My charter school believed in an “extended day” schedule. This meant that I was contracted to be at school from 7:00 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon, which worked out to be 47 and a half hours of contracted work a week. Most of this was face time with students – I received only 45 minutes of planning a day, and a 25 minute lunch – and this 47 and a half hours didn’t include the extra planning or grading that I did outside of the contracted school day, nor did it take into consideration the many, many after school events that my school hosted, all of which were mandatory for teachers to attend, under the threat of termination.
When the panic attacks began, after I had seen a doctor, once I had a diagnosis, I sat down with Administration and asked to reduce my schedule to 40 hours a week, for reduced pay. When I asked, I called it a “part time” schedule (knowing full well how ridiculous that sounds – 40 hours a week is not “part time”), and I asked based on medical need. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that just by asking to only work only 40 hours a week, Administration was “seriously doubting my commitment to the mission of the school” and that if I couldn’t commit to a full schedule, I’d need to “reconsider my employment options for the coming school year.” Administration then posted my job on the school’s job board “just in case.”
When I spoke to a lawyer about this, I was told that I didn’t have a case. I was told that because charter teachers are “at-will” employees, my school had the right to fire me at any time, for any reason. I was told that even work-related stress, anxiety, and trauma-induced panic attacks were “no excuse” to ask for a reduced schedule.
I felt powerless, knowing that the way I was being treated was unfair, maybe even illegal, but lacking the resources and protections to do anything about it. I felt that, unless I had millions of dollars to burn, I would never be taken seriously, or treated fairly. I felt like I was nothing more than a widget, a replaceable cog in a perpetually churning education machine.
And so, I quit.
And now, I am teaching in the unchartered territory of a traditional public school.
And I’m proud to say that I joined the teacher’s union.
I joined the union because working in a charter school taught me what it’s like to stand alone in a fight.
I joined the union because working in a charter school taught me that money is power, and that I alone will never have enough money to dismantle the oppression of the working class.
I joined because I believe that better working conditions for teachers always lead to better learning conditions for students.
I joined the union because I believe that in unity, there is power.
And so, tomorrow, when my brothers and sisters in Chicago unite, I stand proudly with them in solidarity, because I know what it’s like to go alone. One voice will never win, but together we may raise our voices loud enough to drown out The Silence.