Knocking for the Future
I was the only teacher in the toddler class from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., as there were just three students that day. Sara, Reesey, and Viola, I sang their names in my head. On break I ate lunch upstairs in an empty room, not wanting to brave the hazardous AQI (Air Quality Index) level outside. My partner called for pre-interview advice for a canvassing job in Phoenix, Arizona. Back in the classroom, the director gave me the bad news. The school would combine classes to save money. Of course, they’d love to rehire me when more students enroll and things look better…
The pandemic has affected me because I lost my job as a preschool teacher not once, but twice. First, when the school closed down in March and again last week when the board decided to lay off most of us. At four-years-old, most of my students have known me for half their lives. They shout my name and mob me with hugs when I arrive at work each day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see them again.
“Thanks for sharing your story,” said our trainer as I gently sit back down on the plastic chair six feet from the others in the melting-hot, semi-shaded, Phoenix parking lot. “Now, we’re going to pair up and go knock some doors!”
“As a preschool teacher, I want to see people in office who care about education. Can we count on your vote—”
“As a preschool teacher, I really value education. Are you familiar with Proposition 208 invest in education—”
After a week, we settle into the canvassing groove, and we ourselves begin training more newcomers. We adapted to the climate, which by mid-October had cooled down to 95˚ Fahrenheit, although hydration required a constant vigilance. We became confident with our spiel at the doors, although the moment of anticipation between knock and answer remained stressful. We repeated the advice of our trainers– tell your story.
Each day I took inspiration from our fellow canvassers, who were fighting for their families who lost their jobs in the pandemic, who lost their healthcare, who have preexisting conditions, whose futures’ depend on the outcomes of this election.
I reconsidered the story I was telling—it was just a snapshot. Preschool teachers don’t get healthcare from their employer. We also don’t have a union to collectively bargain for us. Underpaid grade-school teachers have both of these. My own healthcare is heavily subsidized because of my income level. At one point, half of the teachers in my class were overworking themselves with second jobs to pay off medical debt.
I look at the headlines and again I wonder, why can’t we prioritize schools over bars?
I’m so thankful I’m not a student in 2020. But I am sad I am no longer a teacher. I learned an effective canvasser must operate from the same place as a teacher—from a place of deep caring. It is from this place of deep caring we will reinvent the future.
Writer / Photographer
Pauline Allen has worked in early childhood education, studied ecology at Evergreen State College, and is an aspiring science communicator. Her rusty, blue bike takes her crisscrossing the city from work at a preschool, to volunteer restoration events, and to climate justice meetings. She performs in the streets with a local activist band and documents snapshots of her adventurous life in her trusty sketchbook.