The Expectation of Free Work
I have a neighbor who’s a math teacher. He’s also the owner of a landscaping business. I figured the guy must really love taking care of people’s lawns to do it after teaching all day and on the weekends. Lawn care must be his passion to sacrifice like that. His calling in life, even. So I phoned him and asked if he could mow my grass once a week. He said sure. Then he quoted me a price. “Oh, you misunderstand, I’m not going to pay you,” I explained. “I figured, since you obviously love it so much, you’d just do it for free.”
My daughter’s pediatrician’s office left a message on my voicemail the other day. She was due for a checkup. I scanned my calendar to find a convenient time to take her in. I had to work all week, so after five or over the weekend looked good. I told them that when I called. They said they closed at five and weren’t open on weekends. I waited. “We can get you in at 11:00 am on Thursday,” the lady said. “I’ll be at work then”, I told her. “Listen, I can get there by quarter after five. We’ll just meet with the doctor then.” She didn’t seem to understand. I think I’m going to change doctors. This one’s obviously not very dedicated. Doesn’t she know she’s supposed to be there for the kids?
My mom had to stay overnight at the hospital a couple months back following a surgery and she had this great nurse. Rachel was kind, patient, funny, and explained everything she was doing to everyone in the room. She was very attentive. Mom loved her. But then, around 8 o’clock, a new nurse popped in. “What happened to Rachel?” mom asked. “Oh, her shift ended at eight.” We couldn’t understand. Rachel seemed so dedicated. She obviously loved her patients. How come she wasn’t doing everything she could for them?
I was in a golf tournament last summer to raise money for the local school’s athletic program. After our round, we were served an excellent dinner catered by a local restaurant. They had a number of staff there. There were a few waitresses going around refilling drinks, a couple of others tending to the buffet line, and one of those meat carving guys. I was really impressed. As he was slicing off a slab of prime rib for me, I told him, “Wow, this is really great of all you guys to give up your Saturday to do this. Thanks for helping out the kids of our community.” He smiled and said thank you. But I learned later that he was paid to be there. Here I thought he was carving that meat out of the goodness of his heart.
When we expect people to work for free, to bend over backwards to meet our needs, or even to donate their time in the interest of a worthy cause, it makes us, not them, look bad. It’s insulting to suggest others work for free. It shows exactly how much we value their time, their work, and their lives outside of work.
If teachers choose to donate their labor that’s their business, but they should never be asked or expected to.
Lawyers charge, doctors keep office hours, cops get paid overtime. Taking advantage of a teacher’s passion, dedication, generosity, or sense of obligation is wrong.
If a committee is important enough to create, then it’s important enough to pay teachers to be on it. If meeting with parents is a necessary part of the job, then those meetings should take place during paid hours. If teacher attendance at an after-school event is critical for the success of the night, then pay teachers to attend. The fact that teachers are “there for the kids” doesn’t excuse mistreatment, it makes it worse. If the work teachers do is so important, they should be paid to perform it.
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