Charleston teacher waits tables as side job, otherwise she can't afford to live here

Charleston teacher waits tables as side job, otherwise she can't afford to live here (WCIV).png

The demand for teachers in the Lowcountry is still high, but so is the rent.

That's leaving many local educators struggling to make ends meet, including Melissa Watson.

"I'm just used to it now," Watson said of her 70-plus hour weeks working two jobs.

She moonlights as a server at a restaurant in addition to teaching high school English.

"I've been working here about 13 or 14 years," she said of her serving job. "Almost my entire teaching career, now that I think about it, I’ve been working two jobs."

She says she's one of five servers at her restaurant who are also full time teachers.

"Everybody I know that teaches has a second job," she said. "The economy of Charleston, you can’t live here."

The starting salary for teachers with a bachelors degree is between $36,000 and $37,000 for the Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester District Two School Districts.

The average cost of rent across the Lowcountry can be $1,500 per month --- roughly half a first-year teacher's salary over a full year.

"I have a bachelor's degree, a master’s degree, I’m a dissertation away from my doctorate," Watson said. "Teachers are not asking for $80,000 a year, they’re just asking not to have to work more in a separate job, so they can work more with their students."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says teachers are 30 percent more likely to work a second job than non-teachers.

"I have two kids. I’m divorced, but it's not fair to choose between loving what you do and whether you’re going to wait tables full time," Watson added.

She says she'll keep serving, whether it's patrons at her restaurant, or serving up knowledge to her students.

"If teachers weren’t working a second job, they could do professional development, they could focus on things they love, rather than trying to make ends meet."

Watson said she makes more money waiting tables than teaching.

The Charleston County School District has set a goal of making its teacher salaries the highest in the state, with a starting pay of $40,000 per year by 2020.

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