Matt Barry teaches history and economics to eleventh and twelfth graders at Live Oak High School, a public school in a suburb of San Jose, California. At 32, he’s in his ninth year on the job, teaching 35 students in each class. But Barry also has a second life that’s becoming increasingly common for American schoolteachers: He spends his after-school hours and weekends as an Uber driver in order to earn extra money.
Barry and his wife, Nicole, are both teachers, and each earns $69,000 per year, which should place them solidly within the middle class. If Silicon Valley hadn’t sprawled around them, that’s where they would be. But the explosion in wealth that has accompanied the tech boom has sent housing costs well beyond the reach of longtime working- and middle-class residents. In the town where Barry teaches, the median home price is $800,000, ensuring that the people who spend their days educating Live Oak students will never live near them. In Barry’s own neighborhood of Gilroy, a 20-minute drive from his school, the median home price is $650,000. When Barry’s child is born—Nicole is pregnant—the family will pay an additional $6,000 dollars in health insurance annually; if she takes time off, that will more than double, to $14,400.
Barry shocks his Uber passengers when he tells them about his day job as he shuttles them around ritzy Morgan Hill, where his high school is located. Between rides, he grades papers. Among teachers, he’s not even the worst off—he and Nicole each earn an income, and they own their home. Even so, they are on the financial edge. “Teachers are killing themselves,” he says. “I shouldn’t be having to drive Uber 8 o’clock on a weekday. I just shut down from the mental toll: grading papers in between rides, thinking of what I could be doing instead of driving—like creating a curriculum.”
Yet it’s no accident that Barry is driving for Uber. For the last two years, the company has sponsored initiatives to encourage teachers to moonlight as chauffeurs. The campaigns differ from city to city and from year to year. In 2014, the Uber campaign’s discomfiting motto was “Teachers: Driving Our Future.” In 2015, Uber offered teachers in Chicago a summer job; to sweeten the deal, the ride-share company gave a $250 bonus to any teacher who signed up to drive by a certain date and completed 10 car trips. In Oregon, Uber notifies riders when their driver is a teacher and trumpets the fact that 3 percent of each fare goes back to the driver’s classroom. The company also offers a $5,000 bonus to the school with the most active drivers.