It has finally happened. Tonight I gave one of my students a ride. Her name was Olive and a more graceful, gracious customer does not exist in the East Bay. (If you've read this blog you know I'm a teacher and might be able to imagine what it is like to have the tables turned by a student becoming an employer.)
The ride was awkward from the driver's seat but Olive did her best to put me at ease. Being September, it is early enough in the school year that I won't recognize all of my students but late enough in the year that I should know most of them. So when Olive got in I knew she was a student but didn't recognize her. Immediately I began to panic hoping beyond hope that she wasn't currently in my class. Turns out she isn't in my class and thankfully didn't give me grief for not knowing her from around school. She also helped keep the conversation on neutral topics so that I avoided explaining too much about why I was driving for Uber. I wanted to avoid that topic because whenever the issue of low teacher pay comes up I sound whiny. Olive helped me avoid whiny.
However the trip was still strange because I was being paid by one of my students to drive her home. The experience was a painful reminder of how little social standing teachers actually earn in our society. The media often refer to teachers as though they are a respected part of the middle class. However, with the current state of teacher pay, this traditional "respected" or "middle class" designation no longer applies. As a teacher, I may not be poor but it is ridiculous to say that I'm part of the middle class. After all, I just charged Olive's father $16.53 to drive her home on a Saturday night (and was disappointed I didn't get a tip). If I were middle class, I would have driven as a favor not for a fee.
Having two work worlds collide is a common occurrence for teachers. I don't know a teacher who doesn't have a second income. Uber driving, gardening, tutoring, pet sitting, the list goes on and on. (The teachers who don't have a second job often have second incomes through their spouse or inheritance.) With two or more jobs, educators play multiple social roles that often have
conflicting images and expectations. This puts strains on teachers and impacts their students in important ways. (But don't trust me, check out The Teacher Salary Project for more on this topic.)
Tonight it was fun driving Olive home but I'd be lying if I said I wanted to do it again. Having said that, I know I'm bound to drive a student in the future and only hope that next time it won't be so awkward.