Cranky Blogger’s Warning: I’m wound up, y’all. That means this post is heavy on the Radical and light on the Tempered. There’s enough truth in it, though, that I wanted to share it with you. Just remember that I was straight riled when I wrote it.
I blew a gasket yesterday. A neighbor read my recent post about my salary and slipped comfortably into a rant about teachers and how easy our jobs are and how he’s sick of hearing us complain given that we work from 8 until 3 and have three months off every summer.
So I uncorked. Like spittle flying from the corners of my mouth uncorked. Like “Holy Smokes, THAT guy is angry” uncorked. Like I don’t think he’s sending me any more Christmas cards uncorked.
What dudeman doesn’t understand is that I DON’T HAVE A THREE MONTH VACATION. Instead, I spend all of that legendary “free time” that teachers get working part-time jobs.
Need proof? Read this. Better yet, stop by the dirty McDonalds near my house RIGHT NOW. It’s a snow day and I’m grinding through a bunch of tasks on my part-time to do list as we speak. I’ll buy you a two-pack of cookies and you can hang out with the teenagers smoking eCigarettes in the booth behind me. Be prepared for the smell of sewage, though. The toilets in the mens room are kind of janky.
Nowadays, my part-time jobs are mostly professional gigs. I write books for teachers, deliver professional development and consult with schools, districts and companies across North America. It’s good work that challenges me and pays well, but it ain’t easy. Most of the time, that work involves sitting behind a computer screen trying to translate good ideas into solid instructional practices or traveling to schools and districts to show other teachers how to integrate those practices into their work.
But over the past 22 years, I’ve done more than my fair share of grunt work, too. I’ve stocked shelves at grocery stores, I’ve manned the register at gas stations, I’ve worked the counter at bookstores, I’ve driven school busses for after school programs and summer camps, I’ve been the on-ice skate guard at the local ice rink, and I’ve worked for a landscaping company.
Sure, I have more vacation days than my neighbors and friends working in more traditional professions. But the notion that I’m spending those vacation days lounging by the pool with a fruity umbrella drink and a giant jug of Coppertone is a fallacy, y’all. The truth is that I’m spending those vacation days — and all of those “free” hours after the school day ends — just trying to make ends meet.
And I’m not the only one. Heck, most of my friends and colleagues who are full-time teachers and the main providers for their families are working part-time jobs, too. One works at the help desk at the local Apple store 20-30 hours a week. Another stocks shelves at the Office Depot. A third tutors four days a week and plays live shows at local bars three or four times a month. And a fourth coaches high level youth soccer teams.
Now don’t get me wrong: Teaching is remarkable work and I’m blown away every day by just how lucky I am. I have the chance to change lives — and I get to see the tangible impact of my work every time that a student walks through the door of my room with a story to share or a success to show me. That’s the reason I still teach even though teaching doesn’t pay my bills.
But to suggest that I only work seven hours a day and 180 days a year is ludicrous. It’s an antiquated and offensive notion that often becomes an excuse for paying teachers next to nothing.
In the end, we have to decide as a community if we are okay with forcing accomplished teachers to find other work just to pay their bills? What are the consequences — for our kids and our communities — when we fail to pay the folks in our classrooms competitive wages? Can we really be surprised when good people quit, given that staying often means constantly worrying about where the next part-time paycheck is going to come from?
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