This is Linda DeRegnaucourt's last summer off. When school starts in August, it will be her last year to think about high school classes, advanced placement tests and calculus.
If all goes as planned, this will be her last year teaching at Palm Bay High School in Brevard County, Florida.
She doesn't want to go. After 13 years of teaching high-level math, she has a tested stable of learning methods that helped all her students pass the AP calculus exam. Her room is a popular place for students to escape the drama of the high school cafeteria. Few jobs can indulge her excitement for linear functions and matrix calculus.
"I hate to have to leave it," DeRegnaucourt said. "I really thought I was going to be that teacher, 65 years old and retiring from the education field. That's not going to happen."
She's quitting, she said, because she can't afford to stay.
Two years ago, a divorce left 47-year-old DeRegnaucourt with a single income. Rental properties she owned only caused more financial strain as Florida's real estate market fell apart in recent years. Despite her years of experience, she earns $38,000, she said, less than she made in the past, when teachers received larger supplements for additional certifications.
Once she made a budget, she realized she didn't make enough money to cover her expenses and save for her future. Changing careers felt like the only wise financial move, she said.
DeRegnaucourt isn't the only one.
Attracting the best students to teaching -- and keeping them -- is tough for schools across the country. Average starting teaching salaries are $39,000, and rise with experience to an average of $54,000, according to "Closing the Talent Gap," a 2010 report by McKinsey & Company. Teacher salaries can't compete with other careers, the report said, and annual teacher turnover in the United States is 14%. At "high-needs" high schools, it is 20%.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development data from 2007 said the United States ranks 20th out of 29 for starting teacher salaries, and 23rd out of 29 for teacher salaries after 15 years.
But it's not just the pay, DeRegnaucourt said, "It's the way we're treated."
Her colleagues have waited until just before school starts to learn what courses they'll be teaching, she said. Uncertainty makes it impossible to prepare, hard to succeed.
"Five years ago, 10 years ago, kids would ask me, should they become teachers? I was like, 'Oh, God, yes, I love what I do,' " she said. "Now, I tell my kids, 'You're really, really bright. Why don't you think about going into (this or that?)' They have the potential to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, CEOs and scientists. Why would I recommend to my kids, who I absolutely love, to struggle for years?"