I recently received a comment on my blog that struck a chord. . . and triggered a memory of who I used to be and who I am. It addresses a number of questions people ask me about my own feelings on a wide range of issues, and I found it both focusing and inspirational and thought I would share it with you.
Let me just say that I’m not a teacher, and my kids are only now starting going to public schools. While I did work for the Louisiana Department of Education until recently, that was in the data department and my only role dealing with children’s issues directly was ain an advisory position on a student discipline adversary panel. So I understand why people ask me:
“Why do you care so much? Why do you fight, for teachers, for other people’s kids? You’re not a teacher and you could afford non-public school for your kids.” (Most white middle class families living in Baton Rouge go that route.) “You could afford to move to a wealthier school district with kids and families just like yours. (If they don’t go the former route most take this one.) “Why do you stay in a school district that lags many in the state when there are top notch ones in parishes within commuting distance of your work?”
Well I usually come up with simple arguments I feel can relate to the person asking me the question. Really what I want to say is “if you have to ask the question you wouldn’t understand the answer,” but that seems like an overly clichéd copout, it wouldn’t win me any converts to my actual viewpoint, and it would do nothing to endear me to the friends and relatives asking. However, one of my reader’s shows why all of us should care about public education and our experienced public educators in particular. He shows the reality Reformers try to conceal with data, averages and misleading research. He shows what is being done to destroy hope of so many children and teachers under the guise of helping them.
Crazy, I am one of those baby boomers who did enter into teaching to perform a public service and help what would be called high needs students. I did not need Teach for America to tell me what to do. I thought I could make a difference, but soon realized the odds stacked against many of these children.
I worked in South Jamaica in the borough of Queens in New York City. When I started teaching, this was one of the most poverty stricken areas of the city. These children were surrounded by drugs, hunger and neglect. Here were students who had single parents who were stuck in an endless cycle of welfare and poverty. Most were overwhelmed and gave up. Three of my original students would eventually be killed by drug and gun violence. Another student would shoot a cop. However, I know that I may have contributed to two escaping.
One would become a supervisor in the transit authority and another became a registered nurse (male). I remember one student, Tommy, who came to school starving every day. I would bring him food and snacks so he could make it through the day. Another student, Lyndell, would be molested by his aunt and ended up with venereal disease at the age of 13.
I want Michelle Rhee tell me how their magic curriculum and magic TFA instructors would have been able to have gotten such students college ready!
I think the term vampire does describe these people. Their plan is to suck dry public education for their own personal lust of profit. I dare any of them to demonize my motives for staying as a special education teacher for 35 years. I am the only one in my school that really understands compliance issues surrounding special education students. I am the informal special education coordinator in my school because Bloomberg disposed of all special education supervisors leaving most young special education teachers rudderless. Therefore, I advise my principal daily on all special education issues and try to help our neophyte teachers. I try to maintain compliance, sit on IEP teams for initial cases, coordinate testing as well as analyze data. This is in addition to instructing mandated students who need special education teacher support.
My day never ends. I work way into the night because I work per-session as well as tutor to try to make ends meet. I am working seven days a week because I have to put my own child through college. I do not mind the work, but I am near 60 years old and getting tired. I am tired of the special education conflicts in my school and the daily brush fires I have to put out.
I am finally listening to my wife and at the end of next year, I am going to throw in the towel and retire. But i am not going to sit back on my laurels. I will write, talk to parents, and remain politically active for one single purpose. I will do whatever I can to expose these reformers as the frauds they are. I hope I can make a difference. LiberalTeacher at http://thepubliceducator.wordpress.com/
This why I fight. Not to take anything away from Liberal Teacher who I greatly admire, but I believe many of my teachers felt this way and sacrificed much for their children away from home. They did not enter the profession for money, and small increases in their checks in the name of “accountability” and “adding value” to kids is not very inspirational or motivational to a person like this. Shit, they could have gone into banking, law, engineering, computer science, accounting, just about any other career other than teaching if they were motivated by money! To think one can simply throw money at the problems described by Liberal Teacher is not only ignorant it’s especially insulting on so many infuriating levels:
- It implies teachers are lazy, and a little monetary incentive is all they need to really “get to work.” (If money was a primary motivator for teachers they would not have gone into teaching in the first place!)
- It minimizes and masks the real, horrible and disturbing realities many of our kids and teachers face every day. Drugs, poverty, child abuse, malnourishment are not sexy terms for billionaires to hear or deal with. Billionares only want to hear terms like “test scores”, “no excuses”, “cohort groups” and “accountability” through the windows of their glass houses. (To them, Gates, Dell, Waltons, Bloomberg, Broad, Mudoch, et al, I say buck up, and grow a pair you elitist self-serving cowards. This is the reality. You are a part of the problem, and your work is making all of these problems much, much worse. If it’s not by design it might as well be.)
- Reformers perpetuate the self-serving “belief” ,through their money colored glasses, that everyone and everything is solvable by giving or taking money. When a school is struggling you can take their money away and it will improve through desperation – perhaps the way a rat in a laboratory starved of cheese will risk its life and health to find and eat anything edible to survive. When really the opposite is true. Schools and teacher facing challenges (reformers refuse to admit exist) need more support, not a starvation diet that saps hope and breeds desperation.
- Thousands of starved schools are closed every year and the children and teachers are reshuffled in the name of improving education. All this does is hide the kids until they dropout, and teachers see and know this.
This is why I care, because I’ve seen just a small sliver of what folks like Liberal Teacher have. I care because I know these kids exist, because I’ve worked with them myself, because I’ve seen them walking the steets at night, because I don’t hide behind glass walls, and private school halls, pretending these situations don’t exist.
Once I dreamed of being a teacher, of helping others learn and find their way, but I was afraid. I was afraid of the lack of money, the lack of respect, the hard and emotional work that I didn’t feel I was prepared for. That was probably a mistake, but it’s one I made. Maybe one day I’ll remedy that and give back as many of my public school teachers gave to me, but for now the very least I can do is defend those who had more courage than I. How many of you felt the way I did, but took other paths. . . and perhaps have always wondered “what if?”
So many of our teachers give until they can’t give anymore, now they are being replaced by revolving corps of 2 year temps with no community involvment or investment before they go onto their public policy positions, law careers and political careers. Now they are getting chased out by teacher evaluation systems designed to toss out experienced folks in favor of temps who’ve only learned the teaching flavor of them moment. This is just a check mark Teach for America teachers and their ilk, not a way of life, as has been the case for so many folks like Liberal Teacher. Who are you going to listen to about the problems faced by todays public students? Private schooled billionaires living in their fenced-off estates, and their obscenely overcompenstaed puppets like Michele Rhee, or folks like Liberal Teacher?
If you are not a teacher now, could you honestly say you could live the life he has, and is? I know I probably should have, but I didn’t. That’s one of the reasons I will defend unsung heros like him and trust my kids in his care, for as long as he’s able to provide it.