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Diaries of a Credentialed Los Angeles School Teacher: Day 87

There are five elements that I ideally want to go right in my teaching job, and out of those five things, I find I am lucky if I get two or three of these things. Which two or three would I like? The five ideal elements are a good salary, administration, peers, parents, and students.

At this Jewish Orthodox School I was “lucky” enough to find part-time employment at while I finish this potentially more lucrative middle school math credential, I have good students, good parents, pleasant peers, and a pleasant administration. The pay is okay, until I realized that they wish to pay us late, every paycheck: a few days here and there, especially if there is a weekend or holiday. They do not offer direct pay like most employers do. My check, which is to be paid once a month by the 5th, came on time at first. Then Hanuka break came, a four day weekend. The 5th was to be that Sunday.  When we got back on the 7th, they wanted to pay us at the end of that week. Myself and another American born and bred teacher demanded our checks as our contracts stipulate that we get our checks on the 5th, and it was already the 7th. Us and our bills were not waiting until the 10th.

Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, and this is an easier gig than some, but it is not volunteer work. It is a living. A means to pay rent, pay back student loans, buy groceries and gas to get places, like to their job.

This last payday was to fall on a Saturday. So that Friday I went in and again demanded to be paid on the 4th, as our day is the 5th. Reluctantly they handed me my check, said I was the only one, not to tell anyone else, that the Rabbi was making an exception as I seemed to “have some bills or something”. Excuse me, but don’t make me feel the ass because you can’t get your accounting together.

People, this school has been running for 20 years.

I wrote an email to the Rabbi’s with the suggestion that they think of the teachers as the other bills a school business must pay. That they surely pay rent, the electric bill, and phone bills on time to not incur extra debt, so they can think of doing the same for the teachers. I thought it was merely a lack of priorities, paying their hard working employees on time.

Came to find out, they told me they “borrowed” the money to pay us all, and they always pay their bills late. I don’t need to know how they get the money. If they wish to charge some parents and not others just so their kids can get a Jewish education, fine. All I need to know is that I signed a contract and was promised $1600 a month before taxes to teach “13 ½ hours a week”. I put that in quotes because as any teacher knows, our job starts at least an hour before the kids are with us, and goes at least an hour or more later, not-to-forget the planning and material's hunt that sometimes takes up a few hours of time on the weekends.

If the school wishes to operate on donations, so be it. That is their business. I just know that they hire new people all the time, and need to pay the ones with signed contracts when the contract stipulates. You cannot pull my sympathy chains when it comes to my livelihood, and your contractual promise you wish to honor or not based on the winds of donations.

I have started to ask others about this. The morning Judaica teacher for my classroom claims that the school owes her for 6 months pay for last year. This is a woman who has 5 children in private school. How that can be, I am unsure. The whole thing.

Another young and pregnant teacher said she has just learned not to pay her bills on time, so she won’t bounce checks. Wonderful. I will go in and again demand my check come Friday the 4th of March if I have to. I would rather not have this issue, but again, this is not volunteer work.

My students are lovely though. Adorable little third grade girls. They are progressing nicely. Need to work as a whole on reading fluency, on not writing giant run-on sentences, using capital letters and periods; but the ideas are there, their thoughts are flowing. They are progressing. The mad minutes are being passed slowly but surely. For less that 13 hours a week with me, they are doing alright, and better than their peers I tutor elsewhere.

This past month has brought with it the unexpected death of a good friend's father. It is shocking how suddenly a 63 year old can be here and climbing ladders on a roof one minute, then gone the next. My own grandfather has been mostly bed ridden since the time my friend's father went into the hospital, then passed.

Family relations are so convoluted. I have spent so much time figuring out who I am and what my own boundaries needed to be with my family, between my brother moving back into my folks house almost four years ago now, and my mother who was constantly complaining to me about how hard that is. How she should divorce my father over it, how like her father my brother is, and how unlivable it is at times as he is so inconsiderate of her when he is home. Then the two, mom and son, go off for Star Bucks runs together, snuggle and watch television shows together, eat lunch together sometimes. Enabling your “artistic” son to pursue his dreams on your husband and your dime is never simple or easy.

My grandfather is then another story. He is pleasant and always has been towards me. Lived through extremely difficult times when he with his family escaped Nazi Germany and wound up in the ghetto of Shanghai with 20,000 other Jews. Had his teeth kicked in when protectively walking a younger friend home after working long hours in the bakery, by some Russian assholes. I don’t know all of the travails he and my family suffered, but they were numerous.

Once he showed me a picture from when the U.S. had come through at the end of WWII to liberate China from Japan, and  bombed the area where munitions were thought to be kept. In the black and white photo was a picture of a building blown down to a pile of bricks and rubble; a bald head barely visible from within. That had been his own father, who due to the grace of God was physically unscathed or scratched by the incident, I was told.

After nine years in the ghetto, my young grandmother and grandfather made their way to the U.S., thanks to the Jewish Federation and helpful non-Jewish Americans who were very kind to them as refugees. Somehow there were survivors of this era and its horrors, some much worse than what my grandparents even experienced, who went on to continue their educations and find financially successful jobs. My grandfather never got to finish his education, being 14 when his family escaped to China. He immediately took up work in the U.S. wherever he could get it, in a bakery, then as a bus driver until he retired.

From my mom’s age of six, he was very interested in pills. Whatever pills his friends were on, he made sure to get a prescription for that. He had an incredible temper I am told, and was often depressed. I never saw much if any of that, as the only granddaughter.

I do know he has been retired for at least 25 years or so. His hobbies have fallen to the way side long ago. He mostly sits in his comfy chair, and reads or watches t.v. The house my grandparents live in is spotless. He does help with the household chores, and they are both almost compulsively tidy and neat.

When he went to the hospital a few years ago for kidney problems, the doctor on call was besides himself when he saw the sacks of pills my grandfather had with him. Somehow, all of those board sanctioned doctors he sees have failed to comprehend that it is unhealthy for any individual to take 21 or more prescription medications on a daily basis. I have a picture of this on my phone, the bottles lined up on the counter in their kitchen as he compartmentalized them all for the week.

Personally, I think it is a miracle the man walks and talks every day for as long as he has. Being a granddaughter though, with a living mother and grandmother, my opinions on the pills is for naught.

So he sits in the convalescent home, which is quite clean, in his bed. He goes to physical therapy there because they make him. My mother and grandmother have made  a daily routine of going there to visit him, and expect him to return home eventually, before the insurance runs out.

And there it is, employers who wish to hire people and maybe pay them, if they can pray up enough money. Old men having survived the world trying to exterminate their kind, only to sit and spend endless hours not enjoying much of themselves or their lives.

I, continue for now to teach adorable little 3rd grade girls. I have begun my Calculus I class, and still tutor on the side. I love to write, when I have a chance, and have been on a new Erica Jong reading kick. My husband likes to bring home cheap finds from the used book store near our Trader Joes. Math is like meditation, and challenging. After this course is done, the last two will be easy by comparison.

Somewhere in this all, there is a balance between staying locally minded and sane, living my own life to its fullest while absorbing meaning from what is around me, and not getting to caught up in the minutia, too much anyways.   

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