I became a foster parent two years ago, when I realized I couldn’t afford to have my own children.

The small stipend and Medicaid that accompany a foster child make it just barely possible to afford daycare and be a mother and a teacher in Denver Public Schools.

It’s a blessing to do foster care, but it comes at a cost of sacrifice and grief that not everyone can handle. Sometimes I wonder if I can. I’ve had five children live in my home, and I have said goodbye to all five of them.

My dreams were different when I started teaching in Denver eight years ago, after six years elsewhere. My base salary was lower than it is today, but for years I received $7,200 in bonuses for being in a high-performing school where my students saw their test scores grow quickly. For the first four years, those bonuses masked a salary too low to support my dreams of a family.

Over the last four years, these bonuses have been whittled down to the $1,000 I received this year thanks to changes to the ProComp system. The amount on my W-2s would be almost identical to what it was eight years ago if I didn’t tutor and work the district’s freshman academy most summers. Meanwhile, Denver’s cost of living has skyrocketed.

I kept thinking it was eventually going to get better. Like the frog in the boiling pot, I didn’t realize how bad it was until it’s become almost too late.

Today, as a teacher with 14 years of experience and a master’s degree, both the union’s and the district’s proposals give me at least a $12,000 raise. That is how badly they have underpaid me for the past eight years.

You wonder why Denver teachers want to strike so ardently? We have missed out on between $5,000 and $20,000 of income we could make in neighboring districts — money that could be paying for our children’s college, having children, paying for healthcare, or buying a home in the district in which we teach. I currently live in Aurora, so I cannot even vote in the elections that affect my job.

To be clear, I am not a victim. I choose teaching in Denver because I love our community and its kids so much. But it’s painful to reflect on the fact that I would have made different choices if I had more financial flexibility over the last several years. In essence, because I love professionally working with kids and watching them grow, I have risked my own desire to have children of my own.

The union’s proposal allows me to earn realistic raises without having to sacrifice even more. It sees my contribution and the tabling of my own ambitions as enough. Their proposal allows me to make a life.

Denver Public Schools has experimented on our pay for the past 20 years. Along the way, its teachers have given away our own milestones to help our students grow and be successful. We give up our own families and our own time and our own lives to help other people’s children. We have done it passionately, but we cannot do it any more without the recognition of the love and sacrifice staying in DPS has wrought upon each of us personally.

If Denver believes in caring for its students, it cannot continue to neglect its teachers. We deserve our own joy to be able to really contribute to that of our students. Please stop paying me like my job matters less than a middle manager in central offices.

I have earned a family and a home and a life in Denver. My love and commitment to this communities’ children deserves more. I deserve more.

Charlie Gaare is a high school teacher in Denver Public Schools and a foster parent with Denver County.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.