Work Now, Get Paid Later — Maybe: One Teacher’s Woeful Summer Work Experience

I didn’t want to work this summer. I really just wanted to rest from a somewhat stressful school year and revitalize myself in preparation for the academic year ahead. I almost pulled it off, too, but after careful review of my budget post on my daughter’s eighteenth birthday, high school graduation, and prom, I knew that this summer I would not be able to forego working.

How could I have the best of both worlds and have ample time for relaxation while still earning some much-needed extra money? Working traditional summer school was closer to bottom of my list. Having worked such programs during the earlier part of my career, I know how physically and mentally draining they can be. The two to three weeks in between the end of summer school and the beginning of the new school year just isn’t enough time for me to simultaneously rejuvenate and prepare for the upcoming school year.

With that experiential wisdom, I decided to take a different route and  teach a two hour per-day small group summer reading program, contribute to some educational think tank initiatives, and attend intermittent paid professional development trainings. I’d earn extra money, enjoy what I was doing, have a flexible schedule, plan for the upcoming school year, finish work early enough to still enjoy the rest of my day, and overall get paid to learn and teach. It was a win-win plan — until I didn’t get paid — for any of it!

Yup, you read that correctly. To date, I haven’t received any payment for the over 40 hours of paid work that I did from the day after school ended until the third week in July. It was then that I found out, after I’d worked this substantial amount of hours, that due to an unforeseen budget-passing hold-up, I would not receive payment for my work during the summer until some indefinite time in the fall — or later!

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I invested a great deal of personal time, dedication, and money preparing for each of these summer work endeavors. To be told that I was not going to be financially compensated according to the payroll schedule was a devastating blow to not only my budget, but to my psyche as well.

Only in the teaching profession is one expected to work now and “hopefully” get paid “sometime in the future”. To add to this already messed-up situation, when I voiced my concerns to the appropriate party, I was met with shock at my expectation to get paid within two-weeks of providing a service. “When I was a teacher and worked per-session jobs [part-time work for educators within the DOE], I never expected to get paid on time. It just doesn’t happen. I usually used the money I earned over the summer to buy my kids Christmas gifts” is what I was told — by a former classroom teacher, no less. While all with whom I spoke were apologetic about the thousand-plus dollars I’d earned that was hanging in limbo, it felt like no one really gave a second-thought to how not getting paid greatly impacted  my family’s budget and plans for the summer. It’s hard to do anything or go anywhere during summer break without extra money.

If I didn’t execute a plan to stabilize my budget after the hard hits of my daughter’s senior year, that would be one thing; however, to map out a plan, work hard to earn the extra income  that my family needs in order to not only maintain but improve our quality of life, and not get paid for it — that’s just straight up disrespectful and unacceptable to any professional person — except teachers, it seems. Over and over again we are expected to work it seems merely for the love of the game without being duly or fairly compensated for our labor.

The work you do as a teacher is not valued, Vivett.

Your family’s financial needs are not important to us, Vivett.

Your expectations for professional courtesy and respect are unrealistic, Vivett.

That’s the narrative I hear when I am expected to continue working having not received a dime for my work and calmly being told my paychecks for the work I’ve done would be delayed until an indefinite time in the future. This is the narrative that too many teachers hear regularly, which is why so many teachers like me across New York and all over the United States work part-time jobs to supplement our regular income from teaching to begin with.

I know my fellow educators in Arizona feel my pain. I read this article today and according to Misty C. Arthur, executive director of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, it’s extremely common for educators to have multiple sources of income. A majority of the teachers she knows personally have second jobs, ranging from teaching summer school to picking up shifts at Target during the school year. It’s a constant topic of conversation among educators.

Clearly, something is seriously awry with this narrative. How do we, as members of the education community, amend it — before it’s too late?

What do you think?

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