The 26-year-old broke down the approximate hours he puts in every year and how little he is paid for them.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 5, 2022. It has since been updated.
A fourth-grade teacher in Cleveland, Ohio, went viral on social media a few months ago when he spilled the tea on just how little teachers are paid in the United States. Kyle Cohen, known as Mr. Cohen to his students, has reportedly been teaching for four years and recently completed his master's degree in educational leadership. In a video that gained more than 1.1 million views on TikTok, the 26-year-old educator revealed 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 $31,000 as a fourth-grade teacher with a class of 16 students with a wide range of special needs—and I had my college degree and experience," Cohen says in the clip.
The response to Cohen's video was mixed, with some expressing concern over the salary and others seemingly not understanding why teachers are speaking up about their infuriatingly low paychecks. "Don’t get me wrong. 31K$ is not a lot. But also notice he said first year. Teachers are able to increase their salaries drastically. Plus their time off," commented one TikTok user. "If teachers aren't so opinionated, maybe they would make more. They shouldn't be allowed to teach their opinion. Teach facts only," wrote another. "But you knew that when you STARTED college and when you started the job…" commented a third.
Responding to one such comment that claimed teachers "only" work eight to nine months a year—implying they don't work enough to be paid more—Cohen shared another video breaking down the approximate hours he puts in every year and how little he is paid for them. "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 explained in the video that's been viewed more than 4.6 million times. "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."
"So, this week, for example, right now it’s 6:00 in the evening; I have conferences that go until 8:00. I also have conferences next week on Monday and Wednesday to meet with all of my families," Cohen continues in the clip. "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."
Cohen clarified that he doesn't want to sound ungrateful by speaking out about how grossly underpaid educators are in the country. "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 said. "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." Speaking to BuzzFeed on the issue, he said: "At the end of the day, I want to shed light on the current realities educators are facing. Students are experiencing more challenges than ever before as a result of the pandemic. If we don't address these issues, it's the students, our future leaders, who are going to face the consequences."
"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," added Cohen, who previously served for two years at a school for Teach For America. "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."