This Indianapolis teacher said he shouldn’t have to take a ‘vow of poverty’ to stay in the classroom

His teacher’s salary was already stretched precariously thin to pay rent when Andrew Pillow learned that his school was setting a pencil quota to save money: only one box of pencils per quarter.

But pencils were always disappearing. Pillow, who teaches at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle School in Indianapolis, found himself taking twice-weekly trips to the store to buy enough pencils for his students. Where on earth were they going?

Well, he eventually found out — but not before experiencing the utter humiliation of not having enough money to pay his share of the bill on a first date.

It’s funny now, Pillow said, but then … Not so much. Teachers shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty to stay in their careers, he said.

Pillow was one of several teachers who participated in a recent teacher pay-themed story slam co-hosted by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Chalkbeat Indiana, and Teachers Lounge Indy.

Teacher pay has been a hot topic this year across Indiana — and the nation — as lawmakers decide what steps they can take to get more money to increase teacher salaries.

Here’s an excerpt of Pillow’s story. It has been edited for length and clarity:

It’s hard to exist when you’re not making a lot of money. And being a teacher is like being in a constant state of having enough money for the things you need to live — I wasn’t homeless, OK, I had everything I needed, I could eat — but I really couldn’t do nothing else.

I was single at this time, so I had to date, I had to get back out there. And it was hard, not just because of breaking up or whatever, but because I didn’t have any money.

So I’m on all the apps at this point, and I swipe with this beautiful girl. She messaged me, so we got to talking, and she was like, “We should go out sometime.” I wasn’t going to suggest that because I knew I didn’t have any money.

“Alright, yeah, what are you thinking?”

She’s like, “Well, there’s a burger place by you.”

I’m like, burgers, OK, let me check my account. I’ve got $35 in my account. I can do burgers.

So we show up at the place. As I’m sitting down, I get an alert on my phone. It’s Chase.

There is $3 left in my account. Here’s what happened. I have a subscription service to Microsoft Office, and they charge me once a year, and they decided right on the Thursday before I got paid that they were going to charge me.

I’m already kind of sweating, and then I get another alert. I check my phone. It’s Chase.

Now I have negative $18.

Yeah, they gave me an overdraft fee. It was like $20 because that’s how much it costs to only have $3. I’m just thinking, what am I going to do?

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Pillow’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.