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In Silicon Valley, Where A Teacher Works For Uber To Stay Middle-Class

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is Hanging On.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I think most people hate to think of themselves as middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You have what you need but maybe not everything you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We have a car. But we live in an apartment. That's middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you add a boat, then you're not middle-class anymore. That's what changes it right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The middle class are families who are earning six figures.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Thirty thousand, $35,000 probably.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: That means me. And it means I'm in trouble (laughter).

MARTIN: You'd think that a teacher pulling in $69,000 a year would be firmly middle-class, right? Not so much in Silicon Valley. Matt Barry teaches at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., where the median home price is $800,000. Now Barry has started driving for Uber after school and on weekends. He joins us now. Hey, Matt. Thank you so much for being with us.

MATT BARRY: Yeah, no problem.

MARTIN: I understand you and your wife are both teachers. What is life like in Morgan Hill, in that particular industry, in that place?

BARRY: Well, I mean, it's a beautiful area. It is a great place to raise a family, a great place to teach. We both really enjoy it. But it is very stressful financially. The way it's currently at, it's extremely stressful for a lot of teachers.

MARTIN: You're driving for Uber. And Uber has actively been courting teachers, I understand. Did you see an advertisement? Or...

BARRY: I - actually, a fellow teacher was driving for Uber. And, you know, I'm not driving a whole lot right now. It's the beginning of school. And, you know, my job does come first. But it did help. It doesn't necessarily work out financially...

MARTIN: What do you mean?

BARRY: ...'Cause it's really, you know - it's not the greatest level of income.

MARTIN: Are your passengers, when you have driven for Uber, ever surprised to learn that you're a teacher?

BARRY: Yeah, in the past. They expect teachers to be able to afford to live in their communities. And, you know, they expect their teachers to be - you know, what I should be doing is grading papers and curriculum.

And there's this sense of guilt associated with being a teacher that, I feel, all teachers have - is, you know, you could always be spending your time to hone your craft and to do a better job. I don't want to drive for Uber. And I'd rather be a full-time teacher and that be enough. But in the current housing market, it's really not.

MARTIN: You teach economics - right? - to 11th graders?

BARRY: I do.

MARTIN: Do you get into the stuff with them? I mean, do you talk about the particular economics of living in Silicon Valley?

BARRY: Yeah - talking about opportunity cost. And, you know, I have these seniors that are applying to colleges. And I'm trying to, you know, talk about the positives of gaining human capital. And then at the same time, the reality is when we look at the area, many of them are going to be priced out.

A lot of my students aren't going to be able to live in this community. And they start to see that. So yeah, I try to make the curriculum as real to them. And I pull from my life experience as much as I can. So I talk about some of the issues that teachers face. And, you know, some of them are kind of shocked.

MARTIN: So what are you and your wife going to do? Do you think Morgan Hill and that school district is a place where you could have kids and remain teachers?

BARRY: I think when it comes down to it, when a young teacher is on the precipice of making that decision - can I set up shop in this community? Can I afford a house? Can I afford to have a kid here? And the answer is no. I can't imagine paying $2,400 in rent each month like a lot of my colleagues are - and really ever be able to save enough for a down payment to buy a house and become part of the community.

MARTIN: Matt Barry - he teaches economics at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif. Matt, thank you so much for talking with us.

BARRY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.