Sunday, March 29, 2015

sol15 #29: a slice of my (past) life

Yesterday, I had brunch with some of my old coworkers, including my principal. The other 2 teachers do not teach at that school anymore, but my old principal is still there. As we were catching up, my principal began filling us in on the state of her school. She started talking about the teacher turnover rate (something that has plagued that school for many years now), but instead of teachers leaving after one year, many are now leaving in the middle of the school year. The work day isn't easy by any means, and the salary averages out to less than minimum wage for an 8 hour work day, although most teachers are there for 12.

You see, this school is a diamond in the rough. A private school in West Englewood, a neighborhood where gangs, violence, and drugs are the norm. However, when you walk in, the colorful walls and artwork greet you, and you immediately hear children laughing, singing, and talking about their learning. Every classroom door was kept open, an invitation to come in and see the wonderful things taking place. I worked there for four amazing, tough years, but it was time to move on. I was getting married and we wanted to buy a house, I also got my reading specialist degree, and wanted to pursue a position in that, something my old school didn't offer.

A day in my past life consisted of getting to school by 7 a.m. and eating breakfast with my kids beginning at 7:25. This was one of my favorite parts of the day because it was a time for us to converse and start our day on a positive tone. We walked up the stairs to start our day at 7:50 and spent the majority of it working on reading, math, and writing until 3:00. Our students had three 30- minute specials each week (gym, music, and Spanish), and most of the time teachers had to stay with their class. Lunch was 20 minutes, and our students spent their recess with us as well, since there were no supervisors. After the bell rang at 3:00, we would spend until 3:30, dismissing some students to go home, but most stayed in our extended day area for a couple hours after school. We would eat snack and help get them transitioned. After 3:30, my time would be spent teaching dance, planning one of our many shows that the students put on, mentoring new teachers, and/or attending staff meetings which were held weekly until 4:30. Most days, I didn't even get to sit down and prep for the next day until 4:45 or so. Phew. Private schools don't have unions, therefore, there was no "rule" stating we needed a certain amount of prep time, nor did we get paid for any additional extra-currculars we took on. (I feel mighty lucky to be given this at my current position!)

I'll never forget when my principal interviewed me for this position and said over and over that this wasn't a job, it was a mission. Boy, was she right. I don't think many she interviews now realize this, and that is why some are leaving after a few months or a year. I know that teaching isn't about the money, but at some point the $750 paycheck every two weeks isn't going to cut it. Public or private, teachers are teachers. Why can't there be a set salary for teachers everywhere, one that is more equal and fair between teachers of public schools and teachers of private schools?



4 comments:

  1. Wow ! Makes me really grateful to work where I work and be part of a union. I can't believe you spent that amount of time with the students and had such little prep time. Sounds impossible to do and keep any semblance of an outside life. I think teaching often attracts people who are also family-minded and want a quality of life in order to be a present parent or partner. I agree with you that there should be a respectable salary and reasonable hours for all educators, no matter where they work. It sounds like an amazing school but one that would cause serious burn-out.

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  2. Wow ! Makes me really grateful to work where I work and be part of a union. I can't believe you spent that amount of time with the students and had such little prep time. Sounds impossible to do and keep any semblance of an outside life. I think teaching often attracts people who are also family-minded and want a quality of life in order to be a present parent or partner. I agree with you that there should be a respectable salary and reasonable hours for all educators, no matter where they work. It sounds like an amazing school but one that would cause serious burn-out.

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  3. You had long workdays, but a huge impact on your kids. I can tell just by the way you wrote about breakfast time alongside them. Many teachers wouldn't relish that, but you did. And that says so much about you. Wow.

    And, yes, the pay gap for what teachers really put in (in terms of hours) is ridiculous. No teacher works 6.75 hours/day!

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  4. That sounds exactly like my experience working at an inner city charter in Baton Rouge. The no union thing really makes a difference, and I didn't realize it until I had that experience to compare to working in public schools in Illinois. Even if your heart is in a job like that, as mine was, I don't know if there's any way NOT to get burnt out. I know my old school stays afloat because of TFA. It guarantees new, bright-eyed teachers each year, who are held to a 2-year contract. And since most of them are moving to the assignment, they have no friends or family to spend free time with, so they're happy to give all of their efforts to school. But I think this is also why many of them leave as soon as they can.

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