In the words of workers: Kim

Kim shared her story as part of MECEP’s State of Working Maine 2023 report. Click here to read the full report.

Kim is an Ed Tech 3 with 21 years of experience working in elementary and middle schools in Oxford County. She is currently working with middle school students across four grades and coaches Special Olympics track, skiing, and basketball. 

A lot of people think an ed tech is just a classroom aide, that we’re there to tie shoes and make copies for teachers. That’s not what we are. An ed tech is essentially an underpaid teaching position. Some of us are even certified teachers. Probably 50% of the ed techs in Maine are either retired teachers or they’re waiting to become teachers.  

Right now, we don’t have enough support staff to go around. We’re legally covering the Individualized Education Plans, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing all we used to be able to do for kids. We used to have one or two ed techs per grade. Now I cover grades 5, 6, 7, and 8, so I never end up being where I need to be at the right time. I don’t like abandoning a child when they’re struggling with something because, “sorry, I’ve got to go to another grade!” And if a teacher is absent, they’ll call an ed tech because there are no substitutes to call. When that happens, it means students aren’t being supported correctly. 

We’re experiencing these staffing shortages because it’s a tough job and it doesn’t pay enough. Ed techs are hourly workers, and ours is one of the lowest paid jobs in the state. In my district, if you’re an Ed Tech 1, your starting pay is four cents above minimum wage. They tried to pass a minimum starting wage for ed techs that would have brought it to $16 an hour, but that got shot down. $16 an hour isn’t a lot, either. 

Kim stands in an empty classroom, looking into the camera. Her hand rests on a desk.

My daughter started as an ed tech in our district. She did five years with us and then switched to a coastal district where they pay $5 more per hour. She’s being paid more than me even though she’s in her seventh year and I’m in my twenty first. She’s making close to $24 an hour, and I make $19.83. Some of our high school students work at Walmart. They don’t have their high school degrees yet, but they make $20 an hour. It’s hard to justify staying here when I could go work part time at Walmart for $20 an hour. We lost ten ed techs over the summer.  

I was the driving force behind starting an ed tech union in this district eight years ago. Before that, whenever the budget got tight, they took things away from us. We couldn’t bank as many sick days, and then we had to make up hours if school started late or ended early due to bad weather. Then they tried to take away our health insurance. That’s when we said, “Okay, we really need a union.” It took us two years to get that first contract. We got a $2 per hour raise across the board. We won our sick days back. We won some of our health insurance back. Back then we asked for proper pay. I kept saying, “If you don’t pay us well, you’re not going to have us.” And now this year we’re short.  

I like the people I work with. We’re all here for the right reasons. I’m hoping to get better gains on our contract so we can stay here. But I’m worried. The only things we’re unhappy with in our contract right now are our health insurance and our pay scale, and those are the two hardest things to negotiate. Educators can’t strike in the state of Maine. So, the biggest leverage we have is to point out the fact that they’re not going to be able to keep us. There will be no retention. Because who’s going to want to stay?  

I think what a lot of parents and outside people don’t understand is that we are not here for the money. The money should be appropriate. But we’re here because we love what we do. We love the kids.