Give Generously

I got my back to school letter today. You know, the one where the superintendent tells us how excited he is to start the new school year and just how spectacular this year is going to be. I, meanwhile, am skimming the contents of the letter with exactly two questions on my mind:

  1. What time do I have to show up to the first meeting?
  2. Will there be coffee?

(By the way, the two answers are “slightly before the asscrack of dawn” and “yes,” the latter by reason of the former.)

Then I continued reading to find that our district’s student scholarship fund was growing. Awesome. And that faculty and staff were being asked to contribute via voluntary payroll deduction. Less awesome.

First, it’s not that I don’t want to contribute to a scholarship fund. I mean, scholarships! Because college! For a manageable amount of money! Exclamation point! Having spent the summer helping a student navigate the college admissions, financial aid, and placement process and seeing just how daunting it can be for a first-in-family college student, I get it.

Dollarnote hq

But I also get it in the context of just how much I will be asked to contribute — monetarily — to other athletic teams, “safe neighborhood” after school programs, college visitation field trips, language and reading enrichment tutoring, and other worthy causes. There will be dozens of people asking me for hundreds of dollars (if not more) throughout the school year, most of them students.

It breaks my heart every time I say no to a student.

Though the scholarship cause is worthy — perhaps one I’d choose to prioritize among others — the way it was presented sort of has me rankled. Because I wasn’t asked by a student. I was asked by someone who makes approximately 5 times what I do in a year, someone who had a hand in reducing my new salary by several hundred dollars, to be more, to do more, to give more. And I’m being asked when I’m very close to having no more to give.

Earlier this summer, I was at a professional conference, and a similar event happened. The head of the educational consulting company organizing the training was setting up a scholarship fund. And yes, scholarship funds are good, noble, necessary things. If for some reason I die with no descendants (likely) and a surplus of money (unlikely), an educational scholarship fund is one of my first choices for my bequeathed income. But having someone who — in this case — makes nearly 10 times what I do ask me to pledge additional monies that I do not have? It isn’t right.

Let’s talk about giving by example, if you please.

I love my job. All the things — the chaotic things, the recalcitrant things, the “my hormones are eating brain cells” things, the “I thought it would look cool, but I was wrong” things, the “I hate you and you’re the meanest teacher ever because you make me think” things — that happen throughout my school day, I love them and I can work with them into infinity (or at least until retirement age). But the outside political pressures, where I’m constantly being asked — and sometimes demanded — to do more, be more, give more with less?

If you want good teachers, give generously to help meet those needs.

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5 comments on “Give Generously
  1. Jessie E. says:

    This is something that I struggle with. I work for a non profit that runs a number of programs (maybe 30?). I work for one small program. I make a small salary. And we are all constantly asked to donate. Donate money to the organization that funds our jobs. Donate blood. Donate goods.

    On the one hand it makes sense. We are all there because we care about what the organization does. On the other hand, why am I being asked to pay for my own damn job? I work hard, I give my all, and I do it for not too much pay. I do it for no room for advancement. And don’t get me wrong, I am grateful as all hell to have a job, and to have my specific job.

    But on the other hand…I don’t get it. Why are those of us who are already giving so much constantly being asked to give more. Is it not enough that I give my sweat and tears? Is it not enough that I went into debt to get a masters degree so I could take this low paying job? Do I have to give my blood too? And give my money back to the folks who gave it to me, so it can cycle through the grant-giving channels and (hopefully) make it back to fund me for another year?) Why, when there are so many others who have so much more to give, and who are already giving so little?

    The answers are hard though. I don’t know how much giving is “enough.” I know that the folks I serve still have far less than I do. I know that I’m still among the immensely privileged. I know that there are plenty of folks out there who don’t give a fuck, and that those of us who do better step up if we want to see any good take place. I know I want to operate from a place of love and generosity. I also know that I need to keep some things for myself…I know that without vacation, without a home that is a bit of a sanctuary, without comfort at the end of the day, I couldn’t give like I do.

    • Tori says:

      I know that the folks I serve still have far less than I do. I know that I’m still among the immensely privileged.

      This is true for me as well and why it’s far easier for me to want to give — where the emotional impulse is greater, even if the numbers in my bank account don’t make it any more feasible — when a student or another teacher asks me to make some sort of monetary donation. And actually, I feel like folks in these categories are far more understanding when I say, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t this time.” For whatever reason — okay, no, I think for the very specific reason that people who make 5-10 times what I do in a year do not have the same kinds of financial difficulties, pure and simple — upper level administrators and educational consultants seem almost judge-y when I’m anything less than enthusiastic to be giving away money I do not actually have. Because, apparently, wanting enough money to afford driving to school makes me a bad teacher.

      I know that there are plenty of folks out there who don’t give a fuck, and that those of us who do better step up if we want to see any good take place.

      And I wonder what happens when these types of folks — the ones who don’t give a fuck — are in positions of power over my school and my profession.

      • Jess says:

        Yes. Without going into too much detail, my father is also a teacher, at a small private school for troubled kids that has been in serious financial trouble for the past year or so. Like, “we might have to close down” kind of trouble. The teachers at this school have been incredible…made many sacrifices, including giving up unholy amounts of pay. (And of course they don’t make much in the first place.) The administration though…seems to just not get it. Its astonishing and sickening, the way they fail to demonstrate any understanding of ideas like the school existing for the good of the children, or the concept of treating your teachers well, since they have made great sacrifices and since they are the ones who make the school what it is in the first place. Its really disheartening. :/

  2. R. H. Ward says:

    My mom is a schoolteacher in PA in an underprivileged area and constantly experiences exactly this problem. Teachers in her middle school are always giving – new athletic team uniforms, the school lunch program, the field trips – and she always ponies up. And she gets that thrown back in her face when the administrators want teachers to donate even more. Her principal once said on an in-service day that the teachers aren’t involved enough. The fact that you’re even there is a huge level of commitment! My mom drives an hour to her job, she can’t stay late or do weekend stuff, so she does what she can. And they got hit with pay cuts and cuts to health insurance too. It’s crazy and it doesn’t make sense.

    • Tori says:

      We’ve done the pay cuts this year too. (Last year we did furlough days, which are tantamount to pay cuts, and the past two years we’ve done reductions in force, which are just plain miserable.) And you know, if The Powers That Be had framed it in terms of, “We are sorry, but this is the budget. We know it sucks, but we don’t know where else we can cut” — after having cut admin salaries, which they did not — I would have been fine with it.

      But what they did is to reduce our contract period by 5 days, pay us for 5 fewer days, and frame it as, “Isn’t it great that you don’t have to work as many days! And it’s not really a pay reduction at all!” Even pretending that I wanted 5 fewer working days in my year, they haven’t reduced the amount of work I’m supposed to do at all. They’ve just given me less time to do it in — and for less money.

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