Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Don't Want the World...

I graduated from college with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Psychology in 1996.

I would like to take this moment to stress how unimpressive this is - especially if you are my parents or a potential employer. All it really means is that if you want to ask me in what ways Karl Marx was not a comedian, I can tell you. Otherwise, my degree does not strike hard and fast in arming me with employable skills.

Of course, before I was a social science major, I was a math major which, if I had continued down that path, would have left me precisely in the same unemployable boat at the bachelor level, not to mention it would have put our dysfunctional little family in the most awkward position of having to explain two mathematicians in the family (which is probably one too many). But I digress.


I left college in debt, with few employable skills, and bill collectors breathing heavily down my neck. So I did what any self-respecting college grad without a barrel o' monkey laughing skills would do...I got two roommates and a job at an elementary school in a large, urban, public school district as a secretary.

And when I say "secretary", I mean I was the secretary, nurse, psychologist, social worker, nurse, nurse, nurse, mommy, and disciplinarian to 600+ squirming, screaming, children 180 days a year for five years. Don't believe that's what I did?  The district, through some archaic means of monetary distribution decided we could have 3 days a week of educated support staff. This meant we could have a nurse 3 days a week, OR a social worker 3 days a week, OR a psychologist 3 days a week, OR some combination of the 3 that equaled 3 days of educated support staff pay a week.

The school served regular neighborhood children of course. However, it was also a center placement school in our quadrant for severely emotionally disturbed children, a center placement school for severely mentally and physically challenged children, and a center placement for the self-contained highly gifted program. Additionally, our neighborhood was chock full of apartment buildings and complexes with which the Ecumenical Society had worked out several arrangements to house refugees from war-torn countries. Our English as a Second Language population included children from 84 different countries - many of them who'd never been to school and knew nothing outside of extreme poverty and fighting - speaking more than 20 languages.

I took home $10,000 a year.

For five years, I wrote late passes day after day for children whose parents couldn't manage to ever get their child to school on time, I held children throwing full on temper tantrums - who occasionally hit and bit - as we waited for a parent or guardian to come remove them from the premises, I waited patiently for late parents and sometimes the police to come escort an abandoned child home long after I was due to leave, I took alarming temperature readings of children with the flu whose parents couldn't or wouldn't take a day off work to care for their child, sending them to me instead to place ice packs on their foreheads, their necks, trying, sometimes in vain, to bring those fevers down. I was thrown up on, spit on, cursed out by parents and children alike when district policy dictated something they didn't agree with. I held the hands of children whose knees were dislocated, arms broken, keeping them lucid with jokes and songs until paramedics could arrive. I comforted those who came to school bruised from beatings and paid for lunches out of my own meager pockets for those who came to school lethargic from malnutrition.

For five years, I was a minimum wage earning angel.

And I loved it. I loved every minute of it. Contrary to popular belief, I absolutely love kids. I just don't need any of my own. Frankly, mostly because I took care of other people's kids day in and day out for five very long years. Still...I loved it. I love them.

But I couldn't afford it.

Eventually, I was given a great opportunity to move out of the elementary school and into the district's technology department. My aptitude for technology in conjunction with my exceptional people skills landed me a job with the client support team. And I jumped at the chance to make more money while expanding my technical skills.

In the first two years with DoTS, I took home more than I had during the entire five years I worked at the elementary school. My last year on the team, I made more than all of my previous school years' experience combined.

Sad fact.

I look back on that time in my life and I am A) grateful that I was able to get a job that would teach me what I needed to know to do what I do now in an environment I adored but also B) angry that the support staff - the secretaries, bus drivers, bus monitors, janitors, lunch ladies, paraprofessionals - of every single school district in the United States take back seats to the teacher's unions when negotiating pay.

Those people who take care of the basic necessities, safety and, most importantly, care FOR the safety and nurturing of children are not rewarded. They are penalized both in pay and in respect by their employers and their charges.


Last night, I'm sitting about surfing the intertube, minding my own business, when a post from a friend on G+ crosses my path...

A post about Karen Huff Klein, an elderly bus monitor in New York state, whose torment and bullying by several middle school children was filmed and posted to YouTube for all to see and to laugh at as she began to cry.

Caveat: I can't watch this entire video. I only needed 30 seconds before I, myself, started to cry.

But my friend's post wasn't really about the video.

It was about this IndieGoGo campaign - a type of crowd source funding (like kickstarter) - started by a stranger just yesterday asking people to give in hopes of sending Karen on the vacation of a lifetime in exchange for what she'd endured from these so-called children (I call them shitsnacking monsters).

The campaign organizer asked for a mere $5,000.




At the time of this writing, the campaign has raised over $400,000. In less than 36 hours. Every penny (less what IndieGoGo and the government take) of which will go to Karen.

And I'm going to cry again.

Not because I'm angry. Not because I'm sad. Not because I want to shake my fist at the unfairness of the world.

But because Karen - someone who has dedicated her life to the safety and well-being of children not her own - is being provided for in the last years of her life by tens of thousands of strangers who saw her story and said to themselves, "WHOA! That ain't RIGHT!"

All because ONE stranger said, "WHOA! That ain't RIGHT! Let me try to do something about it."

It just goes to show...

One person may not be able to change the world. BUT! With a sense of justice and compassion and a willingness to put it out there for others to see, one might just be able to change the entire life of another human being.

A human being who doesn't deserve to cry at the hands of 12-year-old boys.

I donated. Will you?


Diva said...

Donated? Did and done. If she was making $10K per year on that bus, she can not only retire now, but spend her years in near luxury.

Now let's all vote for people who want to raise the salaries of teachers and support staff, shall we?

Unknown said...

I couldn't even make myself watch that video, Jane. I work as an IA in an elementary school and I make about 10k a year myself, but no child has ever treated me like that a day in my life. I cannot imagine. I am so glad all this money has been raised for her. And I will see if Mike and I can donate some, too. Thank you for sharing this and your story. People often have no idea what is actually asked–and given!–by the men and women who work in our schools, especially the largely forgotten support staff.

Graciewilde said...

What a thoughtful post on so many levels, Jane. I will go to the personal first - hey, pay attention to how much you enjoyed that "secretary" position! Although my official title is school counselor, I am really front office , do whatever is needed person -- write those tardy slips for the parents who cannot f-ing get their kids to school on time day after day after day after day, answer the phone, put a bandaid on the blister that someone should have taken care of at home, take temps and hold wastebaskets, answer the phone, run (literally) the K who just bolted campus, search the backpack of the 8th grader who is reported to be carrying weed (or a knife), and did I say answer the phone? - oh, and do all of these things at the same time as the office manager is busy doing the same thing - I'm just saying - it is crazy making but I lOVE IT! I wish we had a lot more support for kids. Period. it is pathetic how little our society values children - but that is another whole gig and one that I don't need to preach to you.
I graduated with a degree in speech=communication (as in debate, mass communication, interpersonal communtication) and a minor in psychology - right - not so useful but hella interesting - really - I dont' think , for me, that the purpose of college was to get skills so much as to learn more about me and the world - expensive learning - a year or two later I went back for the skills based education - giving me a credential - and then, even later, the MA / cred for school counseling -- now I have the skills and a decent job that drives me crazy - in a good way, most of the time.

as far as the bus monitor goes, you are so right - she deserves so much more . The thing is the kids are being hugely shortchanged here too - their behavior is so wrong - and they need to know that what they are doing is wrong - they appear old enough to know that they are tormenting . I am assuming that someone has shown this video to the parents and school authorities - those kids need a kick in the ass - and so do their parents - kids cannot be allowed to be mean like that. I would be all about holding them accountable for their actions.

Jane, you always bring such interesting and thoughtful topics to the page. I like that! Even if they make me cringe.

cdnkaro said...

That was horrifying- I also was able to watch less than a minute. I am so happy that things like this exist to make people's lives a bit easier. Thanks for sharing Jane:)

annie said...

I read about this yesterday. I couldn't make myself watch the vid. I taught for twenty years and I knew what I would see and decided not to go there.

People like to say that adults always think youth are worse than they themselves were at the same age. For the most part this is true but not in terms of respect. Young ones today are much less respectful and far more openly vicious than they were back when I started teaching in the late 80's. It's not the reason I quit teaching but it has been one of the perks of giving up that line of work - getting away from the front lines of truly bad parenting. My peers have been one of the worst generations of parents ever.

Of course, the school district and their admin should shoulder a lion's share of the blame. They absolutely set the tone and kids will only behave as much as they are made to. It's the nature of kids.

Lucy said...

No one asks the question why those kids think they can do it and they know why she can and won't say a word to them? In today's society and she disciplined them in any way the parents would have had shit fit. Parents today cannot tolerate anyone and I mean anyone disciplining their child and look what is happening? We are creating mean people!

Margi said...

I also read the story and couldn't bring myself to watch the video. I cried enough not watching it.

Thank you for calling out the good that came from this.

a.eye said...

I was so upset when I heard of what the kids did to this woman.

I agree, though, that it is really impressive and touching that people are showing that they care about bullying and about this woman's feelings.

Hopefully, people will step up when they see things like these happening in real time, too.