"No more scabs! No more scabs!" Never had I dreamed I would be the target of those jeering words, but last Tuesday found me leaving an Orange County school, insults resounding in my head long after I turned the corner. As an experienced teacher, was I really the enemy of the picketing teachers? I don't think so. They made their point--attention was drawn to their point--but the children needed the continuity of classes.
Also, to be honest, I need the extra pay ($175 a day to cross picket lines compared to the usual $70 a day). But more than that, I am a year-round substitute who supports a son on this income, and I want to be someone the sub desk can count on.
As extra teachers, we have made it possible for those strikers to stay home when they're sick or take a personal day for their families. We keep the classes running smoothly, following their plans, while giving something extra with a day of newness.
In large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, when there are teachers' strikes, the schools simply close down. Professional picketers may be hired, and work as a substitute might be dangerous. Students may go for months with no education beyond the home TV. I don't believe the California teachers really want even a day of no classes, despite their loud protests.
The school system certainly wanted school to continue. We were greeted with more than open arms. After walking past a line of comments, and having our pictures taken by the teachers (I'm not sure to what purpose), we found hospitality in the office. There were home-made cookies and coffee waiting for us and attentive personnel.
More to the point, the table in the teachers' lounge was covered with copies of work pages for grades kindergarten through sixth, in case no lesson plans were left. One level began, "Make five yellow flowers, write 10 words that end with at."
However, despite the fact that there were no plans left, most of us did not need the material, since we were substitutes from other districts who come with lesson plans in our heads. Not only that, in this striking district, there are classes taught mainly in Spanish, and there were more of us who are bilingual than they usually have to substitute--ex-high school Spanish teachers, Cubans, and Spanish-country travelers.
Worse than the jeers and picture-taking were the comments that the children would not be receiving good education. This was not true. In addition to the basics that were drilled, the children were learning that adults are still in control of themselves and the environment, even when they disagree. That alone was worth the day.
The first-graders all knew why their teacher was standing outside instead of teaching them, and they respected her for it. However, they still wanted their lunch-count, pledge to the flag, and recess--the perimeters that put limits and order to their existence.
In this particular neighborhood, order is a prime commodity. As part of a social studies unit on families, I asked them how many people lived in their homes, and the average is 7.5, with some as high as 20. There are the normal family problems, at times made more difficult by the sweeps by immigration authorities.
One mother apologized as she brought her daughter in two hours late. "\o7 La migra\f7 . . . ," she explained, hoping we would understand. The aide and I did. I asked her if she qualified for amnesty, and she said they had only been here three years. She couldn't risk having her daughter picked up on the way to school, so she kept her home until the immigration officers had gone.
Arriving after a nervous walk to school, she needed a warm greeting, if only from a substitute. That's what I try to give, as much as the lessons. Certainly, I insist that the students complete their work well, asking them to do it again to improve, but I give love. I am their extra grandmother, their long-lost aunt. I read to them, sing and dance with them, and dispense a large supply of hugs. I make a safe environment, where tattling and meanness is not needed for attention.
If they work better with the security of a small doll or plastic figure on their desks, I leave it. (Of course, if it's disruptive I remove it until lunch.) The results are worth the effort. I hear the comments, "He never does any work." (The same boy who has finished everything and is asking what more can he do.)
The striking teachers did not need to worry; there was education going on. Also, they must feel good in knowing they were missed. You always receive the comments, "We're not allowed to do that. We always use this paper. At this time we go to computer." The work the regular teachers have done all year is the solid base to which the substitute can add personal style. Like children who enjoy a visit to relatives, they welcome the homecoming.
Now that you are back in the classroom, I naturally hope you achieve your strike goals. But don't see us as the enemy. We are your partners in education.