There is a concept in labor economics called a “reservation wage.” This is the lowest wage that one would be willing to accept in order to be enticed to enter the formal labor market. This may depend on many things, including one’s assessment of the need to earn income for one’s family as well as the utility gained from spending time with one’s family on an informal basis. I thought of this last week as my daughter’s school began again and I found myself picking her up from “after care” where she stayed following the school day, as I finished up my work day.
When our daughter came home, I thought hard about whether to continue working for pay. It seemed that everyone had ideas to share with me about this; about the damage it might do my daughter to have a mother who works in the formal labor market, and about the benefits to her of having a mother who could model the trade-offs of working for pay while still being a mom. In the end, I decided there was more than enough guilt to go around, no matter what my choice was, and so I added up all the pluses and minuses (since that is what I do) and decided to keep my job as a (tenured) professor. I must admit that the promise of free college tuition played a large role in the final decision, something that my daughter is well aware of, although she does not completely understand that not everyone has access to a promise of a college education in their future. And so, I make the trade-offs day by day, as I work around my teaching schedule to get her off on the bus and then to pick her up in the afternoon. This final piece would not be possible if it were not for an amazing invention known as “after care.”
Ursuline College is a wonderfully small, student focused college. Since we are small, we sometimes offer only one section of each class. When we schedule classes, we think in terms of what possible classes a student might take, and which might conflict with each other. Because of this, we sometimes end up with schedules that are a little chaotic. For example, my Calculus course this semester meets for 1 ½ hours on Wednesdays and at a totally different time, in a different room, for 2 ½ hours on Fridays. We scheduled things this way to allow students to take the class who had other required classes (one at a neighboring university) that conflicted with other possible times. This happens as often as it needs to, so we can offer the classes and programs our students need. So, while it might be theoretically possible for me to schedule all my classes while my daughter is in school, it is often not practically possible. I do find it possible to both teach and to get my daughter home from school thanks to after care.
“After care” provides, for a small fee, a place for students to go after school where they are both safe and supervised. The fact that they have some time to work on homework makes it all the more attractive. It is wonderful to occasionally pick up my daughter in the afternoon to learn that she has done most of her homework for the day. The students get a healthy snack and there is always some time for them to socialize with friends. This has allowed my daughter to meet students from grades other than her own, friends who have provided us with valuable information about what she can expect in future years. On nice days, the students go to the playground, where they run off some energy, while on cold or rainy days, they play in the gym. In addition, having teachers and parents watch them for this time allows the students to be in an environment where they are encouraged to be good citizens and to treat each other with respect. Thus, I know that I am not compromising my values by letting her stay after school for a while until I can get there to pick her up.
The other day, I ran into a teacher on her way home from working at after care. She said good bye to my daughter by name, and I stopped to thank her for all that she does. I didn’t put it quite this way, but I know that, in the equation that I solved to decide if I could continue to work as a college professor, the variable “after care” played a crucial role.