“It all looks fine to the naked eye, but it don’t really happen that way at all.” — Pete Townsend
Work in a school setting long enough and you get to know all kinds of people. Work in a school setting for long enough and you will become at least some of those people at different intervals. I’ve been in the classroom for 24 years now. I’ve been to the end and back and have managed to come out on the other side a much better human being.
One of the hardest things to do is to avoid taking things personally. Kids are going to be kids and as much as they might say they hate this teacher or that teacher they really don’t. They come into the world with their personal problems and sadly we get to be a part of that for a short while.
Those that have been around as long as I have, have seen some grow up into some absolutely successful adults. Many of them are more successful than I ever could be. We can also choose to deal with that any number of ways. I consider a source of pride every time a former student succeeds. Unfortunately, there are also some that don’t. That’s where today’s focus comes in.
Being in the trenches affords me the opportunity to understand why millions think the way they do. See, the number one argument against raising the minimum wage is that minimum wage should be something for teenagers at their first job. It shouldn’t be what someone does for 40 hours a week. It shouldn’t be what an adult uses to sustain themselves. If that is their lot in life then they have done something wrong.
Of course, this ignores the fact that there are numerous adults that may not be capable of doing more, but I suspect that these naysayers aren’t really thinking of them. I know this because I used to be one of them. I used to get upset when students wasted their time and skipped school or chose not to do their work. They chose to fail. Failure has consequences. They should have to wallow in their own failure and suffer through those consequences.
I soon discovered that this mode of thinking had its own problems. I was hit with it in the face when I had to work a couple of minimum wage jobs before I could catch back on in education nearly ten years ago now. If people work minimum wage jobs because they have wasted their opportunities and/or failed in life then I had failed at life. At least I had temporarily failed at life.
Sometimes, someone that is 16 or 17 years old is too young to understand the opportunities they have. Sometimes they are too young to take advantage of their opportunities and live up to those responsibilities. Sometimes they just aren’t in a place to do it. The mistake is in believing they never will be. Sometimes it happens later and that’s okay.
I know of those former students as well. I remember how frustrated I was with them and yet I’m no less proud when they turn their lives around. Yet, I understand the impulse to want to punish someone for squandering opportunity. I get it. Yet, at the end of the day we have to ask ourselves who exactly we are hurting and why we feel it is necessary to do so.
In many instances, that minimum wage job might be the second opportunity. There is a pride that comes from working and it’s something no one can deny. It’s frustrating watching these same curmudgeons decry welfare and how people will earn more from that than they would a minimum wage job. It’s frustrating because the next logical conclusion is on the tip of their tongue and they just can’t spit it out.
If someone can’t make ends meet on minimum wage and find welfare easier then it doesn’t mean welfare is too much. It means minimum wage is not enough. Numerous companies have also discovered the quality of work goes up when wages go up. Amazingly, when you treat someone with more dignity then they somehow respond in kind. Amazing.
It’s been ten years since my education career rebooted. Some of the fallout was my fault and some was outside my control. Yet, I was given a second chance to do something I loved. There are millions of kids that need a second chance on life. Maybe they squandered their opportunity in school or maybe school was just too hard and too regimented to cater to their needs. Either way, everyone deserves a chance to work and to work with dignity. A little over seven dollars an hour isn’t dignity. I’m not sure what it is.