Summer vacation is just around the corner for most of the nation’s schoolteachers. During the glory days of the teaching profession, this meant two months of lounging by a pool, naps in a shady hammock, sleeping in past 5 a.m. and even long trips to Europe. June, July, and August made teachers the envy of all other working professionals. I cannot tell a lie, the summers off certainly made up for the low pay when my young wanderlust filled soul decided to become a teacher. I graduated from college during the dot com boom days when I could work for nine months, save up enough money to travel for six months, return to America and find a new job within a week only to take off again once I saved up enough money. I was working at an adventure travel company in San Francisco when the two planes flew into the Twin Towers on 9/11. A week earlier our company had sent out the annual catalogue of adventures, our main marketing tool. Morocco was supposed to be the hot travel spot and our cover featured a very Osama bin Laden looking gentleman standing in front of a camel in the desert. Not exactly the image that would entice most Americans into booking a $5,000 trip abroad in the weeks following 9/11. Needless to say, I was let go within the month. I was the last person hired and despite what some corporate reformers would have you believe, last in first out policies exist outside of the public sector as well.
The recession, and the anti-teacher legislative policies that followed it, has turned the relaxing days of summer into a scramble for employment and government assistance for many new teachers who are greeted with their RIF papers come mid-May. For all new teachers in Florida, who will be on annual contract for perpetuity, summer time will always mean anxiety and desperation rather than relaxation and exploration.
This year all new teachers at one school in Miami were RIF-ed as soon as the state exams were over. Think of all the money the district can save by using substitutes for the remaining month of the school year! The district got rid of final exams in the name of “too much testing” and now the last few weeks of the year our schools are more reminiscent of multiplex cinemas than institutes of education. Craving some historical drama? Head on over to the social studies wing. Prefer some science fiction? Please proceed to the science classrooms. One teacher was even showing “The Hangover” according to my students. I will show a movie or two at the end of the year but it will be course relevant and certainly not include male frontal nudity! I like Bollywood movies because the kids haven’t seen them before, they can’t show nudity or even kissing, and the kids think the silly songs and dancing are hysterical. Students are burnt out and protest “We took our End of Course exam already “ if a teacher tries to assign any work.
Not only does the district save on real teacher salaries by laying off annual contract teachers, they also save in health insurance costs. I met one former elementary school teacher who was working as a nanny while she earned her nursing certification who told me every year they would lay off the new teachers at her school and they would have to get jobs at Starbucks so they could have health insurance while they waited to be rehired in August. That’s not the summer vacation I was dreaming of when I decided to become a teacher. My first summer off as a teacher I realized my salary would not provide me with any extra funds for exciting international travel. All I could afford was a 30 hour Amtrak ticket to my parents’ house instead. But the situation for new teachers has gotten progressively worse since I entered the profession, and for some, it means they can’t even afford a trip to the grocery store. The Office of Human Management was apparently so overwhelmed with laid off ten month employees (teachers) asking for employment verification letters so they could qualify for food stamps, that they sent out the following email last week:
“It has come to our attention that 10 month employees are requesting employment verification letters from the Records/Transcripts Analysis Department stating that they are not employed in the summer for the purpose of applying for benefits with the Department of Children and Families (DCF). From the large volume of requests for employment verification letters that we have received, it is apparent that individuals requesting these letters are under the assumption that they can qualify for these benefits merely by virtue of being a ten (10) month employee.
Accordingly, we are requiring that before employees submit requests for these letters, they confirm that they qualify for such benefits. In an effort to assist employees we are referencing the link that provides you with information as to the requirements for qualifying for certain benefits from DCF at http://www.dcf.state.fl.us”
This email almost made Kafkateach want to request her own letter of verification just to annoy the downtown paper pushers. Maybe the union could organize a mass letter of verification request as a sign of protest against the poor treatment of teachers by the district? Not wanting to be the one to slow down a fellow teacher’s legitimate food stamp application, maybe it’s not such a good idea. But somewhere deep in the hearts of the downtown district types making almost $200,000 a year, you would think the fact that so many teachers feel the need to apply for government assistance over the summer might send them the message that teachers are hurting financially and now that the recession is over it’s time to pony up some cash. For all of you veteran teachers lucky enough to be on continuing contract, enjoy a relaxing two months off. Hopefully it will be away from children, not include working at a second job, standing in line at the Department of Children and Families or attending any unpaid professional development. Thanks for following the first year of the Kafkateach blog and may all Florida teachers receive an across the board $2500 raise in the 2013-14 school year!