I know there are some things that you’re not supposed to talk about in public. Or at all. But I’m tired of feeling angry and helpless.
I am paid $11.00 an hour (before taxes) to teach four year olds the things they need to know before going to Kindergarten. I spend 40 hours a week in my classroom, 8 hours each Monday through Friday. I have an hour long break each day to eat lunch, or take a nap, or run errands, or make phone calls, or do whatever I please. My center is closed and I get the day off on New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas Day. That’s 7 holidays a year, emphasis on the DAY. After working there a full year, I was finally eligible to receive pay for those days. Also after a year, I became eligible for 7 paid vacation days, which I may use at my discretion. If I have not used them before the end of the year, I lose them. Each additional year I stay in my position, I receive an additional day of paid vacation. Up to a total of 14 days. That I have to use during one year before it resets and I lose them.
During the 40 hours a week that I am on the clock, I am part teacher, part janitor, part lunch-lady, part nurse. I am “on” all the time. I teach language arts, science, math, social studies, art, music, physical education, and health in addition to teaching basic hygiene, morals, manners, respect, and safety. I write daily lesson plans and weekly progress reports. I assess 5 times annually using two different assessment systems. This happens either during one hour of nap-time (while also supervising children who are often wide awake) or during my own time outside of paid hours. I am responsible for the children’s educations, of course, but also for their health and safety and every aspect of the cleanliness of my classroom and it’s bathroom. I clean and disinfect surfaces and toys daily, I sweep and mop the floors and vacuum the rugs daily, I plunge the toilet, when necessary. All with the children in the room, because if the children are not in the room, neither am I. This seems to me like a waste of my time and theirs. They are there to learn, not watch me clean and clean and clean again. Admittedly, they participate in the cleaning, helping with a mini-dustpan to sweep the floor, and putting away the toys. It is an opportunity to teach them responsibility. I serve lunch and two snacks each day, minding allergies and aversions and teaching nutrition and table manners. On top of the 40 hours a week, there are monthly curriculum trainings that happen after hours (usually about 2 hours per meeting), 3-4 annual staff meetings, also held after hours, and bi-annual parent conferences, which happen in 2 two-hour blocks, you guess it, after hours. These are mandatory and we are paid for those additional hours. But, overtime pay is carefully avoided by carving out hours from the normal 40 to make up for the extra. So, I might receive an extra-long lunch to get an hour back from the extra hour spent at a meeting. Or I might be sent home 2 hours early one day that week. All this work is all just showing up. Doing a good job is extra. Make the lessons fun and engaging, get the students excited about school and learning and then keep them that way, evaluate whether the material is sinking in beyond short term memory, earn the trust and respect of the students and their parents, the other teachers, and the administration, set boundaries, have fair rewards and consequences, know the students, love the students, invest yourself in their success.
I show up. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. I do my best every day. Every day I try to do better than I did yesterday. I learn from failures and successes. I am not perfect. I am invested.
$11.00 an hour. Before taxes.
I am 23. I just graduated from a prestigious four year liberal college 1.5 years ago. I am engaged and co-habitating. We rent a home. We care for 4 pets.
The insurance plan my employer offers me would cost me more per paycheck than I pay on my car payment per MONTH. I would pay more than half what I pay in rent per month on insurance alone. Suffice it to say, that simply is not feasible. Luckily, I am still covered by my mother’s insurance plan, which is significantly cheaper and has far better coverage. But only for 3 more years. Even more upsetting is my sick leave. Or, more accurately, my lack of sick leave. In case it wasn’t clear when I laid out my vacation time, if I take a day off or even a partial day off, it is not compensated. So, if I get sick and need to stay home or even if I need to take a morning or afternoon to see a doctor, I will not be paid for any time missed unless I specifically ask for it to be taken out of my vacation days ahead of time. Just so we’re clear, this means that no matter how sick I am, if I can stand or walk and see and breathe simultaneously, I will be at work teaching my kids. Does this sound like a good idea to you? Does it sound like protecting the children’s well-being to you? Didn’t think so. But, please, enlighten me what you would do if you were living paycheck to paycheck and the $88 you would lose from taking that the day off would mean the difference between making a car payment or rent and not. Tell me what you would have me do if I lost my car (and thus my only way to get to work) or was evicted because I took time off work to protect the children from my illness. So, I cough into my sleeve, I wash and sanitize my hands incessantly, I keep my face away from them, I remind them to wash their hands constantly, I sanitize surfaces and toys. And I hope their parents are in a better position than I am, so that they can go to the doctor when they need to, they can stay home if they need to, and they won’t have to worry about what will come up short because of it. Does this make any sense to you? Me neither.
Now, in the lovely right to work state I live in, there are no unions or organized labor. The benefit for me is that I am not contracted to stay in my position, I could leave at any time. But I like my work. I like what I do. I do not like the lack of compensation and benefits. I don’t want to leave. I want to be able to support a family with my job. I don’t know how to get these things. In Chicago, the teachers union went on strike. Even if there was a union, I wouldn’t be involved because, on top of being in a right to work state, I am in a private, for-profit school. So, what am I to do? The administration does not seem to find any of this unreasonable. In fact, they seem to find it unreasonable of me to expect more, or different. I am not complaining. I am stating facts. I am opening doors that are supposed to remain closed. This is not ok. This is not what’s best. This is not the way to educate children.
Would you work under these conditions, given the choice? Would you want the person responsible for your children in this position? What will you do about it?