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'Working For the Children' Doesn't Mean 'Work For Free'


Dave Arnold

Many schools across the country were built in the early 20th century, before air-conditioning. Brownstown Elementary School where I work is one of those.

To this day, we cope with heat and humidity by turning on fans, openning windows and thinking cool thoughts.

This year, I took it upon myself to report early each morning and open all windows and turn on all fans in every classroom before beginning my normal work schedule.

A substitute teacher met me in the middle of the day recently and thanked me for my efforts. She then told me that a former principal once told her that everything we do at school we do for the children, for they come first.

Most teachers and education support professionals (ESP) I know love children. But would they work for free just because it's "for the children." I doubt it.

Bills and Budgets

Yes, the children must come first, but teachers and ESPs must also keep in mind that we have bills to pay, families to support, and ourselves to sustain. We cannot do everything for the children without some compensation.

Funny thing -- superintendents and school boards probably love children too. But they can't do everything for the children either. They must work within a budget

They receive a certain amount of funding from the local government, state government, and federal government. The amounts of funding and percentages of funding from each entity will vary each year and can't be predicted or relied upon. Yet, they must formulate a budget on which the school can operate. The biggest portion of that budget will generally be the employee's salary.

Mind Games

As state and local Association members negotiate contracts, we must consider the employer's ability to meet our request as well their ability to meet other aspects of the budget. However, be careful not to fall victim to some of the mind games that negotiators will often play. School administrators, board members, and their negotiators will often tug at our heartstrings by saying, "you must do this for the children."

No, we mustn't. You should not have to take a cut in salary, "for the children." You should expect a living wage and reasonable benefits for the work you do at school. You should not have to endure any unreasonable hardships. See Dave's View, "Time of Your Life ."

The Hardship Factor

Yes, I give up a little of my time every day by opening windows and turning on fans, but that does not cause me hardship. Plus, I'm not the only ESP that does a little extra for the children without being compensated. I believe that every school has individuals who do more than their job description requires of them.

For example, every December, James Moschenrose works weekends and evenings setting up a miniature Christmas village complete with model trains, buildings, people, and a miniature school. James is the head custodian at Effingham Central School in Effingham, Illinois. He could have retired a few years ago, but wouldn't think of it.

Being Human

He told his family that a retired life without the students wouldn't be his idea of living. Several former students have told the Effingham Daily News that some of their fondest memories of school were of Mr. Moschenrose and his Christmas village.

Most ESPs do a little extra "for the children." We don't get paid for it, not even in the form of a thank you note. But it makes us a little more human. Still, do not fall in the trap of having an administrator take advantage of your generous nature and talk you into volunteering extra time "for the children."

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at dparnold@csuol.com.)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.


Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns by clicking here.