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Tired of Being a Sucker

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“There’s a sucker born every minute,” and I am that sucker.

Though normally a calm, peace-loving and conflict-avoiding woman, I have been angry for four solid months. After more than 34 years of teaching, I have come to realize that I am a sucker—and I am very unhappy.

I have spent my whole teaching life giving and giving and giving—in the guise of being a “professional”—and I just may have reached my limit. The budget-cut roulette wheel ball has landed on my position as an easy one to play with, and the powers that be have suggested that tech teachers (School-Based Technology Specialists) need to take $7000 pay cuts for the upcoming school year. This cut, lumped on no pay raise for the previous two years, makes me just plain angry.

“These are tough times,” you say.

“Be thankful you have a job,” you say.

I know, I know. But I’ve been a sucker too long. I am tired of doing all the extra things I do for no pay when others in my position do nothing extra for the same salary. I’m tired of parents who think that all of my before and after school and weekend time belongs to their children. I am just plain tired of being taken advantage of.

This year alone I planned and ran eight GEMS Club sessions for 42 5th and 6th grade girls and six sessions for 22 younger girls. I sponsored year-long Lego League and Junior Lego League teams and two 10-week robotics sessions, supervised four weeks of student-led video game making, planned and taught 20 weeks of strategy-lab sessions for K-2 students, and ran eight weeks of a Rubik’s Cube club. All this was before and after school—my time. In addition, I invited 44 5th and 6th graders into my Design and Engineering Lab to explore technology and engineering two hours every day at lunch, freeing up the lunch and recess monitors. Never a lunch alone. For no compensation.

During the past school year, I purchased over $700 worth of unreimbursed books, software, roller coaster parts, and replacement Lego Robotics pieces for my lab. I spent my evenings and weekends producing and editing 28 videos for teacher and school use, on my own time and using my own equipment. I wrote and received three grants netting $2500 for additional supplies. For no compensation.

The tech teacher in the neighboring school comes in at 8:15, takes a one-hour lunch daily out of the building, and spends the rest of his day in his office processing repair requests. We are paid the same. I am a sucker.

“But that’s the mark of a professional,” you say. Ha!

I think about other professionals, and I think about their pay structures.

My doctors and dentists have raised their rates each year.

Our accountant charges us more for our taxes each year.

And lawyers? Three little words: billable hours, baby! Oh, if I could have billable hours.

Wikipedia tells me: “A professional is a member of a vocation founded upon specialized educational training. The word professional traditionally means a person who has obtained a degree in a professional field. … Less technically, it may also refer to a person having impressive competence in a particular activity.”

I meet those qualifications, for sure. I also have a master’s degree, more than 60 university credit hours past that degree, certification in four instructional areas, my National Board certification, and so much professional development under my belt I can no longer keep track.

My Demands

“But There Are Rewards!”, You Say

Yes, there are rewards. They used to be enough. I get little handmade cards at Christmas and candy during Teacher Appreciation Week. I get hugs and greetings and off-hand comments from the older kids about how cool I am. I get shouts of “That’s not fair!” when I close Lab Lunch for a mandatory meeting. But it is not enough anymore. This is what I want:

• A cost-of-living raise each year to offset the increased payments that I, like everyone else, make for food, gas, taxes, etc.

• A merit increase for exceptional work.

• Reimbursement for supplies/equipment I deem necessary to support the programs that are so vital to turning out the scientists and engineers (my goal in life).

• Payment for extra hours spent conducting before- and after-school club sessions.

Is it too much to ask? Of course. I am a sucker.

Teachers get paid the same whether we are over-achievers or barely meeting expectations. My older daughter sells medical supplies and equipment—the harder she works, the more money she makes. My younger daughter is a newly-minted government contractor, receiving a 6 percent raise after one year. My wonderful husband receives yearly bonuses based on the success of the corporation he works for. But I, as the sucker, slip down the income ladder every year by spending my own money and losing the inflation battle. “Professional,” huh?

I don’t feel as though I am being treated professionally anymore. And I have to make some decisions.

I can stop buying extra fun toys/parts/books for the lab unless I am guaranteed reimbursement. (Fat chance there, sucker!).

I can initiate participation fees for all of my extra-curricular clubs (never ever done in this school, but common in many others).

I can just stop doing all of this stuff and see if anyone notices.

Or, I can come to grips with my over-wrought self and continue to be the sucker that I am. I don’t know.

OK, So I Love It. . .

I will admit it—I love my job and I love the kids I work with. I love having them in the lab at lunch. I love seeing them figure out how to create cool things with Legos, K’nex or different computer programs. I love my little group of 6th grade boys who come every day this year—the ones who will become the nerds of the middle school, but who will try any computer program I throw at them because they just love to learn.

I am a sucker for other things too—for smiles and finger-waves from the kindergartners as they walk down the hallway trying to be quiet, for impromptu meetings of the Jr. Lego League parents as we plan an event for the kids while I am on bus duty, for finding just the right background music for the collaboration movie I made for my principal—the one she asked me to make in under a week, but which brought a couple of people to tears as they watched it.

I can’t give up these things—the kids and I love them too much. How can I stop doing robotics, even though it means I spend weeks on my living room floor re-assembling robot kits after the sessions are over? How can I not do GEMS? I started that for my own daughter and it has brought me a whole raft of opportunities and friends. How can I not do Lab Lunch—I would sit alone in my room while kids are squashed in the cafeteria? What excuse would I have to try out beta software or buy more Legos or K’nex sets?

I refuse to become the tech teacher in the neighboring school. In the end I have to live with myself, and be happy with the job I am doing, even though I never will be paid what I am worth.

Thanks. I just needed to get that said. And I want to ask a question: What would you do?

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