As a public school teacher in Berkeley, one of the great joys is running into former students. They bag my groceries at the Bowl, they introduce me to their grannies at the park, or I’ll hear someone holler my name as they drive by, because they had me as their 6th-grade English teacher.
I feel part of a web of humanity because of my work. But I am one of the lucky ones, because I get to live in the community where I teach. I bike to work. It’s easy for me to stay after school to mentor a new teacher, tutor a student, or to teach an enrichment class.
But, for more and more teachers, this is becoming less realistic because they cannot afford to live in the communities they serve.
There is a delicate ecology of community, which is being disrupted by the rising cost of living in the Bay Area. I know teachers who are in their 30s and still live with their parents because they cannot afford housing. My own daughter’s teacher commutes at least 45 minutes each way with no hope of living closer. I know a new teacher who slept in a hammock at a friend’s house for six months while trying to find housing. I know an older teacher who is being pushed out by her landlord and may have to consider working in a district that pays more or has a lower cost of living.
You may be saying to yourself, ”We’re all feeling the squeeze,” and that’s true. Even people who may be able afford to buy a house, are now unable to save for their retirement or cannot afford to care for aging parents, and certainly cannot afford a private school.
This is why it is so important to protect our investment in public education — it’s the most cost-effective way to educate our children, and the children of our neighbors, who may have it even harder than we do. The more expensive that food, transportation, utilities and housing become, the more scarce the middle class public school teacher will become, unless their pay keeps up with that cost of living. Public school teachers are like a keystone species in the ecosystem of our community: the survival of middle-class and poor families depend on them.
If we want Berkeley and the Bay area to be a thriving, authentic community, people from all walks of life have to be able to afford to live here. As you vote on Nov. 6, consider which candidates are truly prioritizing an investment in teachers and the public system as a whole.
Let’s make sure that local public-school teachers do not become an endangered species.