Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's Never About the Money

Two recent events, one national news (the Chicago teachers' strike) and one a local issue, have got me thinking about money. Besides my normal personal financial worries, I don't usually think about money on a professional level. In some ways, because I believe in fairness, parity, and solidarity, I've felt rather forced into thinking about salaries and benefits and other moneyish things these past few weeks. And I am both bothered and sad.

That's because, in this profession (in nearly every profession, right?), we're not in it for the money. We don't stay in it for the money. Some of us leave it under the pretense of (lack of) money, but most of us are here despite the money. Granted, I work in the state with the highest teachers' average salaries. Still, those salaries don't come close to matching the salaries or potential salaries for other professions with similar degree requirements. So when education critics complain about our high salaries, or when the focus of a walkout turns to what Chicago teachers make, or when anyone questions the teachers' (or in my case, my local union's) motives for demanding a fair deal, two things happen to me: I get my back up, and I get down.

The best way to combat these feelings (for I can only control how I feel; I certainly cannot control anyone else's emotions) is to make a list of why we are here, and what does motivate us:

  • The kids. The ones who struggle and the ones who soar. The ones with the newest technological devices and the ones who come to school in too-tight sneaks and dirty hair. The ones who pay close attention, the ones who can't pay attention, and the ones who refuse to pay attention.  The ones who appreciate us now, and the ones who will only appreciate us later. The athletes, the artists, the talkers, the thinkers. Those on the edges and those firmly grounded in the center. Those with baggage and those who think baggage is what you take on a vacation to Cancun. First, foremost, and always, it's about the kids. 
  • The collegiality. Our work wouldn't be nearly as meaningful if we didn't, or couldn't, share it with our peers. We, veterans and rookies, learn from each other about classroom management, websites and apps, supplemental texts and new studies, and the kids. Again, and again, it's about the kids.
  • The discipline. Not discipline as in self- or how-to, but the subject area that intrigues us and powers our own interests and ambition. Scientists in the lab. Language Arts teachers reading. PE teachers moving in new ways. Library Media Specialists researching. Social workers guiding families to success. And the great thing about our jobs is that we get to do all this, share all this for, with, and because of, the kids. There they are again. Even our chosen areas of study, in the end it's about the kids.
Many of us started our paths to teaching long before college, when we were just young kids setting up classrooms in our basements and quizzing our unsuspecting friends on grammar and math skills. Some of us discovered a love for a subject in high school and decided to parlay that into a teaching career, perhaps because we had a teacher who saw our potential and told us so. Still others came to the profession after unfulfilling first ones elsewhere. Regardless of our myriad journeys to classroom, though, hardly any of us were thinking about how much money we could make. And those very few who did, I'd wager, no longer work among us, or shouldn't. In this profession, if you're not in for the kids, you're not in it. 

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