twenty-five pay periods, THIS is the check I would receive.
That single paycheck put my entire college career into perspective. The monetary cost of classes, the hours and hours in lecture halls and on field experiences. Gas money to and from school. Early mornings in class and late nights studying. And student teaching! Efforts in the past, present and future, all for $612.