Columns

Worker shortage may be result of a ‘silent revolt’

I hear tell school systems are facing shortages of bus drivers. I saw a report on the CBS Evening News and closer to home, Middleville Thornapple Kellogg has been forced to cut back on bus routes in the village.

The shortages seem to be just part of a silent revolt of the masses against being paid poorly and disrespected for doing jobs others may not want to do. Other than driving a school bus, such jobs include substitute teachers, cleaning persons and restaurant servers, just to name a few.

I could never be school bus driver, but I once was a substitute teacher. Driving a school bus with a group of noisy kids frolicking in the seats behind me and worrying about their safety while being distracted would be more than a daunting task.

Though ads for drivers promise good pay and even benefits, I’m not sure we can pay bus drivers enough for putting up with such trying work conditions. Kids disrespecting drivers is similar to people treating poorly such “lowly” employees as custodians, servers, clerks, and yes, substitute teachers. Sometimes the employers are even worse.

Substitute teachers are treated no better than aides, custodians, food service workers and support staff. Staff and administrators disrespect them as bottom feeders, low lifes who weren’t good enough to get full-time teaching jobs.

Meanwhile, subs are greeted with glee by students who believe they’ve been given a free day to goof off because the subs usually don’t know their names and discipline problems are guaranteed. Subs who become frustrated and react to this situation with anger or desperate attempts to control the kiddies and avoid anarchy often are regarded as incompetent and often not invited back.

I survived my more than three years of subbing by overdoing my penchant for entertaining students with phony foreign accents or comedy routines. Too often I wasn’t an educator, I was a comedian and entertainer carefully designed to keep the children from revolting and just get through the day. I too often saw myself as just a baby-sitter.

Substitute teaching was a horrible experience when I had to get up at 5 a.m. every day to scour the Internet for anything available. Sometimes, there was nothing or I just wasn’t fast enough to claim a job that somebody else got.

It reminded me of a scene from the movie “On the Waterfront,” in which a group of jobless men gather outside the loading docks and the union straw boss comes out and throws job tickets for that day all over the lawn. He watches and laughs at the men as they wrestle in the mud for the tickets.

Day in and day out, you don’t know if you’re going to work or not. You can’t make any plans. And if you fail to find a job that day, you won’t make any money.

When times were hard, there were many subs searching for work. Supply at one time was great and demand wasn’t high. It appears the situation now is reversed.

I resigned my substitute teaching gig in November 2011 because I had had enough of being treated like a low-life indentured servant. And my employer did not treat me with respect, instead regarding me as a bottom feeder in its quest to maximize profits on the backs of the hired hands.

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