The Match that Started a Blaze

Tutors at a no-excuses charter school learn some hard lessons

Editor’s Note: The Boston Globe’s James Vaznis has a terrific investigatory piece into the working conditions of the city’s growing tutor corps. Stay tuned for more on this story as it’s far from over. 

By Barrett Smith
Last December, I drove down to Boston from Middlebury College in Vermont where I was finishing my senior year. On a crisp Monday morning, I parallel parked, straightened my tie and walked into an interview to become a tutor at a “no excuses” charter school. A week later I had an offer sitting in my inbox, inviting me to become a member of the “Corps,” so called because the program used to be part of AmeriCorps. I was the first of my roommates to receive a job offer and joining the Corps sounded pretty damn good.

In fact it seemed too good to be true: living with a community of other Corps members, tutoring middle school students in mathematics and English, serving as a teaching assistant, and leading clubs, sports and elective classes. While I’d heard sharp criticisms of charter schools, I was looking forward to seeing what one was really like. Best of all, whatever skills I learned would only help me realize my goal of becoming a teacher. So I signed the brief one-page contract and officially became a “volunteer member” of the Corps, entitling me to a stipend totaling $7500 a year and housing. I wouldn’t be making much but this was a year of service and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Reality check
Signs of trouble emerged before the school year even began. The stipend we’d been promised had been changed and now included an additional $5000 for housing, which was then deducted from our pay. It may sound trivial but it meant that on paper at least some Corps members were now making too much money to have their student loans deferred. And we no longer qualified for food stamps, something school officials had assured us would be available to supplement our small stipends.

Add in the deductions that none of us was expecting—8% of our earnings was going to the Massachusetts public retirement system, while Corps members who needed health insurance were paying a full 8% of their earnings without the reimbursement that our contract promised—and our situation began to look desperate. Some of our Corps were unable to buy food. Others were spending everything they had in savings and were still unable to make car, loan or other payments. 

Action plan
When we spoke to our immediate supervisor, the Corps Director, we were told “tough luck”—although she did offer to help us with budgeting.
But then some of us mentioned that we were talking to lawyers about a breach of contract. Within a week we had a memo from the Chief Operating Officer. No doubt he knew that one breached contract is a lawsuit; 150 simultaneously can sink the whole ship. The higher-ups had an offer for us: $1000 for each Corps member for what they called “relief for lost public benefits.” But there was a catch: we had to sign on within four days.

Thirty of 50 middle school Corps members refused to sign within this short timeframe, asking to consult legal counsel. That really did it. The next week the CEO called the middle school Corps together for two separate group meetings.

In that first meeting, we were told by a man with an MBA and a JD from Harvard that he “wasn’t interested” in the legality of our contracts. After all, we’re a family, as he put it. Let’s solve these matters internally, like a family. He balked several times when asked if we could have a new contract to reflect the changes that had been made. We weren’t satisfied.

A bill of goods
As for the rationale for those changes, the COO explained that they’d been made for philosophical reasons: “to professionalize the Corps.” So what did “professionalizing the Corps” look like?

It looked like unilaterally breaching our original contracts without even seeking our consent or approval. It looked like classifying us as employees instead of the volunteers we’d signed on as. It looked like instructing us to come to our paternalistic employer with our personal finances to ask for more money if the contract changes negatively affected us. It looked like paying us less than minimum salary and less than minimum wage ($8 per hour in the state of Massachusetts). It looked like trying to take advantage of recent college grads who couldn’t possibly know better or put up a fight.

The CEO’s ultimate resolution was to make us minimum-wage employees and limit Corps members to forty hours per week. Previously we had all been working between fifty and sixty hours per week or more. But because administrators claimed they couldn’t afford to pay us even minimum wage for the work we were expected to do, our workloads were reduced—at least on paper. Currently every one of the Corps members is still working more than forty hours and under-reporting their hours.

Cool Story, Bro
So why does any of this matter? If you’re reading EduShyster, chances are you probably have an idea of why charter schools are criticized, especially in terms of the teacher turnover and the relentless focus on test preparation. But I want to focus on the labor and community perspective. This is what corporate-run education looks like.

From the labor perspective, we as a tutor Corps are flooding the local market with cheap labor. In our paraprofessional role alone, we make a fraction of what we would as public school employees. In our case, most of us were too young, too inexperienced, too complacent, and too happy just to be employed to even think about demanding a minimum wage. Ironically, in such tight living quarters—I shared a house with close to 30 other tutors—we were able to share information and organize fairly easily.

The lesson learned: work collectively. The CEO urged us several times to come to him individually. He knows that individually we can be isolated, redirected and limited. Collectively we have immense power.

From a community perspective, this charter school is well known for bringing in a flood of outsiders, mostly white and privileged, and from “elite” colleges, to tutor their students. We come into a community that we know nothing about, learn nothing about, and “live in” to “serve” our students.

But as Corps members, we filled the roles of lunch workers, janitorial staff, aides, and other jobs that could be just as easily be filled by members of the community — many of whom are more experienced and more qualified for these roles. And we do it with 100% yearly turnover. Which means we have no prospect of longevity in our positions. We have very little incentive to stand up for our rights let alone to demand better conditions for ourselves, even when the pressure to underreport our hours meant that we were working illegally. We were told to think of our students: to serve, to trust, to grin and bear it.

But what’s the take away for the broader education landscape? Yes—as educators, serving our students is our primary focus, but we cannot let that make us passive. As educators, our labor rights are still important. Labor rights and requirements are built on the blood, sweat, tears and bones of American workers. As educators, we don’t ask for the eight-hour day or the forty-hour week. Just a contract and a living wage. Just dignity and respect.

Barrett Smith is a former tutor at a no-excuses charter school in Boston. Send tips and comments to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.

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54 Comments

  1. Sounds to me as if you tried to “band together,” and form a ???? UNION???? Hmmm, maybe you now understand why seasoned teachers are fighting charter schools son. The way you were all treated is the way teachers were treated before the unions were formed. Now your generation and the corporations want to turn the clock backwards. They could care less about the kids. You learned a hard lesson.

    1. At the same time, unions are making it difficult to put in place some very necessary changes. I think unions are necessary, but I also think charter schools are too. We haven’t been able to discover the ideal model of education yet, and charter schools are allowing us to get closer to that discovery.

      1. Jo, you are ignoring one fact. The public, community schools are leaving and will never come back. I live in toney Santa Fe and my neighbor bragged how the best new investment was in corporate charter schools.

      2. There is no ideal model of school that is universally applicable and any organization that says it is working on finding one is either delusional or criminal. Educating students is contextual and complex. What works in New York City will not work in rural PA. What educators do know is that kids everywhere do better in school when they are healthy, well-fed, and secure – PSYCH 101 Maslow stuff. Tinkering with an education system without addressing those issues is a waste of time and money. And truly helping kids to lay a foundation a for better life is not a one year comittment. It take a committment of years and years by the people and by the system and community. It is great that this Corps helped kids and built relationships. Unfortunately, now those kids have a whole new set of people to work with and have to build those relationships again since the old people left them. This churn is not a recipe for a long term, stable system.
        We need to stop looking for an easy band-aid fix.
        As far as unions obstructing educational innovation, that is just plain false. Unions protect working conditions, not teaching methods or student groupings. They make sure the middle-aged teacher with a family is not forced to live on $7500/year.

        1. Alice, you have a firm grasp on reality, logic, and common sense. Until students are really helped with the basics in life, all the “reforms” only fill corporate pockets and our students are still wanting.

          1. Yes, Alice, we regret to inform you that your firm grasp on reality, logic and common sense leaves no alternative but to discontinue your employment..

            Please gather your things, and Security will escort you from the premises.

    2. Yeah Suzy, I think that was kind of the point of the article. I think he does understand a little bit the value of unions and huge problems with charters. Not entirely sure why you feel the need to condescend him while making huge generalizations about “your generation”. You guys are on the same side, Suzy. Frankly, the sort of inter-generational bashing you’re displaying is probably part of what adds to the appeal of organizations like Match while dissuading smart kids from traditional teacher prep programs. So why don;t you cut it out, okay? The guy tried to do right by kids and roped in by a predatory organization… more deserving of your sympathy than your scorn, don’t you think?

  2. So… you signed on for a volunteer position, that you knew would demand 70-80 hours a week of time, then got pissed when you didn’t make minimum wage? Yup. Definitely the school’s fault.

    1. That’s not what he said at all. The “Corp” actually decided to pay them more, enough that would make them ineligible for food stamps, but still too low that it looks like they make less than minimum wage on paper. The CEO wants to make them into full time employees instead of the volunteers that they are.

      1. The switch also made them ineligible for loan deferment and free health care. The health care provided by the school was promised to be reimbursed and was not. They were told that the contract breach was totally legal, which it certainly is not. It wasn’t about the work demand. You can see how this switch negatively affected the finances of 150 20-somethings trying to get by.

        1. Yes, I hope you also have sympathy for certified experienced teachers being laid off while TFA temps take their jobs for a while and then move on. A job the teacher would have kept for many years. That affects his or her families finances, too.

          1. That’s not what this post is about. That is a whole other issue, a problematic one as well. This article is about a blatant disregard to simple labor laws ensuring that employees are paid legally.

      2. They were actually just trying to help those of us who didn’t want to live in their free housing by giving us extra money for rent, but they could only do that by adding the money to all of our paychecks and then taking it out for those of us who were living in Match apartments. The ineligibility for food stamps was a mistake that they tried to correct.

    1. It is not useful or thoughtful to call people names. What do you mean clown? Who are you? Can you at least have the courage to put a name to your foolish insult?

      1. I am not sure who the person who wrote that comment is, but listening to someone insult a school filled with people you served and cared for is difficult.

  3. It’s disappointing when people become so emotional about unfair treatment that they fail to think logically about who is to blame. The small salaries and long hours that educators face are definitely angering, but they are not the schools’ fault. For someone so well-spoken, it is disappointing that this person can’t point the finger at low taxes, low sense of collective responsibility. THAT is what smart people like this should be organizing to change, NOT eradicating schools finding work-arounds in order to get kids to college.

      1. Thank you, Whaleboy.

        Breach of contract is not the workers’ fault, regardless of profession. This corps is not looking for a “work-around” to get kids to college, it was looking for what they were promised in their contract.

      2. Please read the comment I just posted. As a Match volunteer, I feel that there have been some exaggerations.

    1. Hmm, low taxes would affect PUBLIC schools, but would have little to do with a for-profit school. As a mother of a soon-to-be-college-aged son, and remembering my own early working years, I can see how easy it would be for a young person to fall for an “opportunity” like this, especially in a tough job market. Kudos to Barrett and his co-workers for catching on and working together to call out these, uh, public-coffer thieves. Enough money bleeds out of our community-based public schools to these fake-public schools that they certainly could have paid at least minimum wage–except, oops! They still needed to generate that profit first, so…..I guess not. As for the “small salaries and long hours” mentioned in Disappointed’s post–at least teachers in local public schools get paid a real salary, with real benefits, and don’t face what sounds like blatant labor-law violations. I know of no teacher in a public-sector school who is paid LESS than minimum wage. Frankly, I get pretty “emotional” too about unfair treatment!

      1. A charter school is a public school. It is not a “for profit” school. Get the facts straight before you decide to contribute to conversation.

        1. Confused, well more like uninformed, you are. Some charters are for profit. We don’t know in this instance the school where the author worked is or is not a for profit operation.

        2. “A charter school is a public school.”
          In what sense? In that they take public money, yes. In the sense that they have to serve all children. No.
          Please read up on charter schools.
          Some are run by or managed by for profit companies. Even some that claim to be non profit are managed by for profit companies.
          Many CEO’s of charter are pain hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly while those actually helping the children need food stamps.
          Most of them are guilty of skimming students and failing to enroll students with special needs.

      2. Though charter schools tend to be low performing, there are still some exceptional ones. Boston is lucky to have so many exceptional charter schools. Personally, I think that charter schools are necessary because there are many restrictions on public schools (in MA, the main difference I know of between charter schools and public schools are the restrictions and attending students) and we haven’t discovered the ideal way to approach education, especially for students from low-income areas. These charter schools allow us to find a model that works without being bogged down by the bureaucracy.

        1. No, what charter schools do is allow a few “deserving” students to be redirected into an allegedly better educational situation, while leaving the rest of the district’s students behind in increasingly underfunded, underserved public schools. Successful charter schools typically self-select for motivated students and involved parents, basically just like private schools do. If public schools could be that picky, they’d all be as successful as the best private schools and the best charter schools. Unfortunately, they really couldn’t be considered public schools, anymore.

          The American public need to suck it up and demand that the real problems of poverty be addressed, before implementing all these experimental reforms. Then we’ll see a resurgence in the greatest of public schools.

  4. “The stipend we’d been promised had been changed and now included an additional $5000 for housing, which was then deducted from our pay. It may sound trivial but it meant that on paper at least some Corps members were now making too much money to have their student loans deferred. And we no longer qualified for food stamps, something school officials had assured us would be available to supplement our small stipends.”

    Bait and switch.

    And inspiraion by Walmart: have taxpayers foot the bill with food stamps, so there are plenty of $$$ to pay the CEO the rheephormy thousands he deserves!

    1. I am currently a Match volunteer and was present during the changes. This was not something that I was ever aware of happening to any of the other volunteers. Personally, I was able to get my loans deferred since I filled out the forms on time.

  5. Wow, employees needing to depend of food stamps…(tax payer money)….while the CEO is paid big bucks.
    Remind anyone of Walmart?

    1. Good point Ang. When the state compensates workers for food stamps or health care, it lessens the employer’s burden. Sounds like a smart business practice to me. Looks like people running private education want to exploit those resources.

      Is it a good societal economic model, uh, no.

      The goal of today’s college grad is to get on government health care and food stamps. Wow, how the world has changed. It is pragmatic economic realism, but a sign of a bloated welfare based economy. What’s the dream of the average low wage worker? To somehow collect disability? Something is not right.

      1. The goal of today’s college grad is to get on government health care? I beg to differ. The goal would rather be to find a job that is both fulfilling and financially supportive. College grads are not signing up for these volunteer positions in order to ensure government aid programs. They are accepting these positions because working in a high-needs school, or any school for that fact, is rewarding work. Saying that they are in it for benefits like food stamps is petty and insulting to volunteer workers who can’t seem to find anything more financially stable in this job market. Shame on you.

        1. I think you missed the point. Government should pay for education by paying teachers well. Subsidizing education through food stamps is a backasswards way to do it, no to mention demoralizing and disempowering to the teachers. If they find it rewarding to be Mother Theresa, so be it. I’m not insulting them, the economic system is insulting them. I’m for fair wages, self respect, and empowering the nature of work.

  6. I was very surprised by this article considering the fact that I am a Match volunteer and was one during the aforementioned event (though I am working at the high school and not at the middle school). It is the general consensus among the high school volunteers that when signing up for this job, we knew that it was going to be a lot of work for not a lot of pay (regardless of taxes and deductions for benefits, $7500 a year is not a lot of money). Match is no longer an Americorps sponsored organization and is in its transition phase. This meant changes, one of which was the addition of the $500 per month on our paychecks. This was not an attempt to make our lives difficult but to better suit those of us that did not want to take advantage of the free housing, and our resulting ineligibility for food stamps was an accident.

    Match was unable to correct this error, and so they offered us what they thought to be an equivalent compensation for the food stamps we could no longer get. Some of the volunteers rejected the offer because they knew that the money would otherwise be put to serving our students or at least used to help close the achievement gap. When we heard that Match was going to have to reduce our hours because it was not meeting the minimum wage standards and was no longer an Americorps organization, we were horrified. How were we supposed to help our students get they education they deserved when they were two or three years behind and we couldn’t give them the assistance they needed?

    Our leadership team toiled over the logistics of running the school and set a date to meet with all of the volunteers. Many of the us (though, I will admit, not all) signed a statement before the meeting that said we understood the legality of the situation, but each of us made the choice to dedicate a year of our time to do what ever it took to help our students. We recognized that the time we were putting in was necessary and would like to continue. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a difference since we were bound by state laws. Now there are firm restrictions on hours, but we still come to work everyday grateful for the chance to make a difference.

    I love what I do, who I work with, and the kids I get to educate. Even though I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like or the amount of work it would require before I began, I can’t stand on the sidelines and listen to someone paint it in such a negative light. Match is a wonderful organization that helps so many people, and though they don’t having everything right, they admit their mistakes and attempt to fix them. Please don’t “hate on” charter schools. The reason they’re around is to find an education model that works, and Match is on its way to achieving that.

    1. Jo, it’s great that you are in a position to work and not expect a living wage. Most college grads have loans to pay and do not continue to receive support from their parents. I’m assuming you must come from a very wealthy family who supports you monetarily, since noone can live on less than minimum wage.

      When I was a beginning teacher, I taught my first year for $7500, I had to live at home and I wasn’t able to pay my parents rent. Between my student loan and car expenses to travel back and forth to school, I didn’t have any extra money.

      Teachers need to be paid a living wage. Otherwise you will only get elitists who do not understand the plight of their students and families. If people are very wealthy and do not need the money like some you referenced, maybe they could donate that money to a charity. But everyone who works deserves to be paid.

      And as for Charter Schools, there is a huge discrepancy in whether they are public or private. They take public money, but do not take all public school students. They pay their administrators exhorbidant salaries, but do not pay their workers a living wage. They may or may not abide by testing rules and regulations that public schools must abide by. Most do not take ESL, special education, behavior problems, attendance issues…all students public schools teach. They certainly claim to be private when people point out the difference between public and private!

      Charter schools original message was to serve students who were not succeeding in public schools because of special education, home environment, lack of health care, lack of supervision, behavior, truancy….and other issues affecting a student’s ability to learn.

      1. I have loans and my parents are unable to financially support me. Fortunately I was able to get my loans deferred and Match gives its volunteers free housing. By managing my paychecks well, I am able to live comfortably. I did not and do not need to rely on my parents to participate in this program.

    2. Jo:
      Thanks for filling in the details and for being realistic about the opportunity. I wish you luck in your career. Your attitude and commitment will likely set you apart.

      1. What “career”? As I read it, this person is saying they were eager and happy to “put in their one year to help people.” The young people I know who are taking a similar pathway went to college with no clear thoughts of a career, much less a job, when they graduated. They major in such things as “the Classics” and sit around for four years talking about books and enriching their own lives. Then suddenly it is time to enter the real world with no clue as to what they will do to earn a living.

        Then Teach for America or some similar group swoops in with the promise of student loans paid and $10,000 in the bank when they are done “giving their two years to help people.” Then they have “earned” the right to be called educators and start guiding education policy and getting a free ride to Ivy League colleges who reserve full scholarships for TFA types.

        I was going to say these kids don’t seem like the “best and the brightest” but I guess in today’s world, they are judged as such. They are enabled to get what they “deserve” by “helping the poor kids” for one or two years.

        This is the change I see in society today. No real long term commitment to helping others. It’s all about what they can get for putting in their time.

        As far as charter schools being models of excellence or incubators of the next education miracle, name one. Where are the successes that have shown the rest of us lazy educators how to do it right?

    3. Jo, thanks for your response and thoughts.

      You’ve put the narrative as presented by Match extremely well. I don’t sit here thinking the leadership team was conspiring to injure the tutors. I think that they made some very serious business and legal errors.

      But the crucial part of my article is a question of the structure of the program itself. If Match is “on its way to achieving [an educational model that works]” what does that look like for the community the school is in? What does it mean to have a flood of (mostly very privileged) outsiders coming in to staff the school? What does it mean to have a system with 100% turnover for the workhorses (the tutors) of the organization? Is that best for our kids and their communities or the bottom line? What do these business practices mean for education as a career?

      I agree with you that it’s unfortunate to be limited to forty-hours a week and I don’t think that truly serves our students. And that’s not the resolution that I wanted (all I wanted was for the original contracts to be honored). I think that the management team showed a disregard for labor laws and the tutors themselves when we were switched to employees (without even being notified of the switch and without adequate funds to legally pay us for our labor). And from my perspective, they only attempted to fix issues that arose once threatened with potential legal action. To me, that does not indicate good faith.

      Finally, I want to point out an interesting tension within your language. You write that you are a volunteer and write about your fellow volunteers. But you are not a volunteer; you are an employee. We both signed volunteer agreements, but you are “philosophically” considered and treated like an employee.

      Thanks for writing, good luck with the rest of the year and know that my thoughts are with the Corps and their tutees.

  7. Having searched “Barrett Smith at Middlebury” on Google, I now view his rendition of the story even more skeptically than when I wrote what follows. I suggest others also take a look before jumping to too many conclusions.

    I am puzzled by the author’s perspective. He must not have ever looked at his college tuition bill. 2013-2014 tuition and basic expenses is at Middlebury are $60,000 p.a.!! He or his parents essentially spent $240K minus whatever scholarships and grants he received. That is serious money and deserves some serious thinking. If he was the first person he knew who had any kind of job in December of his senior year, then he and his friends were living in a dream world.

    http://www.middlebury.edu/admissions/tuition

    He had 6 plus months to find a better option. The complaint appears to be that he is no longer eligible for food stamps and that the clock would start ticking on student loans. Breaching a contract is a bad thing but according to Jo’s description, the company tried to make the tutors whole.

    Mr Smith needs to come to terms with the fact that he is going to have to do a better job looking after his own interests. I just caution him to have realistic expectations when he looks for his next job.

    1. Thank you for the well wishes in finding my next job. I am currently employed and can assure you that I had no grand illusions when accepting my new job.

      Also, I am thankful for the privileges I was offered at Middlebury but am deeply ambivalent about the place. I could talk to you for hours about it, but my experience at Middlebury was not the discussion I hoped this post would evoke.

      If you are skeptical of my account, I would love to answer any questions or specific criticisms and provide concrete supporting evidence where I can.

  8. Thanks, Barrett, for the post that will, hopefully, warn off other college grads from such exploitation. Everyone reading this post should forward it to as many people as you can. (I, myself, will be sending it to many education professors so they can warn their students.)The $$$$$ people who, it seems, do not already have enough money (especially after casting off real, certified teachers and using–and I DO mean USING– TFA teachers), are sinking to a new low (or, I should say, BELOW low) in pay and benefits (WHAT benefits? Oh–that’s right–food stamps–which WE taxpayers pay for). What next? Provision of housing–including bunk beds lined up in rows– in rat-infested slums (third world country-style!)?
    College graduates–beware (and wary)!

  9. To the author of this article:

    “In our case, most of us were too young, too inexperienced, too complacent, and too happy just to be employed to even think about demanding a minimum wage.”

    Are you serious? You signed up for a VOLUNTEER position. You signed up for $7500 for a year of service. You signed up to put someone else – namely a population of socioeconomically disadvantaged kids – BEFORE yourself, because that’s a damn worthwhile thing to do for a year. They’ve been put through the ringer of terrible education from schools not willing to work as hard for them as this school is, and are showing up to this school YEARS behind grade level as a result. Yes the work is hard, yes everyone is underpaid, but THEY’RE WILLING TO DO THAT WORK BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT. If this is a long term position, sure, demand minimum wage, but it’s a service year. It’s openly advertised that you’ll be working 60-70 hour weeks for no pay before you take the job. It’s ludicrous that you’re complaining about being disadvantaged in this context, surrounded by kids who have it worse off than you in every way.

    We come into a community that we know nothing about, learn nothing about, and “live in” to “serve” our students.

    Well it’s very apparent that you know nothing about the community. What upsets me is “learn nothing about.” That’s genuinely, deeply upsetting that an educated person like yourself could spend 10 hours a day working intimately with these kids and “learn nothing about” their lives. What were you doing in tutorial? It’s like you’re not even trying. More over, do you think you’re not serving our students? Why the quotation marks? You have dozens of meaningful interactions with these kids on a daily basis. They’re catching up multiple grade levels during middle school and getting accepted to colleges at an almost 100% rate at the end of high school. Their state test scores are some of the best in the state. You are literally dragging them up across the achievement gap, or at least making significant strides. What are you on?

    “And we do it with 100% yearly turnover. Which means we have no prospect of longevity in our positions. We have very little incentive to stand up for our rights let alone to demand better conditions for ourselves, even when the pressure to underreport our hours meant that we were working illegally. We were told to think of our students: to serve, to trust, to grin and bear it.”

    Holy hell there is so much wrong with your perspective here. You shouldn’t have any prospect of longevity in your position BECAUSE IT’S A SERVICE YEAR. Demand better conditions for yourself? You’re putting up with long hours and low pay for a year. The kid’s you’re royally screwing over are putting up with educatprs giving up on them for years if it weren’t for your coworkers who understand that they’re not the most important person in the universe. Not to mention the fact that the pressure to underreport your hours is coming from those coworkers. That should tell you something. The people around you are willing to do work that you aren’t.

    This really isn’t about charter schools and breaches of contract at all. This isn’t about big corporations running a for profit school at the expense of teachers and students (because there isn’t at this school – which is public, by the way). This isn’t about the merits or demerits of a certain model of education. This is about someone who signed up for a single year of hard work, of true and important service, and who then thought of himself before the kids. Ten years worth of broke college grads have done this program and not uttered a single peep. Over a hundred of your fellow tutors this very year didn’t either. Why? Because they get it. I’d encourage you to do the same.

    1. I see that I have struck a nerve or two.

      I agree with you: I did sign up for a volunteer position and was willing to put in a year of service and work 60+ hour weeks. And if you knew me, you would know that I have happily done volunteer programs with more work for less pay.

      “Learn nothing about [the community]” is a commentary on the fact that I found my training to orient me to this new environment to be totally inadequate. I did get to know my kids well during my tutorials. But I’m not from Boston or a neighborhood like Jamaica Plain and was given next to no information about the struggles of the community I would be serving.

      I am “serving” the students in the sense of working to bring up their MCAS test scores. But I also see many ways that I am disadvantaging them at the same time (that’s a whole other post).

      But more deeply than the MCAS, the achievement gap is a trend in data that reflects foundational inequity of race and class in this country. Truly closing that gap will take a hell of a lot more than “dragging [our students] up across the achievement gap” by raising their test scores on the MCAS during a year of service. I’m working now to find a way that will allow me to commit my lifetime to addressing these inequities. To find a way that is empowering for student and community. It’s not something I will solve with a year of service and I felt myself taking steps backward during my time at this particular school.

      What I’m asking you to do (and this is the point of this article) is to look at the larger picture. Look at the program from the community perspective. Look at the program from a labor perspective. Who does it advantage to have such high turnover? Because as you pointed out, it’s not the kids.

      I’ll leave you with one last thought. This is a long term battle. That means we cannot just throw ourselves headlong into a totally selfless year-of-service. If we are truly dedicated to educating our students, we must look at situations with a broader perspective. And that means being able to sustain ourselves in order to continue to do important work beyond that one year.

      Thanks for your thoughts. If you know me personally through the program or can find my information I’d encourage you to reach out to me. I think we could have a productive dialogue that allows us to see each others points of view beyond a defensive, anonymous blog comment.

  10. He just wants “… a contract and a living wage. Just dignity and respect.” So do we all, including the “career ready” graduates who serve the new masters- the 1%.

    1. Oh my god, don’t you dare say that the life of a Match tutor is “serving the 1%.” Most of your time as a tutor is spent developing real, meaningful, and important relationships with students who the 1% have shoved to the curb time and time again and helping to develop in these students the skills that will help them, maybe, have the same prospect for success that well-off Middlebury graduates have. For a lot of tutors, that’s a purpose worth working long, long hours for without much pay. If it’s not your thing, or not financially feasible for you, YOU KNEW EXACTLY WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO. The website states:

      “7. Is the Match Corps a lot of work?
      YES. Think med school. Think military. Think your toughest semester in college. The standard workday for a Match Corps member is from 8:30 AM-6:15 PM, BEFORE making phone calls home, preparing for tutorials, and performing his/her secondary duty. Corps members are virtually always “on-call” to help students succeed academically.”

  11. These aren’t people with good intentions. Where do you think the money to run the program came from? Yes, I know it’s a rhetorical question. These aren’t heroes, they’re scabs.
    Real service stems from challenging injustices, which the author of this piece did–the kind of challenging that is dangerous because it comes with risk of being black balled by no reference or worse…

  12. Barrett Smith:

    I was a Corps member last year, working long hours (especially as a TA) for not much money. Did I care? No. Why not? Because I was there for the students! The students I worked with had been through a heck of a lot with previous schooling, their home lives, their financial situations, etc., etc. Some of their parents worked two jobs. Who was I to complain about having to work hard?!

    Many of my fellow Corps members feel exactly the same, and they have expressed outrage over your claims. We staunchly believed in our purpose during our Corps year — that of getting high-poverty kids on the path to college — and that MORE than outweighed the fact that we weren’t being paid a bit more.

    I also received TONS of support and feedback from my directors; such professional development opportunities drew me to the program in the first place, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you say you didn’t have opportunities to learn about the students’ lives. You probably weren’t listening, eager to learn, or truly committed to the idea of this service in the first place.

    I’m sorry for the impact that your complaints must be having on the students and general school community.

    1. I think you are missing the point. Tutors aren’t upset about working too much, they are upset about unfair labor practice and breach of contract. Being there for the students is great, but when that is at the expense of your own livelihood (aka being able to buy groceries), then there is a problem. When that problem is caused by an ILLEGAL change in the contract you signed before starting the program, then there is an even bigger problem. What so many other current tutors and former tutors are saying about working hard and doing it for the kids is a mindset that ignores the underlying inequalities here. This school purports a philosophy upon its students that it does not practice with its employees. It’s not a debate of the tutors’ purpose in these high-poverty schools, it’s a debate of fair treatment. Of course the kids benefit from having such a wide support system (academic and emotional). I don’t see this article bringing that into question and it’s disturbing that so many tutors both past and present take that away as their major criticism of Mr. Smith’s truthful, 100% factual, account of this fall’s events.

  13. I found this very interesting. My background: I graduated this past May, with a Bachelor’s degree in English and having completed all my secondary ed requirements. DESE being what it is, I didn’t get my actual license until October, so, no job for Frank this year. Like many in this situation, I’m doing the subbing route and hoping for next year. BTW, I am a career changer in my forties, so I certainly can’t do anything that isn’t going to get me paid.
    Subbing being what it is–per diem–I wanted something steady so I could count on some money every month. I found a tutoring gig. I work for a private company which brings foreign exchange students from Korea over here, puts them up in a dorm, arranges for them to attend a private HS in the area, and gets them tutoring to help them bridge the language gap. While these kids need serious English help, they are anything but disadvantaged–this program costs their families 100K a year. They are good kids, and I love working with them (and I get to eat awesome Korean food while I’m there!), but they have every advantage in the world. From this job, I will, this school year, make about the equivalent of that 7.5K that Match pays their tutors…the difference is, I will make that much working TEN hours a week. Of course, that leaves me plenty of time to substitute so that my pay for the year won’t be 7.5K.
    And this is why outfits like Match suck. I get paid in 10 hours what Match tutors get paid in 50, because I’m working with rich kids. Assuming, for the moment, that I’m good :), wouldn’t the kids in the Match schools benefit more from good tutoring than my wealthy Korean students? Language issues notwithstanding–of course they would. But I’m too old, with too many responsibilities–and spent too much time in retail–to work for minimum wage doing something I spent 5 years in school training to do. You don’t get me for peanuts.
    So, Match and outfits like them rely on the whole do-gooder aspect, to get people for far less than they should. I’m not insulting anyone that does this, believe me. You’re not the problem, except for undervaluing yourself. But most of these tutors are young, and do not have the financial responsibilities I do. (Yeah, I have loans too–talk to me when you have loans *and* child support!…oh, and when your oldest is going to college herself next year. Ah, me. :))
    I spent enough time working in retail to know how replaceable minimum-wage retail employees are…but a skilled teacher is NOT replaceable, or shouldn’t be. And places like Match send the exact opposite message.

  14. […] There was this story about the low pay of Match’s tutors, inspired by the allegations of a former tutor that first appeared on this very page. Then there was this column which argued that Match’s […]

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