Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Another Great Opportunity for Stephanie!

Some of you remember (and some of you helped!) Stephanie trying to raise money to go to the People to People Leadership Conference for middle schoolers in April in Washington DC. She went, and she's been invited to go to one next year in Paris and London!

I don't think I need to point out how exciting it is for a kid from East Oakland to be invited to this kind of thing - many of them never leave their neighborhood, much less their country. She's a talented, creative, intelligent girl who really does exhibit leadership skills.

Hi, my name is Stephanie. I'm 12 years old and in the 7th grade. I have been chosen to go to a People to People World Leadership Forum in Paris and London. I went to one last year in Washington DC. It was very fun and educating. I learned a lot about our government and our country's history. I also got to see a lot of interesting statues, monuments, and a lot of historical sites.

For me to participate in this forum, I will need $4200. Your donation is greatly needed and will be sincerely appreciated. It will be put to good use because it's a good learning experience and to travel the world at a young age is good. I would get to see things that some people don't see until they retire or something like that.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter and giving a donation if possible.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back To School Specials

Every year, around the end of July/beginning of August, the back to school sales and specials start. And every year around this time I think, "Oh no! I only have X more weeks/days/hours until school starts!" And I start dreading it.

I keep forgetting this year not to dread it.

It's not that I disliked the children - it's the same feeling that kids have when they go back to school and they have to start getting up early again and stop lounging around and being lazy. Teachers get that too. Only this year, I haven't been lounging around and being lazy and I don't have to dread school starting. It's very strange.

I can't quite get it through my head. I keep thinking that I need to go visit people before school starts because I won't be able to during the school year. Actually, this year I can! Or I'll hear an ad on the radio for a back to school sale and start planning where I'm going to buy a class set of crayon boxes and rulers (September is definitely the most expensive month for teachers as you try to stock your classroom - and for new teachers it's doubly difficult, as they don't get paid until September 30!) and then I remember... this year, I don't have to.

It's bittersweet, because while I don't have to spend $600 of my own money for school supplies, I also don't get to write 20 names on everything while thinking about what these kids will be like. I don't get to send them little notes in the mail saying that I'll be their teacher, and Tiger will be their class gecko. There's a very special bond I have had with my students and I think I'll miss that very very much.

But the before school staff meetings/shopping/getting my room ready? That I WILL NOT miss. Not one bit.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Meet a Child: "Kobe"

This is a kid who moved away mid-year because his mom was terrified of all the violence - especially after someone came and threatened his teenage brother.

Writing about himself:

My name is Kobe. I am 8 years old and my birthday was born in 1998. My eye is dark brown and my hair is black and I like to play footbal. I like to play with my best friend. I am very talkative and honest. I am very cook and I am very nice. I make friends. I like school. Sometimes I get to change my card to Green that mean I am in trouble. Sometimes I stay on Blue. I got friends and we went to the coliseum the A's won the other day the other day the raider lost. I like school. I have a nice teacher.

On imagining he was in a scene from a book where the kids walked past a barbecue and a church:
I imagine I went to church and when it was over we had BBQ burgers. Our preacher was light skined with black hair. It was fun at the end and "We love God, and love you Jesus." In there it smell like strawberries. My cousin my aunties and my brothers and sisters, my mom, brothers and sisters.

He is talkative and nice and honest. And I miss him!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Extra Work, Extra Money

I got another paycheck today. Although, this time I know what it is and why I got it. Also, I got it on the right day. The other one isn't figured out yet.
At the beginning of the year, we were given the new school schedules for each grade and asked if we had any questions. Never being one to be shy, I said I had a question. "Why do we start earlier, get out at the same time, and have less time at lunch?"

What I got in response was not so much of an answer as an accusation. Something along the lines of "You're not willing to do it for the kids?" That wasn't the exact phrasing, of course. But it is a very common "answer" to questions that teachers ask.

Why do I have to buy a class set of scissors with my own money? Why do you have me working more hours than my contract states? Why am I being asked to be at a meeting during my "duty-free" lunch hour? Why do you treat me like I'm a delinquent six-year old and not a professional?

"It's for the kids." "Don't you care about the kids?" "If you were here for the kids..."

All variations of the answer usually received, and all incomplete, insulting, and totally off the subject. How dare they even insinuate that we're not here for the kids? What am I here for? The money?

And in what other profession would it be expected that if you don't let others take advantage of you, you're not really dedicated. Surgeons aren't expected to buy their own scalpels, or else be accused of "not really caring about the patients." Engineers aren't expected to work hours and hours for free because otherwise they aren't there for the right reasons. There's just no analogous example in other professions.

However, we won this (very small) victory. Someone figured out that we worked ten minutes over contract each day. (I think it actually might have been 15 or 20, but I'm not sure. The official figure is 10.) It adds up to 30 hours extra. It seems kind of silly, because we actually each work hours extra every day. But we take the fights we can win, I suppose.

This was brought to the administration, who said oh, of course we'll pay you for that! Tell you what, we'll give you a choice. You can vote on having enough minimum days to make up that time, getting paid for it, or a combination. We voted to have a combination. Did we get it? No.

We didn't get the minimum days, and as the school year was ending, it didn't look like we were going to get the money either. The administration started fudging the numbers and offering us much, much less than our hourly rate.

But we recently got an email from our union rep.

Attention Teachers:

We have been working very hard to get this issue settled and I thank everyone who helped along the way. The last two weeks I have been working with XXX to come to a resolution. The initial offer from the administration/district was $400.00. That was not an acceptable figure. So, they went back to the table and I got word today that they have agreed to pay all of the teachers $1000. The first installment of $600 will be disbursed by the 15th of July. The remaining $400 should be coming around
the 31st. I appreciate your patience and hope this will make your summer even better.

Yay! The profession of teaching is still possibly unfixable - completely messed up, chewing people up and spitting them out. But on this one, small point, we won.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who Puts These People In Charge of Money?

I got paid today. I'm not complaining about getting paid, let me make that clear. But it is rather odd.

The schedule of payment for salaried employees (like teachers) is that we get paid on the last weekday of each month. Since I have 12-month deferred payment (as opposed to only getting paid Sept-June, they divide my yearly salary into 12 months), I will be getting paid on Tuesday, July 31. That's very straightforward.

The mid-month payments are a little more complicated. If we work extra hours (extra recognized hours that is - we all work extra hours), for example, in an after-school program, or an extra mandatory meeting or an extra training day, we get paid some mysterious hourly rate, turn in extra time sheets, and get paid on the 15th of the month.

So, why did I get a payment today, July 10?

Luckily, each pay stub comes with codes. They used to print the codes' meanings but have stopped that for some time now, so they must be self-evident. (Or so one would think if the meanings are no longer given).

The total is $1,080.55. Which is quite a lot for an unexpected paycheck. The before-taxes total is $1,212.10. The codes.... here they are.

6/30 OSTP 2.00 Rate: 600.00 Earnings: 1,200.00
4/26 SBCV 1.00 Rate: 12.10 Earnings 12.10


Wait a minute...

OK, 4/26, SBCV might mean sub coverage. I have no idea if I covered for someone on April 26, but chances are good. However, usually sub coverage is paid per child - you get $5 or $6 per child for the day (not worth it). So an amount like $30 would make sense. A unit of 1.00 and a rate of $12.10 makes no sense at all. It's not hourly. It's not per child. And for all I know, SBCV means Super Big Cotton Vests. Also, why am I being paid on July 10 for something that happened on April 26?

OK, let's move on. OSTP. I don't even have a good guess for that one. Osteopath? Osteoporosis? Organic Sirloin T-Bone Purchase? Omnipresent Suffering, Torture, and Pain? Two of them happened - whether that means two hours, or two days is anyone's guess. Come to think of it, if it's $600 per unit, it can't be hours or days. But that's all anything is measured by for time sheets. It's not two weeks, that would show up as 10 days. What could they possibly be paying me $600 per something for?

So, you see that I am confused. And that I don't trust payroll as far as I can throw them. Remember, our district was approximately $80 million in the hole a few years back. And that was because they couldn't find the money. They switched financial software and "lost" $80 million.

You might ask why I'm so confused? Why don't I just take the money and run? This is the thing with my district. I could totally see them taking this money back at some point. Or not paying me my regular salary this month or next (the last two months I get a salary) because they said I already got it - because somehow SBCV OSTP means "regular monthly salary."

There is, in fact, something that I'm supposed to get extra money for, which will be my next post, but it's supposed to come as $400 on July 15 and $600 on July 31. This crazy acronym paycheck just makes me nervous.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Victim of Violence

There was a story in the Oakland Tribune online about a 13-year old girl who was hit by a bullet outside of her sister's (chaperoned) birthday party in March. It shows some of her recovery and interviews with her, and her sister, who feels awfully guilty about the incident. Read it here, see the video here, then come back to read this post.

I can't decide how it makes me feel. I was so sad that something like this could happen to a 13-year old in our country. I'm furious that we aren't more upset about it. I don't want to believe that there is still this much entrenched racism - but does anyone believe for even a second that if this had happened to a white girl in the hills - just a couple of miles from where it did happen - that community outrage wouldn't have erupted? It's hard to even think about it though, because the truth is that is wouldn't have happened to a white girl in the hills.

These kids though, they live with it every day. They're sad, but they're not surprised. Her sister says that they could be going to the movies or walking down the street and they could still get hurt. "How do you think God would feel seeing you with that gun in your hand?" She said that she almost expected this to happen before it did. "You do not want to live out here. You'll just get shot."

If all of that wasn't enough, Charity's family is afraid of retaliation for cooperating with police. Her great-aunt/foster mother has gotten creepy phone calls, found a dead rat on the porch, and seen cars slowly circling their block. She says that she had told Charity to hit the ground whenever shooting started but that Charity must have been scared because she ran up the steps instead.

Charity says she gets bad headaches now, and that when she tries to read, the words "be jumping around and switching places and stuff." She says, "I don't like to blame myself, but sometimes I feel guilty about it happening."

I don't want her to feel guilty. I want her to be surprised, outraged, and certain that this was a tragic fluke, not something that happens all the time in her neighborhood - so often that the kids know what to do when they hear shooting, and feel guilty when they panic and forget to drop to the ground.