Would you do it for free?

Our union building rep (BR) brought us reports and advice for dealing with our new not-a-contract Handbook. One piece of advice: do not, under any circumstances, use our own personal funds to buy supplies. If we even need something as small as a pencil, we are not to bring it from home or buy it ourselves.

So today I sent myself an email. Of course I send myself emails; doesn’t everybody? I send notes from work to home to remind me to do or bring something the next day. Those emails usually look like this:

to: Me, of course
subject: BRING (in all caps, of course, so I don’t delete it)
And then the message arrives, looking more like a shopping list than a memo. Today I sent home a note that said “BRING — binder, small to medium.” 

And then I remembered. We are to bring no supplies from our own homes, buy nothing with our own money. Pencils? No problem; we have boxes of nice pencils sporting our school logo. Pens? Virtual teachers travel fairly often for standardized testing and field trips, so most of us have a collection of (oh, readers, I hear you laughing; you’re way ahead of me) hotel pens and scratch pads. Binders? I keep a box at home because Amigo uses a lot of binders for his Braille papers. Many are repurposed from Chuck’s workplace. I almost never pay money for a binder. They’re too easy to scavenge for free.

Where does this put me? I didn’t know. I probably didn’t pay any of my precious pennies for this binder, but it’s mine. All. Mine. And Amigo’s, too, if I’m totally honest. 

It’s like getting stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I BYOB (Bring My Own Binder), I send the message that it’s okay, I’ll handle this. Don’t spend the school district’s money on necessary supplies. I’ll supply the cash.

Now take the BYOB dilemma up to a higher level. It’s the guilt trip I’ve been hearing from top brass in Chicago, but it’s a guilt trip I’ve heard from fellow teachers at times, too.

“What’s best for kids?” is the question. “Do what’s right for kids,” is the answer, too. The unsaid piece, though, is this: How far will teachers go? How much will educators do without recognition, without compensation, without pay?

Some take it as a point of pride when they “ignore the contract” to organize and put on an evening event at school. Staffers who choose not to attend can be shunned at school based on the implication that they “don’t care enough.” In other settings, coming to school to work on a weekend can be a conflicting act. If a family drives by school on a dreary weekend and sees my classroom light on, they see me working overtime – for free.

And that, my friends and colleagues, is where the conflict begins. How much will teachers do for free? Is a teacher’s skill and expertise and experience worth $0 per hour? How long and how far do we go before we collapse and say, “NO MORE!” . How long can quality education last under circumstances in which the experienced and educated professionals are told, not asked, that they are worth nothing?

Chicago teachers, you have my support. Don’t ever let the big kahunas tell you that it’s “good for kids” when their teachers work for nothing.

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