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North Carolina Teachers Take On Part-Time Retail Gigs

According to the U.S. Department of Education, data from a few years ago show that about a fourth of NC teachers work a part-time job.
Flickr user Mike Mozart
According to the U.S. Department of Education, data from a few years ago show that about a fourth of NC teachers work a part-time job.

In the popular teenage movie Mean Girls, there’s a scene where a few high school students spot someone unexpected at the mall.

“Oh my god, that’s Mrs. Norbury,” one student exclaims.  

“I love seeing teachers outside of school, it’s like seeing a dog walk on its hinds legs,” a second student adds.   

It’s their math teacher, played by Tina Fey. But she’s not shopping.

“No, actually I’m just here because I bar-tend a couple of nights a week,” she says.

Taking On A Retail Job

The image of an overworked teacher juggling different jobs is more than a movie trope.

“Hi, welcome to Ann Taylor,” Jill Rattinger says enthusiastically.

At Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, Rattinger moves from the fitting rooms to the racks, hanging striped tweed dresses and folding bejeweled tops.

The seventh-grade teacher at Hilburn Aacademy in Wake County has been in education for 15 years.

So how did she end up at a women’s clothing store? Three months ago she was shopping here. The managers were helping her out, and they clicked.

“Yeah, I actually came here looking for an outfit for Open Parent Night, and then I ended up walking out with a job.”

NC Ranks 42nd In Teacher Pay

But she’s not just working here because she thinks the clothes are cute. Like many North Carolina teachers, she says she needed an extra job to help make ends meet.

“I have two kids in college and I’m a single parent and it’s really hard to have to pay for that, so I took this on to help them,” she explains.

Nationally, North Carolina ranks 42nd in teacher pay with an average salary of about $47,783.

The state also ranks dead last in terms of salary raises over the last decade (from 2003-04 to 2013-14), based on the latest National Education Association report.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, data from a few years ago show that about a fourth of teachers hold a second job.

‘Frustrating Not Being Able To Support Yourself In Your Career’

“I feel like in order not to breaking even, in order to not stress my finances, I do need a second job right now,” says Kacey Gray, a second-year teacher in Pitt County.

Gray, who makes $35,000 a year, initially quit her job at Old Navy when she became a teacher, then quickly realized she needed it.

“It’s just frustrating getting a college degree and not being able to support yourself in your career,” she says.

Sometimes she runs into some of her students and their parents at the store. 

“I feel like they understand, but at the same time I also feel like it kind of takes away from my professionalism.”

Gray’s colleague, Elyse Cannon, works at American Eagle Outfitters. The history and psychology teacher says some of her high school students will just pop in to say hello and that her job even comes up in class.

“They ask ‘why do you have to have a second job?’” Cannon says. “And I explain to them like ‘you know, it just the way pay is and it’s the way North Carolina is’ and it’s not to knock the state because I love our state, but it’s a little ridiculous sometimes.”

Cannon says she makes about $300 to to $400 extra dollars a month. She’s been engaged for two years now, still saving up money for a wedding.

Juggling Multiple Jobs

In Roanoke Rapids, Jeff Pageau works as a French teacher and when he gets home he has a second job teaching an online class. 

“I’ve got to grade and I’ve got to respond to emails and all this takes time, and it doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’d be surprise how much time it really does take,” he explains. 

Back at the mall, Jill Rattinger says she's come up with some creative time management secrets. In order to give her students thoughtful feedback, she brings their papers and her grade book with her to the store and tries to go over a few during her shift.

“Every free moment I get,” she says.

She doesn’t get a lot of them. In addition to teaching and holding this retail job, Rattinger has two other part-time gigs: she tutors and works at an aftercare program.


Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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