I am writing to correct the myth about teachers' salaries and benefits.  Too many times I have heard comments like "teachers make a ton of money, and they should have to pay for their healthcare" or "teachers have it made because they get paid a lot to only work ten months out of the year."  These statements, coupled with a general lack of understanding about the time, energy and ongoing professional development that it takes to be an educator today, only lead to further destructive discourse.

I am a teacher, and I love what I do.  I am also a 47-year-old, divorced single parent-with two master's degress and a principal's license-who finds it very hurtful and upsetting when my peers and I must constantly defend our salaries and benefits.  It's time to set the record straight.

Teachers are not the problem.  The real problem is years of school underfunding and the consistent mismanagement of our state's finances.  Yes, there was once a time when teachers didn't contribute to their health insurance.  In exchange, however, we took modest raises, faithfully made our pension contributions and, unlike our counterparts in other professions with comparable education and experience, we forwent bonuses and other company perks.  And believe it or not, as we increased our years of service in our district, our yearly raises became smaller, but we didn't mind because we counted on our deferred compensation in the form of modest pension and post-retirement health benefits.

Sign Up for Sparta Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

What many people don't realize is that, thanks to a law passed in 2011, we don't just contribute to our health insurance these days; we pay a percentage of the health insurance premiums commensurate to our salaries.  So, the more you make, the more you pay.  In addition, the law raised retirement age, as well as increased our required pension contributions (even though the state hadn't paid their share in years).  That doesn't sound like a bad deal until you factor in what was said earlier;  As our years of service increases, our yearly raises become smaller.  This means that, after you factor in my mandatory pension and benefit contributions, as well as federal, state, and other taxes, my take home pay is nearly half of my annual salary, and since I only get paid ten months, I need to stretch my net pay into twelve months.  In fact, I take home less money now than I did five or six years ago.

Just like you, I must pay a mortgage, car payment, car insurance, gas, electric, phone, food, gas for my car, utilities, and TV- in addition to other necessities for my child.  And, just like you, I am feeling the pinch every day.  However, unlike many of you out there, I must also deal with a constant barrage of criticism simply because I am a public school teacher.  I know that it is my choice to work in this profession, but the disrespect that we collectively receive needs to stop.

The bottom line is, New Jersey's teachers are proud to work with their communities' children, and we are proud that-thanks to our work-our schools rank second in the nation.  We know that we are never going to be rich, nor are we asking to.  We just want to be able to provide for ourselves and our family-without continually being a scapegoat for our state's issues.  Simply put:  We are worth it!

Thank you for your attention to this,

Maria De Benedictis, Wayne Educator