Lately, I’ve been hearing words I’ve never heard before. That’s not to say that they didn’t exist or were not used before. They did, and they were. But they weren’t a part of my consciousness and I’m guessing were not part of the general public’s awareness because I really don’t think they were all that common.
So let’s take a look…
Furlough. Dictionary.com defines a “furlough” as: a usually temporary layoff from work
I first encountered this term a few months ago when some friends were over for dinner. One who works for the local newspaper told us he would be free for the next week because he would be on furlough. He said it so casually, as if it were a sabbatical or a vacation or something. I was shocked to learn that our local paper was forcing everyone on their staff to take a one week unpaid vacation. Not all at the same time, mind you. Newspapers would still be delivered to every customer’s front door step without interruption. I would have never known about this if it weren’t for my friend. To this day, I’m still shocked. I understand times are tough and money is tight, but I can’t believe they are that tight. It used to be that full time employees had some sort of paid vacation time scheduled into their contracts.
Ah, contracts…another term that has quickly faded out of fashion. I’ll get back to that in a bit. But first, let’s take a look at another term.
Externship. Dictionary.com defines an “externship” as: a required period of supervised practice done off campus or away from one’s affiliated institution.
Another friend of mine is presently searching for an externship. She’s paid the university an exorbitant amount of money in tuition and understands that it is their practice to require students to complete an externship instead of a paid internship. Way back when I completed my undergrad program in teaching, we had a choice: one semester of unpaid student teaching, alongside a qualified and experienced teacher or a one semester paid internship teaching on one’s own with regularly scheduled supervision. I don’t really have a problem with externships per se. What I have a problem with is that her institution is not providing adequate help or placement opportunities for the number of students completing their program.
The overall problem I have with both furloughs and externships is the underlying causes. Our state says we have no money. Many states say they have no money. But that’s not true. The money is there. Rainy day accounts have been set up all over the place. Our local paper ran a story about one nearby municipality that had a rainy day account. You see, it’s really more about how those at the top are deciding to spend the money that is there. And they’re not spreading it out among their employees.
Instead, unions are being busted, contracts voided, senior employees forced into early retirement. This is what’s wrong with our world. People are being fired to make way for less expensive younger employees. Workers are being provided with inferior health care at higher personal expense. City workers are having their salaries lowered to minimum wage. People are being hired as part time employees so businesses don’t have to provide any health care at all. That is what’s wrong with our world.
Seven years ago, my husband was hired to fix computers. He drove all over the state replacing hardware for people who held warranties on their computers. His salary wasn’t great, but it was okay, and he was paid for mileage as well. That first Christmas, only five months after he’d accepted the job, the company sent us a ham. We laughed about it at the time and commented on how it was a flashback to the 50s, but you know what? We felt appreciated. Three years later, things had changed drastically. Along with everyone else in the company, my husband had received pay cuts instead of raises. No more hams arrived at Christmas. By the time we decided to have our first child, we realized that it would be better financially for my husband to stay home and become a stay-at-home dad in lieu of using his entire paycheck to pay for childcare and have someone else raise our child. At the time, my job paid better and provided insurance. We’ve never regretted him leaving that job.
Flash forward to February 2011. Scott Walker busted public unions. I marched alongside thousands of other public employees at the state capitol and in my hometown. I privately cheered when local high school students marched out of classes in protest, publicly showing support for their teachers. They marched right past the playground where my students were out at recess. This raised a great many questions. I responded by staying out of their debates. They could talk – I’ve never been one to stop open discourse – but I kept my opinions to myself and redirected them to the nightly news and their parents.
Then I wrote a letter to the editor titled, “It’s Not About the Money.” The response? I was blasted on a local radio talk show. I was held up as an example. The host said, “She says it isn’t about the money, but here’s her salary…” And you know what? He got it wrong. When I found out, I immediately called my husband and said, “You just did our taxes, did I earn x amount last year?” His response? “I wish!” To be fair, I located the website the radio announcer must have used. It was inaccurate, and he should have checked his sources. But what really made me angry was that I was described as the problem. Here’s the thing, I have not only a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s degree and a Montessori degree and, at that time, 12 years teaching experience. And I’m educating future citizens. I should have been earning a lot more!
But it truly is not about the money. Our school district supports their teachers. I believe that because in March 2011, they rushed through a two year extension on teacher contracts. That will be up at the end of this school year. Then, along with every other teacher in the state of Wisconsin, teacher contracts will be a thing of the past.
What will that look like? For one, inequality in education will reign supreme. For another, salaries have been frozen and will likely decrease. More and more work is being piled on with no extra compensation or time.
I will not allow my daughter to go to school in a state where the school system is so flawed. We will not allow that. So the night of the recall election, when Walker won and we realized that none of his decisions would be overturned, we decided to leave.
It’s not about the money. We rely on my income alone. My husband is still a stay-at-home dad who picks up odd jobs when he can. Our book sales help a little. I have taken a large salary cut to work at a private school in another state.
And I know we have made the right decision. Why? Because we’re happy, and our little girl is intelligent, inquisitive, funny, happy and independent. Responding to the things that are wrong with my world have helped to make it all right.