A day off? Yeah, right

Did you have a “day off” today because of the teacher strike? Yeah, me too. I had other stuff planned, like work, and errands, and organising my tax stuff, and a doctor appointment I keep having to reschedule, and, and, and. My to-do list never ends. But instead I had a “day off” with my kids while the teachers had a “day off” too. Except it wasn’t a day off for any of us, was it?

A little while back I was driving somewhere and my radio station somehow landed on, horror of horrors, a talkback station. And I listened in fascination and disgust as Joe Public bleated on about how teachers have four months of the year off and finish at 3pm and have the easiest job ever.

I’m sure my facial expression was memeworthy as it veered between “Hahahahahahahaha” and “Back. The. Truck. Up.”

My mother is a teacher, and she never had four months of the year off. And you know what she did when she finished her school day at 3pm? She came home, made dinner, and went to her second job (because her “day job” as a teacher didn’t pay enough for our family to live on). Which she also went to during her “holidays”, except she could do more hours at her second job then, thankfully. She worked two jobs for my entire childhood and much of my adulthood, when she wasn’t prepping lesson plans, making classroom resources from scratch, doing endless paperwork and admin, and going to professional development classes. And trying to think of ways to help the students who were struggling, or had behaviour issues, or mental health problems, or parents who had separated, or were being abused.

The easiest job ever? I disagree. I disagree because I witnessed my mother’s lifetime of stress, difficulty, long hours, challenging students (and parents), paperwork that only multiplied over the years, working a second job just to stay afloat, buying her classroom supplies because the budget was never going to cover what her students needed. You know what she did the last time she took a sick day? She worked on paperwork all day. While sick. Because the paperwork was due and there was no one else to do it.

I also disagree that teaching is an easy job because I tried my hand at teaching, myself. In fact, I went through a student teaching experience during uni where, instead of grading my students’ essays, I started editing them. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to have to ring my mother from the uni hall and tell her that I was changing my course of study. “I knew you weren’t cut out to be a teacher,” she told me, not unkindly. “But you needed to find that out for yourself.”

I’m not cut out to be a teacher. My mother is. That’s why days like today aren’t a “day off”, for either parents or teachers. While parents are inconvenienced looking after their kids or scrambling to find childcare for the day, teachers are in a fight for their profession. For equitable pay. For better conditions. For support. For resources. For manageable class sizes. For enough money to be able to live on, particularly in areas where the cost of housing is disproportionate to income levels.

My mother is retiring from teaching this year. She’s been going through boxes of the teaching resources and lesson plans she’s crafted throughout her almost-50-year teaching career. “I don’t know what to do with it,” she told me sadly. “Things change so fast; the curriculum is always being updated. Some of this stuff is taught differently now. I can give some things to the other teachers, but…”

I changed the subject. “What do you think you want to do when you finally retire from teaching?”

“I’ll have to get a part-time job,” she replied. “Remember, old teachers never die, they just lose their class.”

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