We’ve all heard the term before: Combat Pay.
Let me preface this by saying I am a strong believer that ALL students deserve a great educational experience with highly qualified teachers. I know of teachers who ONLY apply to inner-city schools because they know how much these students need teachers who care about them and their education. There are teachers who are determined to help students push past whatever they’re going through at home and in their minds to succeed.
However, it is a known fact that most of the inner city districts pay higher because of the level of challenges awaiting every teacher that signs on. The discussion of this article is not about whether inner-city schools deserve good teachers based on pay. It’s about taking into consideration all the things that come with combat pay before signing your name on the dotted line.
What is Combat Pay?
For those of you who haven’t heard the term before, combat pay is when you receive a great salary from a school district, but it comes with a cost; your sanity and peace of mind. It’s an unfortunate type of trade-off because teachers everywhere deserve higher pay, no matter the additional battles they do or don’t have to face.
For example, my first few years of teaching took place in an inner-city school district. What I made as a first-year teacher there, I make as a 5th-grade teacher with a master’s degree in a different school district with not as many issues going on within the district and in the classroom.
Speaking from my personal experience, combat pay is given in areas where families have experienced many financial hardships and majority if not all schools are Title 1. Behavioral issues are experienced at a much higher rate than other school districts. Many schools in the districts are failing. The majority of the students are below grade level. Yet these districts set the same unrealistic expectations for “student success”, making the life of these teachers harder than most.
But… is combat pay worth it?
In some ways, accepting combat pay, knowing that the experience will be tougher, can seem like selling out your sanity for a few thousand dollars. I remember how I felt the first time I got paid when I worked in an inner-city school. My mind was blown. I was so thankful. On top of that, the health insurance covered everything when I gave birth to my twins.
More than half of my class was below grade level. I was given little to no supplies for my classroom. Mice and roaches ran freely around my building and throughout the cafeteria. There were fights in my school on a daily basis. I was called out of my name on a weekly basis. My door was slammed by a student in another classroom every day because he was mad at his teacher.
My principal was laid back unless the district showed up. Many of our staff meetings were canceled. My day ended at 2:30, and I could actually go home. The only time anyone showed up in my classroom was 3-4 times in an entire school year.
My current school has weekly meetings, surprise meetings, and meetings during my planning that are planned and unplanned. I have been observed up to 4 times in ONE week. I’m responsible for filling out data forms for weekly data meetings and providing evidence that I use the data to set up my small groups. There is a required way of going about instructional time, and if I veer away from that, my walk-through observation score is impacted.
From my experience, there seems to be a trade-off. Higher pay, with possible signing bonuses for a more chaotic, but less invasive experience. Lower pay, more demanding paperwork, more invasive administration, but smaller class sizes.
So what’s the better choice? A place where the biggest requirement is to maintain order in your classroom for higher pay? Or a calmer type of environment where you’re every instructional move is watched and challenged for less pay?
In no way am I saying that you should decrease your level of instruction because of your school or district. However, there are school districts where instruction can be the least of your worries.
Is combat pay worth it?