by Susan Ohanian
Note: Going through old papers, I stumbled on this letter I wrote to the New York Times Dec. 10, 1966. Of course it's way too long but it gives you a picture of the way teachers were treated in New York City in that era. The greatest shock to me was visiting the UFT headquarters, seeing the mass of worker bees at their desks, and being told there wasn't a damn thing they would do to help me get my rightful pay.
The New York City Board of Education hired me to replace a teacher who left the classroom to go work for the UFT. He left the day before Parent Conference Day--so on my first day as a New York City teacher I met parents before I'd laid eyes on their kids.
To: New York Times
Dec. 10, 1966
Are you aware than by accepting their advertisements you are aiding and abetting inequities perpetrated by the New York City Board of Education against helpless practicing teachers and naive prospective teachers?
In November 1965, I answered an ad in The New York Times. This ad mentioned that there was a critical need for teachers in New York City and that qualified persons should apply immediately. According to the ad, those applicants with M.A. degrees would receive an annual salary of $6,400.
I am searching for a way to make this account brief, but as you must know, no relationship with the New york City Board of Education is comprehensible, let alone concise. Only Kafka could full appreciate the system Mr. Donavan heads.
After three, day-long trips to the Board of education offices my qualifications were accepted and I was assigned to a high school. Both the man in the personnel department at 110 Livingston Street and the principal of my school told me my salary would be $6,400.
When I was disgruntled by the small size of my first paycheck, the payroll clerk informed me that because I had been hired mid-semester I would be paid per diem until the beginning of the new semester. You might be interested to know that I worked nearly two months before I received any money--and then the first check covered only my first two weeks of service. What private business would get away with that? One must have enough funds in reserve to pay her living expenses for at least three months before venturing into the teaching 'profession' in New York City.
After the new semester began, I again complained about my salary, and this time the answer was, "Well, why didn't you file for the salary and promotional differentials?" This was the first time I had ever heard of these items. I filed immediately--only to be informed I was too late for the pay to be retroactive (officials finally admitted I had been underpaid since November). I was promised the correct salary as of April 21, 1966. In other words, i would be underpaid for five out of seven months of service. By the standards of the New York public school system, I suppose I should have been grateful.
On a visit to the United Federation of Teachers office last spring, I was told that they couldn't do anything about my problem because over 12,000 New York City teachers were waiting for receipt of a raise that, according to statements issued by the Board, they had "received" the previous year.
My inquiries to the Board of Education met with silence--or, even worse, some of their incomprehensible form letters. On Nov. 21, 1966, a year after I had started my teaching career, I wrote another letter to the Head of the Salary Unit at 110 Livingston Street. By this time I had stopped being polite. In that letter I accused the Board of false advertising and informed them I was sending an accounting of my situation to The New York Times, informing them they were publishing false advertising.
On December 7, I received a check from the City of New York--no explanation--just a check. This check was back-dated to Aug. 31, 1966.
So, now that I have my money, why don't I shut up? I feel that the principle goes beyond $500. I, like thousands of others, assumed that when one is promised a certain salary, she gets it. This seems true of the capitalist employers who supposedly exploit their laborers. Why should a New York City teacher have to write countless angry letters to receive her just wages? Why should she have to wait more than a year for these wages?
I am not asking that teaching be made a profession in New York City. I do not attack the Board of Education for failing to provide soap and toilet paper in the restrooms, for making the teacher buy her own copy paper for classroom use, for demanding that the teacher punch in and out at a time clock, for not accepting the teacher's word for absence due to illness. I do feel, however, that even the most menial laborer is entitled to her just wages.
I hope that The New York Times will see fit to check the veracity of its advertisers' statements before accepting their business.
An exploited laborer,