I looked at the number at the bottom of the page, and I felt despair run through my body. The number on the page was lower than what I thought I was getting paid originally, but it was also stunningly lower than what I thought I was worth.
It was the end of a very long school year, and as a paraprofessional, I felt it too. I had taken on some extra projects in the second semester that as much as I loved doing them, made me even more exhausted and busy. Then came my contract for the next school year. And my end-of-year exhaustion combined with a disappointing number on my contract did not sit well with me. I was furious that the school could only offer me that much, didn’t they know what I put up with some days? Especially trying to juggle more than one location every day.
Didn’t they know the skills and abilities I bring with me? Do they understand what the last few years have been like? And this is the best they offer me?
I felt angry, betrayed, and disappointed.
I asked if there was any way I could ask for more or negotiate for more? And the answer was basically no, that is what the hourly wage will be and that is all.
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I’m not sure if it was exhaustion or disappointment, but that number on the paper just stung. I felt I was worth so much more. I wondered what my options were . . .
Do I stay or do I find something else that pays me what I think I’m actually worth?
But I thought of my kids and how much they love having me at school with them, whether or not my teenager would admit it. Plus, I know they love having me home with them on breaks.
I thought about all the other students I have come to love and appreciate.
Those feelings of love and appreciation do not help much when all I feel like doing at the end of a week is throwing myself under a blanket and sleeping for a week. I am exhausted and drained—burned out.
These feelings have nothing to do with the school I work for. I hear this sentiment from staff in other schools too—all staff members are feeling burned out and exhausted. I don’t have an explanation or solution for it, but I have heard many times about how people working in education are feeling this way.
I realize I am “only a para,” and that is fine if that’s what you think.
And I will agree I don’t carry as much of the emotional and mental burden as teachers do. But I still love those kids—their successes and rough days are mine too. When they are excitedly telling me about what books they have read or want to read, my heart soars for them. When students see me outside school, I see their faces light up and feel they love and respect me and are watching me just as much as their teacher. And I have also heard a few heart-wrenching stories that break my heart to pieces.
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As a para, I may not be as deep in the trenches as teachers and administrators, but I am still in the same battle that they are in. I am still in the school attempting to help do the same job.
So that number on the page is just that, a number.
It will never show how much I love what I do, most days. That number won’t define me or make me change positions. I will still do the best job I can. I will still love and respect the students I see. My worth is more than a number on a page, my worth is found standing beside a teacher battling to educate and empower children to be their best.