I would like to begin this blog by saying that I do not usually blog this frequently. But today I met a bunch of ladies that I love in the clock-room of our school so that we could do the now mandatory clocking that the school system has us do in order that we might not waste their time and money. When they started the clock system several years ago, I was so incensed with the situation that I reacted by using my middle finger as the identity print. That way every day can give the clock my middle finger.
Here’s why. There really isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t start work early or end it late. There are times I stop to pick up something for the classroom on my way into work, and there are times that after clocking out I go back to the classroom to do some clean-up. I’m not supposed to mention any of this because you aren’t supposed to work off the clock, but working with children isn’t exactly a clock-able situation. Children require time that at the moment is costing our state government too much money–they say.
Beginning two years ago our hours were cut to 37.5 and our teacher work days taken from us. That used to be the time allotted teachers and assistants to get the classroom cleaned and ready for children. Now just teachers do this work and it is especially evident in the first weeks of school when the preparatory work we used to do in support of our teachers usually doesn’t happen. We come to school on the first day and begin doing all the work we used to do before school opened. It leaves us frankly all trying to catch our collective breath, but this is what the state says it can afford, so this is what we do.
Today I stood in the clock room talking to the ladies who have, for all Intents and purposes become my daily bread. There’s Leslie, who loves to dance and laugh, and Jocelyn who motivates us and writes our theme songs. There’s Heather, my go to human when I’m having a hard day. There’s Janet who talks straight and Barb who organizes us and Lori who makes us laugh and Cyndi who entertains. There are so many of us I’m not naming and these are my ladies. We put in the work and the time every day. We are there in the classroom doing good work; classroom management, reading with struggling children, helping with projects and research, settling disputes, showing kindness and most importantly loving–is that educationally appropriate? I don’t know but I do it every day. 37.5 hours per week is what we’re allotted to do this, with no teacher work days and a pay cut two years ago so CMS could save some, not all, of our jobs.
Yesterday we celebrated that one of these ladies, Charlotte, the woman at our school who knows more than the rest of us about botany, became a certified nc nature instructor. She’s been going to weekend classes forever because she’s passionate about her work. She takes children on daily walks to show them about the planet…the dirt, the trees, our edible plants, and more indirectly, the dust from which we came, to which we go. Charlotte shows us all (especially children) the Wonderland in which we live. She also makes the important safety distinction between the safe and poisonous snakes we encounter on our playground. One afternoon during our recess, she and Leslie did a snake dance, bagged a family of copper heads and got them safely to the creek on the green way without a single casualty.
My job in the classroom is support. I love my job. I support my teacher Ann, and I support the children of our classroom, who each spend 3 years with us. I spent one three year period supporting a child who sometimes ran away and had anger issues. During that same 3 year period I supported a child on the spectrum. I did listening and talking, and at times when nothing could be solved with words, I simply provided my presence. And I’m no superhero. I’m just one of a group of ladies who do this work every day. We do it with passion and loyalty because it is needed. Even though the state government doesn’t really think so. They believe that the teachers we support should really be able to do it alone, what with all the testing, IEPs, PEPs, 504s and paperwork. The endless meetings and more paperwork. The state would lead us all to believe that our children don’t really need our time, but testing, electronic gadgets and a long paper trail. Human interactions? Meh.
Today I stood in the clock room and I looked around at these terrific women and I said, “Yesterday I looked at my w-2 forms and I did my taxes and for the first time ever, I made less than last year. Did that happen for anyone else?” This year, for the first time in years, I did not earn 20,000. Truth be told, I earned less than 19 k for a job I value. I am a single mom, not on government assistance of any kind, raising a daughter who needs to start college in the fall. I am lucky enough to pick up summer work and various other gigs when I can, but I admit I was stunned by my w-2. I’ve worked loyally for the school system for 12 years now. I do good work and am happy with my job. I just don’t know how much longer I can afford to do it.
A few months ago, I was struggling financially and my daughter and I were in the kitchen making dinner. I was explaining, as I’ve done a lot this year, why we were having a hard time. I said, “I think I may need to quit my job and find something else.” She looked a me so faithfully, with so much love that I’m not sure it’s possible she’s only seventeen, and she said to me, “Mom, you can’t quit your job you love your work. I make my own money now and can afford my own clothes. Please don’t stop working at Park Road.” This year is the first time I’ve ever wanted to do that. It’s the first time I’ve ever balked at making ends meet and the sacrifices we, the assistants of PRM (and other schools in our district and state) are making every day.