We've had several years of bad work news. Some times, the bad news is minor and not exactly unexpected: health insurance will cost more, for example. Other times, the news is much more devastating: lay offs. This week, the bad news has been somewhere in the middle: for this fiscal year which starts July 1, we will have no raises.
For years now, I've said that I'm the last academic in America who's been getting raises and not been required to teach extra classes. Actually, that would be the faculty members in my school, since I'm now more of an administrator than a college teacher.
I know college faculty across the country teaching in all sorts of colleges and universities, and for the past several years, not one of them has gotten a raise. Many of them have had to teach an extra class for no extra money, which is effectively a pay cut. Many of them have not been able to teach the extra classes that they used to teach, again, effectively a pay cut.
Meanwhile, at my for-profit college, we've continued to get a raise each year. I've thought that the fact that we've continued to get raises has been a sign of company health, along with the fact that we still get a 401K match and our health insurance has only gone up by $10 or so a month each year.
So, on Tuesday afternoon, when I got the e-mail that announced that we'd have no pay raises for the coming year, I felt a bit of doom, even though I wasn't really surprised. So, what did I do?
Why, I went to Vacation Bible School, of course. The children needed Arts and Crafts, and I was ready. Tuesday night was clay night.
Monday night was a study in chaos, so I felt a bit worried about clay. But the children were intent. No one flung the clay across the room. The clay wasn't goopy, so my worries about clay smeared in hair wasn't realized. The teenagers who were there to help were as focused as the children.
At the end of the evening, I realized I had spent several hours not thinking about work. Hurrah for art!
When we got our last batch of bad news, faculty lay-offs back in March, I was scheduled for my regular stint at the soup kitchen in the late afternoon. I debated whether or not to go. What if someone needed me?
I decided that I'd go ahead and go. The lay-offs would be a crisis that would last more than one day. But homeless people still needed to be fed, and my help was needed.
As with Vacation Bible School, I realized with a bit of a shock that several hours had passed, and I hadn't thought about work. I couldn't stay in my world of alternate service forever, of course. But the experience restored a bit of perspective.
Long ago, in the summer of 1988, when I was wrestling with writing my thesis, I did volunteer work at a food pantry. I'd get revision notes, feel despair, and then head to the food pantry, to be reminded of what real despair looks like.
It's good to remember that the bad news that we got on Tuesday isn't devastating. We still have our jobs. We still have benefits. We work in an industry that doesn't leave us so exhausted that we can't help out at Vacation Bible School.
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