Jodie Bennett’s classroom looks a little different in the summer — instead of answering the raised hands of her reading and language arts students at Winthrop Middle School, she calls upon the unliving.
Bennett runs Kennebec Creeps & Crawls, which provides haunted walking tours through Hallowell and Augusta.
She started the business as a new way for her to earn an extra income as a single mother, but it has also helped her become the teacher she always strived to be.
“It’s my opportunity to showcase the best parts of myself — I can be a teacher, I can be an entertainer,” she said. “I love laughter so my true sense of humor can come through.”
For some teachers, working summer jobs and year-round side-gigs is unavoidable, perhaps not to pay routine bills, but to travel, pay for kids’ activities and soften the blow of unexpected expenses.
Some opt to take up other education jobs by staffing summer school programs and tutoring, or continue working with youth in summer camp, while others chase a passion beyond teaching.
But many are simply drawn to jobs with higher pay, such as waitressing.
A national survey by the U.S. Department of Education found that one in five teachers supplemented their income with a second job during the school year and one third took on summer jobs during the 2017-18 school year, the latest data available.
The same survey found that one in three teachers would leave teaching as soon as possible if they could get a higher-paying job.
The average classroom teacher salary in Maine is $49,096, based on 2020 state data, accounting for more than 12,000 teachers in the state. A teacher’s pay depends on the district, their experience, their position and their degree.
‘I like the difference between teaching and waitressing because I get to interact with adults that are out enjoying their time and enjoying each other’
— Alyssa Estes
The upcoming school year will mark the first year all teachers in the state of Maine are required to be paid a minimum salary of $40,000, based on a law signed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2019 and phased in over three years.
Still, the minimum falls short of the average annual cost of living in Maine per person — $45,272, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Here’s a look at how some central Maine teachers are spending their summers.
JODIE BENNETT: HAUNTED TOUR GUIDE
As a single mother of three, Bennett said she has always looked for ways to supplement her income in the summer and spent many summers, before her haunted gig, waitressing.
Now that her children are in high school or older, she has more flexibility to pursue her business and what she’s passionate about.
“With the prices of home ownership and oil and renting, it just feels like a good idea but it’s also a way for me to put a little away for a nest egg because we don’t know what’s going to happen (in the economy), but the fact that it’s my business, it’s extremely exciting,” she said.
Bennett began Kennebec Creeps & Crawls last summer after her former employers, who ran a haunted tour in midcoast Maine, retired. They sold her the Hallowell section of their tour and from there she made it her own. This year, she added Augusta to the mix.
The tours require historic research done by Bennett, who, as a resident of Hallowell, already knew some of the potential sites and history for a few of her stops. Additionally, she walked around the cities with four psychics, four different times, to have them weigh in on spots they find to be haunted.
She dresses up as the so-called “Woman in White,” a generic character who appears in many ghost stories, and walks around with a group for an hour and a half.
“I weave in a lot of history in there and try to pick interesting historical things,” she said. “We don’t want it to be boring — we try to bring interesting and creepy stories along the way by stopping and pointing out some buildings and general stories.”
ALYSSA ESTES: WAITRESS
Working as a waitress at Meridians in Fairfield, Alyssa Estes is bound to run into some of her students every now and then.
“It’s nice to see them out (and) about and the kids’ reactions when they see you out in public, because they think you’re just kind of tied to the school building,” she said.
During the school year, Estes is not only a special education teacher at George J. Mitchell School in Waterville, but also a dance instructor and waitress.
“Free time is far and few between,” she said.
She usually teaches summer school, but switched to waitressing last summer because she can earn more money. Plus, she said it’s nice taking a break from working with kids.
“I like the difference between teaching and waitressing because I get to interact with adults that are out enjoying their time and enjoying each other,” she said.
Estes keeps her part-time positions in order to make extra money to do things in the summer and “stop feeling guilty going out to eat.”
“If I didn’t work, I would pretty much be homebound, because my (teaching salary) pretty much just covers the bills, but not much else,” she said.
The work she does as a special education teacher does not match the pay, she said.
“I think some people just don’t understand how much (teaching) entails, especially those teaching special ed,” she said. In addition to planning lessons, special education teachers often act as case managers and must work with children who may act out physically, she explained.
Estes also recently enrolled in an online master’s program for elementary education.
“That’s going to be fun to try to balance once the school year starts up again,” she quipped.
ROB KENNEDY: AUTO PARTS DELIVERER
Rob Kennedy can explain not only the intricacies of the U.S. government, but also how much your auto parts should cost.
For much of the year, he teaches history and government at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, additionally doing some work in sports broadcasting on the side. But when summer rolls around, Kennedy moves from the classroom and hits the road delivering auto parts to mechanics around Androscoggin County.
This is Kennedy’s third summer running deliveries part time for Advance Auto Parts in Auburn. Feeling bored at home following the start of the pandemic in 2020, he took the job because he needed something to do. Plus, he likes to drive.
Once, he taught summer school. But with no kids at home, his teaching salary is enough to get by and he used to just take the summers off, he said. He works during the summer mostly because he enjoys it, not because he needs the extra cash.
“I wanted something that was really far away from (teaching) in the summertime, something different where I wasn’t thinking about lesson planning, grading, anything, you know, academic like that. I do that enough.”
When Kennedy first started, he didn’t know much about car parts. But it didn’t take long for him to learn.
Since then, he’s done some simple fixes on his car he never would have tried before.
“I’m just not really that good when it comes to mechanical stuff,” he said. “I never had much confidence. But you know, having this job, I’m not ever going to be a mechanic, but I at least have gained some experience and some skills and a lot of knowledge that I didn’t have.”
TAMMY ALLARD: GENERAL STORE EMPLOYEE
The first time Tammy Allard took on a second job, it was to pay the fees for her son’s travel hockey tournaments.
Working until 10 p.m. with a wake-up time of 4:30 a.m., she found it difficult to keep up with her schoolwork and planning, along with taking classes for recertification. She lasted six months at Kohl’s department store before giving it up.
Since then she’s also worked at Home Depot and the Christmas Tree Shops, the latter to help supplement her 25th wedding anniversary trip to Jamaica in 2021.
They had such a great time they decided to make it an annual trip.
But, “not long after getting back home, gas and heating oil prices quickly started going through the roof and we made the decision that my spare job money will now be going to heating our home this upcoming winter and other bills that have also increased.”
This summer, the Gardiner Area High School social studies teacher switched to working at the Monmouth General Store. With a two-minute drive, she saves on gas and gets more hours than her previous job.
Working during the school year is difficult to balance, and Allard gets bored too. Taking on a summer job is a natural fit.
“If I were a single teacher, without my husband’s income, I would probably have more than one extra job,” she said. “We get by when I don’t work a second job, but we do better when we have the third income.”
LOGAN LANDRY: CAMP OFFICE DIRECTOR
Logan Landry recently completed a master’s degree which would allow him to move from teaching seventh grade social studies at Bruce M. Whittier Middle School in Poland to an administrative role, if he were so inclined.
The only problem? He would no longer have summers off.
For the past seven years, Landry has worked as the office director for Birch Rock Camp, a boys camp in Waterford. He answers the phone, runs the camp store, and helps campers mail letters, a skill unfamiliar to many of them, he said.
“Doing this gives me the opportunity to still work with kids, but in a different way, instead of being in the classroom,” he said.
He’s especially proud to have helped connect several of his students with significant scholarship opportunities at the residential camp.
“A camp like this is out of range for a lot of kids,” he said. “A lot of the campers that we get here are from out of state, or from even out of the country. We don’t have a lot from Maine.”
Landry doesn’t do it for the money; rather, it’s the people that draw him back each summer.
“It’s just like one big family,” he said. “It just feels good coming back, year after year.”
His puppy, Bode, also comes to work with him every day.
One day, Landry plans to pursue a position as a principal. But he’s not yet ready to give up his beloved summer job.
“Once you’re a principal you have to work in the summer,” he said. “I’m trying to hold off, so I can continue to work up here for a little longer at least.”