Thursday, March 13, 2014

At What Cost?

This is 13 of 31 slices for the March Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Visit  Two Writing Teachers for seconds or to serve up your slice. 

A teacher stopped in to to say hello this morning on her walk from the parking lot to her room. My door was open. It was dark, not yet seven. Coffee was brewing and I was heating up some breakfast. She shared how difficult her year has been. A young mother of two children under the age of seven, she said that for the first time ever she has felt as if she has to choose between work and her family.

I don't have a lot encouraging words for my friend. She and I both acknowledge that the work on being a teacher extends being our "contract time" to use union language. I have never been able to fit lesson planning, assessment, evaluation and preparation into the 7.5 hours of the teacher's "official" (paid) work day. Before we had children the hours did not matter as much it seems. Now we face hard choices. I talked about setting boundaries, creating systems, and maintaining balance. There will always be more work to do. The work of a teacher does not end.

The cost of doing the business of teaching is high, but who is paying the price?

"You're working hard. You're barely making ends meet. You should be paid over time. Period."

That from President Obama in  Jim Zarroli's "Employers React to New Overtime Expansion" on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon. Like the hard working people who make "thirty  to thirty-five thousand dollars with managerial responsibilities" in retail--jobs so labeled managerial so as to exempt the worker from overtime laws. Teachers (and administrators) are exempt from overtime. We do what it takes to get the job done.

Can you imagine tracking actual work hours? What would count? Could we count thinking and planning time? Could we count professional learning? Could we count assessment, diagnostic or intervention work we do with our students after school hours? Could we count grading papers at our own children's sporting events or school plays? Could we count driving to meetings? Could we count going to our own students' sporting events and functions? What could be paid parts of our job?  What is "worth" it in the work of a teacher? Could we count the commute?

No, I'm sure the drive wouldn't count. That's just wishful thinking there. But in thinking about possible pay outs,  I have to acknowledge true costs of benefits my job provides:  health care, leave time and retirement. I appreciate health insurance and my schedule and possible retirement benefits. I know that according to one report, eighty-five percent of the education budget goes to payroll. Payroll costs account for the largest slice, no doubt. Still. Money matters in education.

Teachers want to matter too.

Angela Maiers says we are created for significance--teachers too.  What can I say to a mother of two children trying to choose between doing what is right for the students in her classroom and doing what is right for the children in her arms?  What can I say? You matter. It is a great message and if you have not watched Maiers deliver it, do.

Teaching (and parenting) is hard work, but it is work that matters. It is country building work. It is work that frees people. It is work that changes lives.

15 comments:

  1. I love the way you pair a conversation with a current event. I had to go part time (83%) to try to make it work, but that's not an option for everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Meg. I wonder how your school figured out that 83% is part time? It's such a unique number.

      Delete
  2. I wasn't teaching when my children were little, but even when I did start teaching and they were adolescents, it was a huge challenge. Until people truly value the work of educating and raising children, I'm afraid not much will change. By the way, I think driving time should count! I do a lot of thinking in the car, and NPR is full of inspiration, as your thoughtful post demonstrates. Thanks for sharing, LeeAnn!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Catherine. I think and drive too. I know that some do truly value the work of educating and raising children, but we come up against hard spots certain years--figuring out ways to support the mothers and teachers around us has been on my mind.

      Delete
  3. It's hard to draw the line between what counts as professional and personal. I've spend many afternoons and evenings watching soccer games with a stack of papers to grade. I am constantly looking for inspiration and ideas to share with my students. Taking part in the SOL challenge gives me ideas for teaching and makes me a better writer. I think one way to help people better understand the work teachers do when not in front of students (what many people think is our only work) is to make it public and talk about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, Kay, doing the SOL challenge, writing and participating in conversations online make me a better teacher. I agree in making our work public (transparent), but what do you do when no one is paying attention or listening? I think that's part of the challenge too.

      Delete
  4. While I have not faced the struggle of choosing school work over time with my own babies, I have watched so many of my co-workers do so. It is a tough job, and add to that the business of living life, it becomes an even more difficult balancing act. Heartbreaking almost. Thank you for voicing the pain so many of our friends face.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heartbreaking is right, Katy. Good word there.

      Delete
  5. This speaks directly to my weary heart, as you know from my post earlier this week. I often wonder how on earth it's possible to do this job with kids. Thanks so much for putting this out there! Tell your friend she is not alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, Jennifer. I'd written my conversation in the morning, found your piece that afternoon and then put mine together--you heart definitely spoke to mine too. I will share with my friend today and hope there is some encouragement.

      Delete
  6. I have regrets from my children's lives because my teaching job had such high demands... balance and boundaries were very much gray areas. Looking back, I know how I felt and why I made those decisions ... but the fact remains that teaching really isn't a family -friendly job. It is more like being a lawyer who strives for a partnership but never gets one. The hours and work loads just never become more manageable... and life passes by.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry you have regrets, Chris. I don't have regrets as such. I is valuable for our children to witness passion and hard work (as long as we can also meet their needs)--that's the crux there though. Too much work, too little family time, too much stress, all of that. I like your analogy of the lawyer striving for a partnership. It reminds me that life is now. Our choices today matter for own futures as much as they matter to our children and the students we serve.

      Delete
  7. I don't know a good answer for this, Lee Ann. when I returned to teaching, my children at least were older and I wonder about those colleagues with younger children who need to run to pick them up at pre-school or a sitter's house. How do they manage all of it? I am supposed to work part-time, but think I probably put in the 40 hours, so what does that mean for the full-time teachers? It's a challenge for balance, for letting some things on the job go. You've raised some important questions!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You were up late, Linda! I am sure you do put in the 40 hours with all you up to. I don't know a good answer for the mother teacher either, but listening and being present must be a way to start. My son is twelve now, but those early years were challenging. No easy answers here.

      Delete
  8. I read this as I am preparing to spend the weekend in my apartment working. At least in this job I feel mostly compensated for this extra work. I mean I can pay my bills. That feels nice. But, you're right, there are no easy answers on this issue. This is an important and topic and post. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete