• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Time’s ‘teacher in America’ story features WCHS educator

HOPE BROWN was one of three teachers featured in a Time magazine cover story: “The Life of the American Teacher,” which hits newsstands today. Brown, who teaches civics and U.S. history at Woodford County High School, said science teacher David Graves gave her an enlarged photo of her Time cover. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Being one of the teachers featured on three covers for Time magazine’s article about “The Life of the American Teacher” was an unanticipated opportunity for Woodford County High School’s Hope Brown.

Brown, who began her second year teaching U. S. history and civics at WCHS in August, was “absolutely floored” when she saw that she made the cover.

In the Time story, Brown and other teachers shared their thoughts about working in a profession with high demands and low pay.

“It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that you have to sell plasma to make it from paycheck to paycheck,” Brown told the Sun during an interview Monday afternoon.

Most of the feedback Brown says she has gotten from others in the teaching profession has been positive. They appreciate her willingness to speak out about teachers struggling to pay their bills.

“I’m not alone,” says Brown. “There are so many people who are like me – that are professionals, and we have advanced degrees and we don’t make enough to survive.”

She has also received negative emails. A chef called her greedy, telling her that he only makes $31,000 a year.

Brown says she wants others to realize that the economy is not working for anyone. It’s broken, and the recent tax cuts are not helping her and so many other working Americans, she says.

“Between staggering student loan debt and stifling medical bills,” she says, “it’s just really hard to make it – especially when you have a family.”

Both she and her husband, who works for Walmart, have student loan debt. They also have two teenagers living at home.

Besides working security for Rupp Arena events and running a historical touring company with her husband, Brown says she has been a waitress. “We (teachers) have to do so much to be able to make it from paycheck to paycheck,” she says.

Brown says she cannot imagine not teaching because she loves making a difference in the lives of students. Yet, the demands of the job are increasing.

“It’s such a different job now than it was when I first started teaching,” says Brown. “It requires more and more since the Great Recession, since families have gone through trauma, instability.”

Brown says she taught at Rowan County High School for 10 years and Grant County High School for four years (making $48,000 a year) before coming to WCHS, where she earns $55,000.

Being a teacher “takes an emotional toll on you, it really does,” but “I love the job,” says Brown. “There’s no other job that you can do that pays you to laugh all day. I work with sarcastic, funny kids. They’re really clever.”

That, she says, doesn’t mean teachers should have to worry about being fairly compensated or about their futures.

Brown says she couldn’t sleep at night during Kentucky’s pension crisis earlier this year. She and other teachers were worried they could no longer count on getting their state pension when they retired. So she voiced concerns on social media.

Her post about the term “side hustles” caught the attention of a reporter working on an article about teaching in America for Time magazine.

“I just don’t think it’s an appropriate term to use because it makes it sound like we’re doing these second jobs for mad money when that’s not the case,” says Brown. She received an email in June from reporter Katie Reilly, who had read some of her social media postings, requesting an interview.

Brown says she got the okay from school administrators to share her thoughts as long as she didn’t talk about any of her students.

Photojournalist Maddie McGarvey came to WCHS earlier this school year to document Brown’s day while taking “an obscene amount of photographs.”

Always the teacher, Brown asked McGarvey if she’d talk to students in her sophomore civics class about her career as a photographer. “So it was a really cool opportunity for them to get a little information about what she does,” Brown says.

McGarvey also documented Brown working her second job at Rupp Arena.

On Wednesday, Brown says she’ll teach all day, work a Justin Timberlake concert later that night at Rupp Arena and then get up this morning (Thursday) for another day of teaching.

“It’s just hard. It’s a hard job (being a teacher). But… you couldn’t ask for a better one. I love it. I love what I do,” says Brown, 52.

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