The trials and triumphs of teaching

The after-effects of the UTLA strike have left LAUSD teachers with a better salary than before. Nevertheless, pupil problems still plague them, especially among newer teachers.
Ms. Peggy Shim has taught at the school for the past 24 years. During her tenure, she has seen both improvements in teachers salaries and a decline in students motivation to receive an education.
Ms. Peggy Shim has taught at the school for the past 24 years. During her tenure, she has seen both improvements in teacher’s salaries and a decline in students’ motivation to receive an education.

It’s widely acknowledged that teachers in the United States don’t get paid as much as teachers in other countries. The average U.S. teacher’s salary is $62,101, ranking it behind other countries like the Netherlands and Germany, where the salaries reach into the $70,000-80,000 range.

These low salaries have made it more difficult for teachers to do their jobs well, and to have motivation for it. LAUSD teachers are no exception.

Though many changes have been made for the teachers in the district, there are still many obstacles that make it difficult to have as a desirable career. 

Biology teacher Ms. Peggy Shim, who has been teaching at this school for 24 years, explains some of the struggles she faces daily.

The lack of motivation Ms. Shim has been seeing in students has made her weary of the future of education, as most kids do not show any desire to learn or think critically. It has worsened to the point where the motivation to teach is diminishing along with the motivation to learn from pupils. Between students not actively engaging with the material and teachers’ salaries being barely enough to make a living off of, there’s little that makes teaching a desirable career.

“Students do not want to learn because they would rather scroll or play games on their phones or even Chromebooks,” Ms. Shim said. “New teachers are giving up on teaching because the constant battles with disruptive and disrespectful students without admin support is like fighting a battle they can’t win.”

Her drive for teaching goes deeper than just money.

“Despite the low pay, I’ve always wanted to continue teaching because I think that it’s a rewarding job,” she said. “Not financially rewarding, but personally rewarding. The interactions I have daily with my students and also the support of my coworkers keep me going.”

Ms. Shim was heavily inspired by her AP Biology teacher when she was in high school.

“I love biology and science,” she said. “I had a really amazing AP Bio teacher, and she was definitely an inspiration to me.”

Although Ms. Shim could have easily pursued a career as a scientist, teaching is what ultimately called to her.

“I did research in neuroscience for five years, starting from my freshman year of college, and I discovered research wasn’t for me, so I went into teaching,” she said.

Yet, through all these years, her view on teaching has remained the same.

“Teaching is worth it, but I feel like to be a teacher you have to have a certain kind of personality and optimism or else you’ll just burn out,” she said. “It’s not for everyone. You have to love the subject that you’re teaching, have a passion for the subject, have a passion for people, have patience, have good relationships with students, be empathetic, sympathetic, show respect and have a passion for your subject area so that you have high standards.”

The feedback and appreciation she gets from former students always push her to power through and remember why she’s teaching in the first place.

“There are a lot of my students who contact me and say that they learned a lot from me, that they think fondly back to their high school years saying I was their favorite teacher and that they’ll always remember me,” Ms. Shim said. “Whenever kids come back and express their appreciation, it motivates me.”

While having a love for your career of choice does greatly affect your determination to power through the conflicts that come your way, at the end of the day, there are always bills to pay.

She states that she and a few other faculty members have to support their income with other jobs around the school, such as coaching for sports teams or instructing AP Readiness sessions like Ms. Shim does.

“I wouldn’t be able to get by without the extra money from AP Readiness because it helps me pay for my son’s sports, as club sports are expensive,” Ms. Shim said. “I started as an instructor about six years ago.”

When looking back on the UTLA strikes that happened in March of last 2023, she’s seen an increase in her wages. LAUSD and UTLA settled many in their  21 percent Salary Increase Plan that will be administered through two pay increases per year till January 2025

This plan included a three percent increase from July 1, 2022, to December 31, 2022, on top of teachers’ current salary and a four percent increase from January 1, 2023, to June 30, 2023, on top of the December 31, 2022, increase. Another four percent increase is expected in January of 2025.

So far, LAUSD has kept up their end of the bargain. Ms. Shim explained that she owes her thanks to UTLA, which continuously fought for improvement in teachers’ lives.

“After doing my taxes, I did see a difference in my salary, so UTLA was effective in getting us the raises that we wanted and there’s definitely power in numbers,” she said. “I believe it is the second largest union in the school district union.”

Even with these major improvements, Mrs. Shim is still calling for action from higher-ups.

“We need support from the admin,” Shim said. “I think that teachers want to teach, but we need the dean to enforce discipline so we don’t have to do everything in the classroom. We want to be able to teach our classes and plan our lessons rather than disciplining and managing our classroom constantly. Especially with the phones, it’s really hard to teach a class.”

 She finds it difficult to encourage students to focus with the leniency technology provides. 

“There are so many distractions these days,” she said. “I also think kids are very smart these days and they can outsmart teachers for sure.”

While there’s nothing Shim can do to motivate these students to learn other than a firm warning, she expresses that her job is to teach her students, not monitor them. 

“At the end of the day, it’s not my job to police the students’ activities, so my attitude is they have the choice to listen to me or not,” she said. “I’m not going to waste my energy on someone who refuses to listen to me for their education.”

Teaching at a high school level, Mrs. Shim has always expected the young adults in her classroom to accept the responsibility for their own education, as the knowledge gained through it is imperative for their future.

“You’re in high school and you have to take responsibility for your actions and education,” she explained. “You have to be intrinsically motivated, so I’m not gonna waste energy policing constantly.”

Shim is asking the school’s admin and dean for support and better guidelines on phone usage and disciplinary action.

“As a veteran teacher, I don’t have too many disciplinary problems, but new teachers need admin and dean support to help manage the disruptive kids who are not coming to school to learn,” she explained. “I do know new teachers do and it stresses them out so much to the point where they leave the teaching profession altogether.”

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About the Contributor
Olamide Olumide
Olamide Olumide, News/Features Editor
From writing stories at the back of my elementary school notebooks to my unhealthy obsession with law-themed shows, (especially Lucifer), I've always loved telling and reading stories. As a returning staff member to the Mirror publication, I intend to explore my interest in writing in a more in-depth way as well as reporting stories in a dynamic and interesting perspective. Besides writing and law, I'm an absolute sucker for the kpop industry.
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