Why One Paraprofessional Wakes At 5 a.m. to Campaign

By Steve Lemken

Jean Fay works with kindergartners as a paraprofessional at Crocker Farm Elementary School in Amherst, Mass. It’s a full day teaching students how to read. She’s done it for 13 years. She loves her work.

She knows what an education means to her students and what it will take for them to succeed. She knows all too well what is at stake if she, and her community, do not vote Tuesday for candidates who will make sure schools have the resources and personnel to properly educate students.

She knows what they’re up against in the eyes of some in the public. (Waiting for Superman is playing in her town now.) She knows they must fight back by working the polls and staying on elected officials long after they close and the votes are tallied.

Like most middle class Americans, Jean Fay and her husband have to work harder to make sure their family has what it needs. She has two children in college and one out. It hasn’t been easy. Wages have not kept up with the reality of the cost of living for many years. She works seven days a week at her second job at a local retail store to keep up.

After 13 years, she earns $16.83 an hour as a paraprofessional. Employees coming into the same position start at $12.33 an hour – and only after six years on the job do they can get to advance to $14.99 an hour.

She wonders at society’s priorities. She noted that some retail stores will hire a worker at $15 an hour to sell cosmetics.

“They’ll pay more money to someone to pick out a mascara than a paraprofessional who works with students to teach them to read,” Fay says.

She is out organizing neighbors, co-workers, university students and the community to back pro-public education candidates and defeat ballot measures that that decimate public services, especially public education, in her community and state.

“What happens at the polls affects our work and our lives,” Fay says when she talks to fellow education support professionals about the importance of political involvement.

Tonight and tomorrow, Fay is going to work her tail off. She’ll use all her skills and connections to the community to do the right thing. And she’s got an awful lot of those connections, having worked on campaigns since 1996 and serving as a local leader in her school union and with the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Jean Fay is not shy. She has no qualms about asking anyone – including her husband and three children – to do one small thing for a campaign, like helping on a phone bank, making signs, holding those signs on a corner,  and walking precincts to drop literature.

She leads by example, too. She was up at 5 a.m. this morning, waving the signs of pro-public education candidates until 7 a.m. when she went to work. After school she’ll be back out on the road doing more – and making sure the volunteers are out and taken care of.

She has been at it for months. And she’ll be at it again Tuesday.

”I care for my community,” Fay says. “I won’t stop until I stop breathing.”

And tonight and tomorrow, educators like Fay will be following suit across America. They will make a difference in Campaign 2010. They know what’s at stake if they don’t.