ASHEVILLE — 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.
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 N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s teacher pay schedule, a first-year teacher makes $35,000. Buncombe County Schools offers a 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, which means it would take a local teacher 10 years in the profession to make enough to meet the city’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 unique — 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 — this is 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.
“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, but they kept at it despite the bleak pay stubs.
The reason: 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?”
After school, Yancey County music teacher Courtney Malone drives to Asheville to deliver food 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.”