When I started music school, I hoped for a career both performing and teaching. Though I came close to realizing my goal, adult responsibilities forced me to step back and reconsider my options. I come from a long line of Idahoan musicians and educators, and while I love and respect the wonderful teachers I had during my public education here, I feared the life of an educator and its accompanying difficulties.
After graduate school, I had to choose between my dream job and a secure life for my young family. I left music behind to accept a job in Utah’s booming tech industry. This job was productive and stimulating, but over time, I slowly fell into depression. I became emotionally unavailable to my loved ones as this depression drained my energy and bled into my personal life.
After a year like this, my discerning wife — a musician herself — encouraged me to return to my passion, even if it meant compromising our financial health. She told me she would rather have me than my money. She helped me understand that even with a comfortable paycheck, I was not bringing home the best version of myself. With newfound determination, I sent my resumé to schools back home in Idaho. I was soon offered a job to teach music at Renaissance High School in Meridian. I received the call just hours before my second daughter was born. Even as we faced the added expenses of another child, we made the decision to move home.
I am halfway through my first year as an educator, and I am as fulfilled as I have ever been. I love my school, my colleagues, and especially my students. My family is happy in Idaho. But I do worry about our wellbeing now and in the future. This year, I will make 40 percent less than I did at the entry-level job I left behind. This story is far from unique – many educators forego the material comforts of other careers because they love teaching. They understand that having great teachers for our children is an essential service. I do not view this as a sacrifice but rather an investment. Even so, teachers should not make this investment alone.
Teacher compensation is not the only educational shortfall facing our state. Idaho ranks dead last nationally in its investment per student. I see these shortcomings in my classroom. My school is fortunate to have supportive administrators who love students and help teachers any way they can. Yet we still struggle to find enough resources to best serve our students. Earlier this year, an administrator explained that, in the annual funding allocation, the district must always deny urgent needs to serve other essentials. That is heartbreaking. Districts should not have to determine which school’s crises are more “urgent” than another’s. We can and should be doing more to fund our schools.
What can we do? Our current situation is discouraging — but there’s good news: As Idaho voters, we’ve been given the power to act. Reclaim Idaho, a nonpartisan movement, is gathering signatures for a new ballot initiative called “Invest in Idaho.” This initiative will establish an estimated $170-200 million Quality Education Fund that will be used only to benefit students: reducing class sizes; providing adequate classroom materials; funding special education, technical, art, music, and drama programs; and attracting and retaining qualified teachers and support staff. What’s more, “Invest in Idaho” will be made possible without a tax increase for 95 percent of Idahoans. For more information on the initiative and how you can get involved, visit www.reclaimidaho.org. Investing in our students is an easy choice.