Aaron Herbert, I appreciate your response. And perhaps I am projecting my anger. I’m willing to consider that. Lord knows I am far from content. After a day of teaching, a long night of teaching my own kids table manners and good sleeping habits, and staring down a few more hours of revising my power-point for Of Mice and Men and brushing up on Ken Burns’ ‘Dust Bowl documentary’… I’m pretty much spent. So here is my question for you. I don’t mean this rhetorically or passive aggressively or even angrily (well, not towards you personally).
My question: Where is the sympathy for teachers?
We agree, I know, that teachers are people, not robots. But we may disagree on some of the finer points that I believe have pushed teachers further into crisis than ever before. Do you agree with the following: Are teachers financially stable? Are teachers working during a time of unprecedented collective poverty/wage stagnation? Are teachers still entitled to generous pensions and health benefits following retirement, perhaps as a way to account for the low wages they receive over their lifetime? Or are teachers working in the wake of overhauled union contracts — agreements that effectively did away with ANY pension (never mind a lavish one) or healthcare (unless you want to pay out of pocket to remain in the district’s plan)? Are teachers’ insurance premiums higher than ever, with astronomical deductibles ($3000 on average out of pocket before insurance kicks in)? Are teachers trying to meet the needs of class sizes of 35, 36, 37 students — students who are more linguistically diverse and differently-abled than ever before? While this last one is a testament to activists who fought for the rights of these students, little consideration was made to the time and money that would need to be accounted for. Aside from your average racist, ability-ist, sexist, atavistic moron — the majority of teachers not only want diversity in their classrooms, they can cite articles and research and anecdotal experience as to why diversity is paramount to the learning environment, to any community for that matter, nevermind a just and truly democratic society. But without adequate funding, without providing time or compensation for teachers who are taking on this additional task, yes, teaching becomes a profession for martyrs. And I call bullshit.
Other countries do it better. Other countries don’t take their educators for granted. Other countries, with better educational outcomes (Finland is the obvious example) pay their teachers not only a living wage, but a good wage; they treat these people with the respect they deserve; they not only provide for but fund professional development opportunities for teachers. Please. Please. STOP BLAMING TEACHERS for not being willing to sacrifice themselves, their hopes/dreams/sanity/livelihood.
I left the private sector where I made a great salary, had great benefits, matching and a half 401K. During this job, I was able to volunteer at many Philly schools and feel really good about myself. Especially because I was helping the most left behind kids, short of Appalachia. I knew the system sucked, but my life was pretty good. I had a baby and insurance paid for everything. I paid my credit card off every month and went on trips with the points I accrued.
Cut to my life as a public school teacher in Minneapolis. I make less now, with two master’s degrees, mind you, than I did when I started in my private sector job). I am able to put zero dollars away every month. I am still paying off my son’s birth because our health benefits are so poor. (He is about to turn three.) I owe the government $40K for my teaching license program — a program that was offered at the University of Minnesota. My credit card bill goes up every month and I don’t think I will ever be able to pay it off because our annual wage step increases don’t even keep pace with inflation, never mind the inflated price of material goods.
I knew I was going to take a pay cut by leaving the private world, but I had no idea how bad it was — and Minnesota is hardly the worst in teacher pay/conditions.
Yes, times are tough, but look at the numbers. Education has been defunded, systematically, at the state and federal level. Wages have fallen, causing families to spend less time together as parents/guardians seek additional employment; and we have systemic racism, which means many of our students come to school woefully underprepared. Teachers are supposed to not only fix all this, but do it with grace and the smile of a martyr headed to the gallows. Well, I’ve seen how it is on the other side, and no, I ain’t falling for it. Teachers have been made the scapegoats and I am standing up to say: No, ma’am. No. I am not the one.
Do you truly believe the burden of systemic failures should fall on the happy shoulders of teachers? Why? Why should teachers be the sacrifice?
Teachers were children once. Some of us are older now, but we still crave care, love, respect, stability. Some of us are barely older than the kids we teach (this applies especially to people who work via Teach for America or City Year or Vista) — can this group honestly be expected to know how to teach/parent/care for/sacrifice themselves for the hundreds of students who they will meet every year who arrive with the kind of trauma that would have destroyed most of us? All of this shit is visited on the backs of non-whites, non-gender conforming, non-hetero, non-Christian teachers and students and families — and teachers are bailing for their lives. I will never make teachers the fall guy for the way society and economic larceny on a local, state, national, and global scale has fleeced the middle class, the poor, and the destitute. As long as teachers are willing to ‘take one for the team’ and ‘take it on the chin’ and ‘do more with less’ and sustain psychological trauma that comes with teaching in 2019 America, then that’s all we’re gonna get. And that is not good enough for me. I would never let any of my students settle for that. Teaching is not supposed to be an abusive relationship. It is not supposed to be a career where you decide your needs come last; that pain is necessary, even holy; that panic attacks while dressing in the dark every morning are part of the bargain; that staying up until midnight differentiating lesson plans is ethical, indeed noble; that the larger community — the state — owes these children and us, slightly older versions of these kids, nothing. Yet, we somehow must draw from an infinite well of largesse and selflessness and collective guilt — while the powers that be laugh all the way to the bank. Nah. I ain’t buying it. I’m a teacher. I love my job. I love my life. But I will never defend the impossible bargain that you make when you become a teacher. As long as we submit, the powers that be can get away with not only paying us a poverty-level wage, but they can trick us into liking it.