Kyle Cohen, known as Mr. Cohen to his students, is a fourth-grade teacher in Cleveland, Ohio, who recently went viral for shedding light on just how much teachers can be underpaid — a sad reality many teachers in the US have been facing for years.
BuzzFeed spoke to Kyle, who previously served for two years at a school for Teach For America, and he shared his love for teaching and what led him to the career after graduating from Ohio State University. With a passion for working with young people, especially formed during years at a summer camp, he wanted to enter a field that would make a big impact. "Today, I teach fourth grade in a different district where I continue my fight for an education system that all kids in this country deserve," he said.
The 25-year-old educator, who has been teaching for four years and recently completed his master's degree in educational leadership, uploaded a video on TikTok revealing how much he got paid during his first year of teaching. “In my first year of teaching, I taught at a charter school here in Cleveland, Ohio, and I made $31,000 as a fourth-grade teacher with a class of 16 students with a wide range of special needs — and I had my college degree and experience,” he says in the clip.
The comment section was divided — with some people expressing concern over the salary, and others dismissing it:
But many still showed lots of support for teachers:
Current and former teachers even shared similar experiences with their salary:
After one commenter claimed teachers "only" work eight to nine months a year — implying they don't work enough to be paid more — Kyle uploaded another video detailing the amount of work that goes into teaching that people often don't consider.
In the TikTok, which has over 2 million views, Kyle calculates how many hours (approximately) go into a year of teaching vs. how much he'd make an hour:
"I work from about 7 to 5, which is roughly 10 hours [a day], multiply that by five, because there are five days in a week — that is 50 hours." he says. "Multiply that by four, which is about 200 hours that I work a month. I also am going to add 10 additional hours per week, because if I look at my calendar, I have a lot of meetings and events, and things like that as a fourth-grade teacher that I’m required to attend."
"I feel like this additional 10 hours a week is really just a minimum of what I am doing, thinking about all of the lesson-planning and grading and communication with coworkers and families and administration. So, it’s roughly 240 hours a month, probably more if we’re being honest. But let’s say 240 hours times the 'nine months' that I’m working, right? ... That’s 2,160 hours of work. If I take that $31,000 salary that I earned in my first year of teaching divided by 2,160 — that is $14 an hour to be a fourth-grade classroom teacher."
"I don’t want to come off as ungrateful; I’m not ungrateful because I absolutely love what I do, and I would not trade being an educator for anything. I am incredibly grateful to be in this field," he continues. "But what I am hoping we have conversations about is the fact that teachers who are ‘only working for eight to nine months of the year’ are being paid inappropriately for the amount of work that they are doing."
In the midst of the COVID pandemic, many teachers have been through incredible stress and burnout that led them to make the hard decision to leave the classroom. Dealing with low wages makes things even more challenging.
"Back in March of 2020, our entire country was forced to shut down. Students were learning at home from a screen and we were finally having conversations about the integral role teachers play in our society," Kyle told BuzzFeed.
This isn't the first time Kyle opened up about the challenges many teachers face — especially with COVID. Back in January of this year, he uploaded a YouTube video where he spoke more on teaching in the pandemic, his responsibilities as an educator, and the importance of valuing teachers when it comes to income.
Ultimately, his desire is to have discussions that will lead to much-needed change in the future. "My hope in making these videos is to start some real conversations. Our teachers (and students!) deserve the best, and it is the unfortunate reality that we are far from making this dream a reality."
For more videos about what teachers are facing today, be sure to follow Mr. Cohen on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.
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