To the editors:
Whenever I talk about my first-hand experiences, hardships, trials and tribulations of working in our school district, people urge me to write an opinion piece. I decidedly avoided doing it, instead insisting that nothing good will come out of the dirty laundry vent. However, in light of the recent BOE meeting, with our teachers voicing their grievances loud and clear, I am more inclined to change my mind and speak out as well. If experience is the best teacher, then maybe my recent experiences working as a substitute teacher will help inform us all.
It is not necessary to point fingers or expose specific details of everything I have witnessed or experienced, but they are hard truths; this is what I know. The administrators in each of our schools are in desperate need of support staff – paraprofessionals, meal helpers and substitute teachers every day.
As a substitute teacher, I can tell you that every day there are easily 15-20 jobs available in our district. What I can also tell you is that the students themselves desperately need more “quality” teachers, not just “qualified” teachers. By quality I mean a diversity of well-educated, well-prepared, caring and compassionate staff from a wide range of backgrounds. Something we struggle to do on any scale given our flawed priorities, which are so visibly demonstrated nationally by the meager pay score given to our teachers.
It is not just the teachers who are cruelly (dare I say criminally) underpaid. Overall, our support staff do not earn a living wage. A teenager answering the phone at a local restaurant in our village earns a higher hourly rate than a SOMSD substitute teacher. Worse yet, when I woke up the day after Labor Day without confirmation of a full-time teaching position, I resumed acting auditions while taking daily sub-assignments. The allowance I get from SAG for a pre-production Covid PCR test is more than what SOMSD pays me for a full day of work in our elementary schools. Think about it, a volunteer health worker wipes my nose for 30 seconds, I earn more, and I’m done for the day. Instead of spending the day in a classroom executing lesson plans, supporting our teachers, and engaging kids in meaningful learning. Meanwhile, our administrators struggle to find reliable competent replacements, to the detriment of our teachers and to the very real detriment of our students.
When I chose to return to teaching, looking for a full degree through the alternative route, it goes without saying that it wasn’t for the money. It would be laughable. However, I stand in solidarity with our teachers and school staff. We are on the front lines and fight the good fight to help our children every day. An immediate increase in teachers and support staff salaries is not only warranted, but should be the very first item on the agenda of the next BOE, with unanimous approval enshrined from January 2022.
Maplewood, New Jersey