OPINION: South Orange-Maplewood BOE Should Give Teachers, Staff an ‘Immediate’ Raise

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To the Editors:

Whenever I speak of my first-hand experiences, the travails, trials, and tribulations of working in our school district, people urge that I write an op-ed piece. I’ve decidedly avoided doing so, insisting instead that nothing good will come from airing dirty laundry. However, in light of the recent BOE meeting, with our teachers loudly and rightfully expressing their grievances, I am more inclined to change my mind and speak up too. If experience is the best teacher, then perhaps my recent experiences working as a substitute teacher will serve to inform us all. 

There’s no need in pointing fingers or laying out specific details of all that I’ve witnessed, as well as been subjected to, but these are hard truths; this is what I know. The administrators at each and every one of our schools are desperate for support staff — paraprofessionals, lunch aides, and substitute teachers, every single day.

As a working substitute teacher, I can tell you that on any given day there are easily 15 to 20 available jobs in our district. What I can also tell you is that the students themselves desperately need more “quality” teachers, not merely “qualified”. By quality, I mean a diversity of well educated, well prepared, caring, and compassionate staff from a wide range of experiences. Something we are hard pressed to do on any scale given our misguided priorities, which are so visibly demonstrated on a national level by the meager pay grade afforded to our teachers.

It is not only the teachers who are sorely (dare I say criminally) underpaid. Across the board, our support staff do not earn a living wage. A teenager answering the phones at a local eatery in our village earns a greater hourly rate than a substitute teacher in SOMSD. What’s worse, when I woke up the day after Labor Day without a full-time teaching position confirmed, I resumed picking up acting auditions while taking daily sub assignments. The stipend I receive from SAG for a pre-production Covid PCR Test is more than what SOMSD pays me for a full day of work in our elementary schools. Think of it, a volunteer health worker swabs my nose for :30 seconds, I earn more and I’m done for the day. As opposed to spending the day in a classroom executing lesson plans, supporting our teachers, and engaging the children in meaningful learning. All the while our administrators struggle to find reliable competent substitutes, to the disservice of our teachers and the very real detriment of our students.

When I chose to return to teaching, in pursuit of a full credential through the alternate route, it goes without saying that it wasn’t for the money. That would be laughable. However, I stand with our teachers and school staff. We are the ones on the front lines fighting the good fight to help our children each and every day. An immediate increase in the teachers’ and support staff salaries are not only warranted, but should be the very first item on the next BOE agenda, with a unanimous rubber-stamped approval effective January 2022.

Eric Shorter
Maplewood, NJ

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