Last week, I wrote about why it is so critical for teachers to take off their capes and put on parachutes.
Unfortunately, I wrote from firsthand experience on the plane. More specifically, it’s been the most turbulent ride of my career. The debate about how to start the school year amid the pandemic is raging in my own community. It doesn’t help that our numbers of positive cases in kids and teens is up more than 200% this past month. Since I wrote that parachute post last week, my husband’s district switched from a remote start the year to him working in person five days a week. My district did the opposite, though a community protest is slated to counter that.
All the while, schools that have reopened are already reporting cases and superintendents are sharing stories that no one in education should ever have to tell.
To say this has been a difficult week and a difficult summer is an understatement. Someone in my own community said if anyone got sick, it would likely only be a few teachers. They like had other conditions anyway.
When I joined this profession, I did it because I felt in my bones that no other career would compare. I still feel that way. But I also know that individually and collectively, we’ve surrendered too much of ourselves.
While I can’t know where either my husband or I will land in the next few weeks, I can brace myself for the landing. So I thought I’d peel back the curtain and share how I’ve been putting on my parachute.
This is not something that I’m interested in doing long term. In fact, I spent far too long being far too cheap once I first found frugality. But now there’s a real purpose to squirrel away as much money as possible. So for the past few months, we’ve really focused on what we can go without.
Instead of buying new gym shoes when mine got a hole in them, I wore them for a while with a black sock underneath. Then, when the running store reopened, I donated them for rubber recycling and went back to an old pair I had tucked away in my closet. They’re not what I necessarily want to wear. It’s maybe not even what I should wear. But they’re fine for now.
We’ve done this again and again with different things. Less air conditioning (OK, almost none). Eating more zucchini than any human should because free is a great price for garden-fresh veggies. I’ve even scaled back on my beloved chocolate that tastes like financial freedom. I don’t think this is going to make us rich. But it has helped up pool together an extra few hundred dollars over the past few months.
One of the most frustrating things was realizing that my side hustle couldn’t save me. Not entirely anyway. The extra income that I pull in each month is significant, but it’s certainly not significant enough to cover both of us taking leaves. And it certainly doesn’t come with health care. That last part seems key in a pandemic.
My first instinct was to call side hustling stupid, let it dry up, and try to get some rest. But I realized some extra money is better than no extra money. Even if it meant working a lot more than I intended to this summer, I was going to do what I could to earn income while the money was there.
That went for freelancing, reselling, you name it.
Pause the extra payments.
When I first started wondering if I was going to have to take an unpaid leave and try to cover healthcare somehow, I was hurt and scared and mad. My instinct was to take some of the money we had saved and pay off our mortgage or at least a huge chunk of it.
While that urge is still there, I realize the more money I can hang onto in the short term, the more power I hold. Having no mortgage would certainly mean more wiggle room for our budget. But knowing that I can put the money toward our house or anything else that I need to seems like the better choice. Hopefully, in the next month, things will shake out enough where we can plan more than a few weeks out at a time.
Use what I’ve got.
I currently have excellent benefits through my work. I’ve never taken them for granted, and I certainly never appreciated them more than when I thought I would have to give them up to take a leave.
Not every teacher gets great benefits. My husband has an OK plan available to him now, but just a few short years ago, no one in his district was even eligible for prescription coverage. It was that bad.
Knowing that this excellent healthcare coverage might not be forever, I took myself in for a long overdue dermatologist visit to have a spot on my cheek looked at and treated. (It had some fancy name but my derm very helpfully told me that it’s AN AGE SPOT.) She froze it off, and the whole ordeal cost me $20 out of pocket. We also all went in for our semiannual dental visits.
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I have spent weeks advocating for the safety of my students and myself. At this point, I’ve probably written hundreds of thousands of words and sent them to anyone who I thought could maybe move the needle. I made phone calls, I wrote postcards, I did everything I could to push back on the first plan our district proposed.
Then, I signed up to to give that same district another 10-20 hours of my summer. We had the option to taking a best-practices course in online pedagogy, and I jumped at the chance. They offered a bit of direction compensation for it, but I also wanted to send two messages: one as an individual and one collectively. First, I wanted my building and my school district administration to know that I remain committed to being the best teacher I can be. The fact that I objected to the first proposal should showcase that. If it didn’t, this summer coursework certainly would.
Plus, if the majority of teachers agreed to take on this optional professional development, it seemed like it would send the message that we were ready and willing to do whatever we could to get ready for when instruction has to go back online.
Recognize what I have.
I am deeply aware of what I have. That’s actually why I spent so much time fighting so hard for a safer reopening plan. My parents are deeply intertwined in our lives, as our my in laws. Of course, the pandemic pumped the breaks on this for months, but we have our support system back in place (outside and from a distance anyway).
Over the past few weeks, it felt like I was losing everything. Or that everything was being taken from me. Through it all, I had to remind myself that we have support systems and we have savings. It’s true that we’ve worked hard for so much of this. We’ve made sacrifices and choices and crammed in extra hours for longer than what’s seemed sustainable. And we were also born into two families that fight like hell for the people they love and do whatever they can to support them. Plus, I have friends both in the flesh and in the Interwebs who have my back even when I forget to have my own.
The thought of pushing pause on one or both of our incomes for a few weeks or months or even a school year has proven to be some of the most anxiety-inducing weeks of my life. But I realize that even without a parachute, I have a safety net that many other teachers don’t have. I’m anxious, but I’m also profoundly grateful.
Final Thoughts on Putting On My Own Parachute
What a wild ride this
lifetime week has been. At some point, the dust will settle and school will start. Whether that’s in person or online, I hope safety is at the forefront of it.
Try as a I might, I can’t make a grand and permanent exit from teaching. (I can fantasize about it, though!) Not only are we not financially independent, I’m too invested in education. It means too much to me. I’m not ready to say goodbye to teaching, but I am ready to brace myself. After all, even superheroes have to touch the ground every once in a while.