ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Half of Olivia Chiavaras’ time is spent across from other people — their hands in hers as she trims cuticles and spreads polish over freshly filed fingernails. The other half is spent in a classroom.

Chiavaras’ main job — her calling, as she says — is as a third grade teacher at North Buncombe Elementary School where she’s been for nine years. Next year, she will shift to teach for the Buncombe County Schools Virtual Academy.

But to pay her mortgage and feed her child, Chiavaras, like so many other North Carolina teachers, has had a second job since she began educating.

“I’ve been doing this two job thing for as long as I’ve been teaching,” she said. “That’s exhausting. Working five 12-hour days for nine years, that’s a lot of hours, and it eventually tolls on the energy that you have to give to your kids.”

According to the NC Department of Public Instruction’s teacher pay schedule, a first year teacher makes $35,000. Buncombe County Schools offers a local supplement for teachers depending on experience levels. For teachers in their first year, it’s 8.5% of their base salary.

That means a first-year teacher in Buncombe County Schools makes just under $38,000.

The state offers an annual pay raise of $1,000 for the first 14 years an educator with a bachelor’s degree teaches in North Carolina. When educators enter Year 15, they plateau at $50,000 until their 25th year of teaching, when they can make a base salary of $52,000.

The expected annual spending for a single renter in Asheville is about $49,000, according to the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition — which means it would take a BCS teacher 10 years in the profession to make enough to meet Asheville’s cost of living.

So it’s not hard to understand why Chiavaras books back-to-back manicure appointments after her students file into their parents’ cars.

“During the school year, there is nothing but work,” she said.

When school is out for the summer, Chiavaras spends more time in the acetone-soaked air of the salon, where she ends up making more money as a manicurist than she does as an educator.

Chiavaras’ story is not a one-off — not even for Asheville.

Weekdays, Autumn Merrill works as a first grade teacher at Johnston Elementary School. Then on the weekends, she puts on a black polo and heads to her shift at the Carolina Cinemark Asheville.

Merrill is new to the teaching field — in her second year. Despite being unmarried with no dependents, she still has a hard time paying her bills on only a teacher salary.

“The movie theater job helps kind of fill in the gaps,” she said.

To offset the pause in teacher income during the summer, Merrill teaches summer school while still working weekends at the movie theater.

But Merrill said she’s exhausted. Working two jobs — one that includes refereeing 6-year-olds — takes its toll on her in more ways than one.

“I have to leave straight away on Friday afternoon. There have been occasions where my assistant has had to stay with students whose families are picking them up late,” she said. “It also takes away a day of rest and relaxation for me to be in a good rested state of mind to teach my students.”

Both Chiavaras and Merrill said they knew they weren’t entering a lucrative profession when they started teaching the elementary students, but they kept at it both in school and in the first few years of teaching despite the bleak pay stubs.

Their reason for perseverance: their students and the potential to impact lives.

“Teaching is the greatest job in the world,” Chiavaras said. “Teaching is meaningful. It feels like an important thing that I can do to give back to our community and our world. If we’re not providing for our kids, then what are we actually doing?”

Other teachers shared this thought. During a July 12 press conference at UNC Asheville, North Carolina Association of Educators member and Yancey County music teacher Courtney Malone said the greatest victims of underpaid teachers are students.

“I am a good teacher, but if I didn’t have to work a second job, I could be a great teacher,” she said.

After school, Malone drives to Asheville to deliver food for GrubHub and UberEats so she can pay her bills. She has been a teacher for 25 years and has had a second job the entire time — even as she raised her two daughters and went to night school for a master’s degree.

“I don’t work a second job for fun,” Malone said. “I work a second job because I’m a North Carolina teacher.”

During the press conference, NCAE members expressed their discontentment with the state legislature’s lag on producing a fiscal 2021-22 budget.

While the new fiscal year started July 1, the legislature still hasn’t adopted an official budget. The state Senate approved a budget proposal June 24 respectively. Now, the budget goes back to the House, where representatives and Gov. Roy Cooper will discuss, tweak and draft the budget for complete approval.

The governor’s proposed budget, which heavily focuses on education, includes an allocation that Cooper said would increase the average pay for educators by 10% over the course of two years.

But teachers are skeptical and frustrated.

“I feel appreciated by my school. I feel appreciated by my administration,” Chiavaras said. “I don’t feel appreciated by my government. I’m wondering how many of them work second jobs.”

(1) comment

David Collins

A heart wrenching photo for sure !

Why would one go into teaching knowing the pay scale ? It is not a secret , never has been but still they come . Can’t do anything else , you can always teach has been the saying over the years . Is she in fact a real instructor , degrees , certified and all that ? No mention of county supplements or if they still exist . No mention of lifetime benefits as well .

Make more on your side job , switch professions like other folks do . Acetone soaked air in the salon ? Is there no ventilation going on there ? Nice dramatic touch . Noticed that this blurb is focused on the buncombe county area , wonder why ?

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.