Thursday, November 4, 2010

How I was an Overpaid Slacker

My husband works with a number of extremely outspoken social and political conservatives.  One day he came home and shared that he’d been informed my colleagues and I were being overpaid.
My first reaction was, “Say WHAT?”  At the time, I was working in an urban high school for less than $30,000 a year.  I was routinely putting in 50-60-hour weeks, between contracted work hours and additional time spent communicating with parents, making lesson plans, and grading student assignments.  Somehow, I did not feel overpaid.
“It’s all that vacation time you get,” he informed me, taking his co-workers’ line.
“You mean those ten weeks in the summer, when I need to pick up some credit hours to get a raise?” I asked, thinking that two months of graduate studies hardly equated with lounging on the beach, in terms of a “vacation.”
“Of course,” he said.  “And all those ‘school improvement’ days.”
“But I’m working then.  We’re having meetings.”
He shrugged.  “The kids aren’t there—how hard can it be?  And how about that short workday?  You get paid way more per hour than most people.”
“Five a.m. to midnight is ‘short?’” I asked, thinking of my past week.
“No, you just choose to do all that extra work.  Classes only run from eight to three.”
My head began to hurt.  “I can’t write lesson plans or grade papers during class.”
“You can do all that stuff on your plan period.”
“The same plan period they fill up with ‘voluntary’ hall duty?  Where do they get this stuff?  By the way, I helped break up a fight during hall duty, today.”  It had been between two very large juniors.  They’d have made great linebackers, if they’d had clean enough records to make the team.
“You can’t fool my co-workers.  They know you’re really just sitting up in the teachers’ lounge, gossiping and eating cupcakes on your plan period.  Besides, your job is less risky than that of other professionals.”
“Really?  Less risky, how?”  I was still thinking about those two juniors.
“Sure, with tenure and all, you can’t be fired.”
“I don’t have tenure.  Anyway, tenure just means they’d have to give me due process before firing me.”
“No, you’re set, because your union is too strong.”
I squeezed my eyes shut.  “They really believe all this, don’t they?”
“Oh, yes—another way you’re overpaid is your health care benefits and retirement.  They should be factored into any discussion of your pay.”
“But why?  You also have health care and retirement benefits, thank God.  So do they.  Should we figure those things into their pay?  Are they ‘overpaid,’ too?” 
“No, we shouldn’t.  That wouldn’t be fair, you see.  And actually, they’re underpaid, not overpaid.  They do hard, important work.”
“I’d like to see them give my job a try!” 
He shook his head.  “Besides, you teach art.  Everybody knows that’s a fluff class.  Next round of budget cuts, they really should consider not funding it.” 
This conversation happened in 2003.  We had a rather uneasy laugh about it, and I got back to my lesson planning.  It’s probably just as well we couldn’t see into the future.