Thursday, March 3, 2011

Teachers: Under Attack

About a month ago, we were 'nation builders' but this week, we are under attack. With cuts in state aid to rising health care costs, it was hard for teachers not to fear the worst for their profession and for their students. But with the attacks on collective bargaining and seniority, it feels more like an attack on the middle class. I often call teaching a stepping stone career. Like many of my colleagues, I am the first in my family to have the chance to go to college and saw a stable, public service career educating others as part of my civic duty. Now public servants are villified. Though we only make up a small portion of the work force, we are now cast as the culprits in causing budget shortfalls. It made me terribly sad when a talented colleague of mine said she wouldn't advise people to go into the teaching profession these days. It made me sad on two levels. First, it was a sign to me how much these attacks were affecting those of us who have devoted our lives to this career, and it made me wonder about the loss of talented teachers in the future. I could go through the laundry list of things I've done as a teacher throughout my sixteen year career-- but I won't. Instead, I'll simply say that there have been times when I've had the chance to direct a young person's life in ways that are tangilble and intangible. Teaching's bottom line isn't like other industries, where the product can be quantified on spreadsheets. There isn't a 4th Q earnings report. Every year I try to help a hundred students move from point A to point B in their lives, made all the more challenging because each one of them has a different point A.
To my colleagues across the country, we stand together as nation-builders, whether we are recognized as such or not.


Jerry said...

Since the 1990's, corporations have outsourced and down-sized, putting tens of thousands out of work, and, while the SEC wasn't looking, banks made loans that eventually went bad, so the logical conclusion is...that teachers and unions are to blame for our economic problems. Sad.

Nadine @ BDG said...

So true. Thanks for posting.

Jesse Neuman said...

Sociologically, public education began as a construct during the Industrial revolution. Adults could make more money working in factories during they day so they moved to the cities and dumped their kids off at school rather than keep them around all day on the farm helping out.

Two centuries later teachers are still a practical necessity. If you are tired of hearing about how it's the hardest job and the most important job (because really, how hard could any job with almost three months off a year be so tough?) then consider this:

Teachers are caregivers, psychologists, surregate parents, role models, referees, sympathetic ears, unbiased advocates, book keepers, growth trackers, communications managers, advocates, and yes, dispensers of wisdom. Teachers start work at 7:30 am and don't finish until well after dinner, plus weekends. Teachers sit up and worry about your kids at night. Teachers work on 28-32 huge assignments for 9 months, and then pass them along, only to have to start out over again. Teachers don't get to phone it in...ever. Teachers get no credit when all goes well and all of the blame when it does not. Teachers eat lunch standing up, grade papers on the subway, call parents during prime time, and only go to the bathroom during recess. Teachers need to raise all of their students reading scores without enough books, expose their students to the arts without specialists, and differentiate each lesson, each period, every day, all year, to accelerated, average, behind the curve, non-English speaking, and special education (which, in and of itself is about 10 different categories) students. Teachers don't get bonuses, commissions, or incentives when they succeed. Teachers don't give two weeks notice; they make a commitment to a community of kids and keep it come hell or high water.

If all of that doesn't strike you as important, consider this. Of all the tangible and intangible things you have, how high up on the list is your child's happiness, confidence, and overall ability to succeed? If you don't have children, how important is it to you that the people solving the environmental crisis, shaping future governments, cutting your body open to fix a defect of your internal organs, or even standing next to you on the subway platform at 3 in the morning be tolerant, thoughtful, intelligent, and rational?

Consider this when you consider going to bat for--or against--a teacher's right to earn a living.

Nadine @ BDG said...

Jesse-- you always were my best student!!! Thank you for your eloquence. It's been a sorry situation these days.

JudyO said...

I just found this site and this blog. What a delight to see this wonderful comment by Jesse Neuman! Jesse, I remember you so fondly; you always were so insightful, and a real "mensch." It's great to see that you still are!