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(en) Italy, FDCA, Cantier #24: The day of an angry educator - Ilaria Paradiso, Collettivo Educatrici Arrabbiate Bologna (ca, de, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Fri, 5 Apr 2024 09:51:31 +0300

The protagonist of the story you are going to read does not exist in the real world. We like to think that a little piece of her lives inside every third sector educator because everything you are about to read is a collage of facts, sensations, emotions, frustrations, anger, joys and sufferings that we have shared collectively in the fantastic adventure that is the Collective of the Angry Educators of Bologna. In the text the universal feminine is used in many points, a choice that the Collective has made and given it a critical meaning since educational work is often identified as care work which in our society is in turn attributed to a role that by "nature" should perform women. We would like to subvert all this and much more.

It's 7:40 and my alarm starts ringing. I almost never set it at half past seven because those extra ten minutes give me the illusion of a longer rest.

With my eyes still struggling to open, the first thing I do is what is not recommended by any doctor to protect our brain. Awkwardly feeling around the nightstand, I reach for my phone to turn off airplane mode. This night I was not available and so I decided to take care of myself and make sure not to let any vibrations disturb me.

The phone vibrates nervously and, between a very good morning from Aunt Carmelina and a meme about the group of friends, here she appears. "The work chat". Thirty-five unread messages. I've been awake for two minutes and I'm already looking at the ceiling, invoking some spiritual guide who can protect me during this day that has just begun. In the meantime, I soon reached the bathroom from the bedroom. I can't resist and so at 7.50, sitting comfortably on the toilet, I open the chat.

It seems that my on-call colleague was woken up at three in the morning by an officer from a barracks to go and collect one of our boys who had been stopped in the center and did not have the declaration certifying that he was a guest of our facility. He does not yet have a residence permit but, since he is a minor, this declaration gives him a sort of pass because it shows that he is under our protection. The fact is that she had to get up and go get it in a taxi, otherwise they would have held it until my shift arrived. Even the idea of leaving him in the barracks for a whole night is unacceptable. My colleague worked too much in the previous months, she had to cover shifts for another colleague who recently resigned and so she has many extra hours. She really didn't need this late-night call. It will be yet another unpaid on-call situation that will slip, silently for many and painfully for her, into the very famous and highly criticized hour bank.

For those who don't know what the hour bank is, don't worry, it's a very simple concept. Imagine a large deposit of surplus hours that will never be paid but which the educator will sooner or later be forced to dispose of if the aforementioned deposit were to grow excessively. This mechanism is triggered for an equally simple reason: the lack of money available to pay for overtime hours.

Our overtime hours often coincide with small or large emergencies. In educational work, unpredictable events can occur because, dealing with humans, we interact with situations that are part of everyday life: a police stop, a fight, a broken arm, a high fever. Unforeseen events. Unexpected events in life.

The feeling of guilt assails me. I could have been on call instead of her, what would I have done if I had been awake? Would I pretend not to hear the phone? What a nightmare. At the same time I think I was lucky when I had been on call two days before and nothing had happened. And again: guilt for having produced this thought. "What are you doing? Do you wish others to be woken up in the middle of the night?" I wonder.

I stop and take a deep breath. The hope is to chase away, by throwing the air out, this legacy of "guilt" which is nothing other than a trap that often and unfortunately misleads me. I take courage and after washing I prepare a coffee and eat two biscuits so as not to have to spend yet another penny on frenetic breakfasts at the bar. Those breakfasts where I get coffee at the counter and a croissant to bring. Croissant that I quickly gulp down on the way from the bar to the bus stop. In the worst case scenario, I spend five euros. No, I definitely can't afford it. The salary arrives in the middle of the month and I am left with one hundred euros on the card. If there's food in the pantry it's best to make do. Breakfast outside will be postponed as soon as there is new money.

From my seat on the bus, on my usual journey to work, I often look around me and observe the city. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the glass and look at myself carefully. I am an evanescent "I", as if I were a ghost. I'm just a shadow! I feel invisible in this city. I can feel what Bologna has become every day on my skin. Lately I like to compare it to one of those strange machines that tennis players use to train; the ones who energetically spit tennis balls.

Well, imagine that instead of the yellow balls there are all those people who have a bank account of less than a thousand euros. There are many of us who are part of this macro-category. Among all these subjectivities, the ones I can tell something about are us: the educators.

The educators of school services, socio-educational services, communities for unaccompanied foreign minors, housing services; those of home services, those of 24-hour educational communities and those of day centres. The educators who work in mother-child communities and those who instead deal with people with psychiatric problems. Those who do street education and those who work as jokers; those who hold protected meetings and the educators who work with disabled people.

Living in Bologna and being educators is a combination that is starting to become jarring. The real estate market is skyrocketing and the question from the aunts at Easter lunch is "but why don't you buy a house?!" I don't know what to answer anymore!

How do I explain to him that to buy a house I need a permanent contract, a decent paycheck and guarantors? This last element then suggests that our parents must literally vouch for us. What if some of them no longer have parents? What if someone doesn't want to burden their family? What if someone wanted to finally take their life into their own hands and become independent? Well, in these cases we could all agree that we have a plan B. Plan B would be to live in rent. A single room in the city of Bologna has come to cost between four hundred and one thousand euros. Too bad I earn nine hundred euros. Per month. How can I afford it?

And now I feel like I'm a yellow ball in the queue of many other yellow balls waiting for my moment. The one where I will be spit out of the city I chose to live in. From the Bologna that everyone told me was inclusive, full of space for everyone and which, instead, disappointing all my expectations and hopes, was transformed into yet another showcase city.

Bologna has been reshuffled into a honey cake displayed on the counter of the showcase cities, designed to be made available to tourists who, like greedy bears, come to visit it enchanted, ready to gorge themselves on its beauties and its brilliant historic center . And where do tourists sleep if not in those Airbnbs which until a few years ago were rented apartments where perhaps a family, a student, a couple lived?

As expected, what happens in the showcase cities is rather simple: no one cares about the margins; or rather it is better that the edges remain hidden from the thousand eyes that pass through the center. Here I feel like that tennis ball once again. But if I look carefully around me, at my side, among the spherical and yellow shapes, I can distinguish some of my colleagues and if I focus well, even the people I work for! If I think about it I start to not feel so alone and I often wonder what could happen if, all aware of what is happening

around us, we rebelled.

The first thing that happens, after two hours of arriving at the facility and after having had my chat with the guys, is to start receiving the first phone calls. She is my coordinator. "Alina is off sick, she can't come and relieve you at one. You're staying, okay?". Well no! Today I organized myself differently. I had finally made an appointment with my psychologist after months of not being able to fit her into any hole. If I miss it I will be forced to pay for the session anyway. That's sixty euros which, subtracted from the hundred left in the account, will leave me with forty euros and without the pleasure of having vented my sense of frustration on that poor woman. She writes down everything that comes out of my mouth and she nods in silence, reminding me every now and then that "you have to understand what you're looking for, you have to listen to yourself!". I would love to listen to myself, but how the hell do I do it if every time I try to do so someone sabotages me?

I try to ask the coordinator to find someone else, explaining my condition explicitly but "and who do I send you? There's no one, you know too that Giada quit last week. I'm sorry, I don't know how I can help you, we can't leave the structure uncovered." I had been organizing this change for a month. I'm forced to grit my teeth, listen to my stomach churning, and awkwardly try to calm down. The result is failure.

I keep thinking about that word that I hate and detest: flexibility. There it was floating in my mind and bumping against the skullcap a bit like the Windows screensaver with which I usually wrote my domed name. Being flexible is the mantra of educational work, it is the word spread on any advert you find on the web and elsewhere. This is that famous and ancient practice of squeezing people like a lemon, who in turn acquire the ability to resume human form after having been reduced to a balled up rag. That's what flexibility is. It's just a stupid excuse to plug the holes in a collapsing colander/system. But how is it possible that we are so small?

Sitting at the office desk, between one email and another, the great slogans echo in my head: "we are all one big family", "we act for the good of people", "being an educator is a vocation", "educators you are born and not made", "we guarantee services to the person", "there is no better exercise for the heart than holding out your hand and helping others to get up". All this is mere and pure slogan!

What does it mean to be part of a big family? Doesn't that mean leveraging the spirit of sacrifice? And again, the concept of "family", that organ of our society about which someone said "too much family is bad!". Isn't the direction we are taking that of de-constructing, criticizing and reinventing the family? Free it from its traditional value which has ultimately generated many oppressed men and women rather than free and non-dysfunctional subjectivities. But be careful, here we are not talking about social volunteering, vocation, piètas and unbridled love towards others. Here we are talking about people who work for other people. Work must be paid, protected and also with dignity! What is it that drives many people to believe that an educator must sacrifice herself for the good of the people she works for? What makes you believe that I need to be as flexible as an accordion? I'm starting to doubt that the sacrifice is made for the kids I work for. Instead, I think that we often become like many small pieces of cloth that frantically plug those holes in the colander system that I mentioned before.

However, those who pay the consequences are not just us, it is above all the people we work for. Last in this assembly line. The goal is "to invoice!". I wonder where are all the beautiful concepts that I had studied at university, where have all the beautiful intentions and images that I had created in my fantastic cinema ended up when I was smilingly uncorking a bottle of prosecco with a laurel wreath on my head.

Social cooperatives have also fallen into the world of shop windows. What is happening is that the social values, which we have been made to read and study so much about, are struggling to be applied.

They collide with a harsh reality in which priority is given to resources and tenders for which they work compulsively and teleologically. The goal is no longer the person but rather reaching the final objective, justifying the expense, making numbers and cashing in. A slow process of dehumanization towards the corporate path where people are numbers.

I feel like I have lived and continue to live in a world made up of contradictions between what my values are, between what my intentions have been and what the reality of the facts is. Where has my dignity gone and where that of the people I work for? It becomes complex to live a daily working life that goes in the opposite direction to what I feel I am and what I think is right.

I finish my last chat with the boys but I'm distracted and sometimes my eyes fill with tears from an anger that I no longer know where to channel. At the end of the shift I realize I have two missed calls from Clara. She will surely want to suggest that we go and have a spritz downtown with the money I don't have while we complain about our work misfortunes. Like me, she is also an educator. I'll call you back as soon as I leave the facility. I can't believe it, she gives me news that makes my whole body tingle. She told me that this evening at the San Donato bar there is a meeting of those girls that she had already told me about. The "angry educators". Clara, who frequents them, explains to me that they called a public meeting to collectively rethink what the fighting practices could be to start making our voices heard as workers in the third sector and in the educational world. She tells me "enough, I can't stand hearing all your criticisms of the system and then seeing you react like a limp piece of seaweed. On this tour, either you come or I won't talk to you anymore!". You are right. I get on the first bus to reach the meeting place and I feel happy, tiredness be damned! Here she is, Clara is waiting for me near the bar. Behind her I can see hundreds of yellow balls.

Anger is subversive if it collectivizes.

The article appeared in «Gli Asini», n. 109, July-August 2023. We thank Ilaria Paradiso, the Collettivo Educatrici Arrabbiate di Bologna and the editorial team for the friendly permission to reproduce the text.

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