I’ve seen what teachers deal with every day. I worked for the public schools for two years as an outreach worker. Then I followed around fifty “at-risk” kids for twelve years, spending a lot of time with them in their classrooms. I also substituted as a school associate when I was between jobs, filling in for special education and library workers. I’m now on my eighth year volunteering in an elementary school on my days off.
So, even if I had not had the absolute best first grade teacher in the world as a child, I would be a fan of teachers. I am constantly in awe of how effective and caring and good at their jobs they are. They teach kids who sometimes don’t come anywhere close to being ready to learn, deal with administrators who sometimes act like the only things that matter are test scores, and work with parents who sometimes aren’t helping. And yet they still manage to shepherd loads of kids through academic and emotional growth every single year. (Are there bad teachers? Yes, I’m sure there are, but in the hundreds of classrooms I’ve visited, I can only think of one–in more than twenty years of being out there with them.)
Teachers have this tough job, doing something incredibly important for the public good, managing large numbers of people, and somehow keeping everyone moving forward. Are they paid like the VPs of the insurance companies downtown? No way. Depending on how much extra education they’ve got, they might be paid a decent wage with decent benefits for some long hours and not a lot of gratitude. Many of them work or take classes during the summer to keep up with the bills or the always-growing expectations of their jobs, so it’s not like their supposedly easy schedule is really even that.
Meanwhile, our state legislature has changed. Republican members are now in control of the senate, the house, and the governorship. They’ve decided they need to prove some kind of a point and are working on destroying collective bargaining rights, which will affect public school teachers, their benefits, and their working lives. (As a public employee, I should note that it would affect me and probably my retirement, too.)
Here it comes. I’m climbing up on the soap box.
Have these legislators actually spent time in the classroom recently? I’m not talking about their 30-minute visit to AP Government. Do they know what school is like for under-resourced schools, the staff trying to provide a great education, the average kids? I’m sure many principals and teachers would welcome the interest. While checking on the kids I worked with and now as a parent, teachers, counselors, social workers and administrators have always encouraged me to ask questions and get involved. Spending time with the kids in school showed me both sides of the equation – how hard it could be for some kids and how difficult the job was for teachers. Are public schools perfect? Of course not. But is the best way to make them better to punish the staff? I don’t think so.
Politicians are fond of talking about how important it is for students to get a “world class” education, going on about the long history of strong public schools in the state. Well, maybe they should quit mouthing the words and actually do what it takes to have great schools and great teachers. They could start by visiting schools in their districts and spending the whole day (or week) in classrooms, seeing what teachers do, learning about the problems schools are facing. It might give them a whole different perspective on what education is and how lucky we are.
Climbing down from the soap box. Putting on my marching shoes for an afternoon at the state capitol building.