Teaching is a haunting job.
Your students spend more hours in your classroom than with their parents. Their educational and emotional lives are in your hands. You worry about why Maria was so moody, Juan so angry and Amir so withdrawn.
There are students who are etched in your memory. I wonder what did Mary Ferguson do with her life? A brilliant, angry Afro-American teenager in my newly integrated school decades ago. Angela was a Jehovah’s Witness, an amazing student, she read voraciously, she was a fluid writer, and didn’t intend to go to college. Was encouraging her to go to college imposing my biases on her religious beliefs? What happened to her?
Some of us are loners who close the door and dedicate ourselves to the kids in front of them. Others work closely with a team of teachers and a few end up leading and guiding other teachers. After a couple of years, if we survive, we get better, we become lifelong learners. We attend professional development sessions, we take courses, attend workshops, we talk shop, we talk shop endlessly.
Our significant others can’t understand why we can’t leave our job at school. We can’t shut up, we’re always wondering whether if we taught the lesson another way it might have been more successful.
We’re happy we have a union, we’ve never use the union; at best, glance at the union newspaper. We mean to go to that union meeting, but, too much to do, preparing for the next lesson, marking papers, entering data into some computer database. It never ends.
And then the attacks started.
From the right, the left, from mayors to governors to the president, we, teachers, were responsible for school failure, for the recession, for the failure to fund our pensions; it was our fault. Take away tenure, reduce pensions, increase health plan payments, jack up class size, pay us by student achievement, all the caring, the dedication, the training goes for naught if scores don’t sky rocket.
In 2008, most of us for the first time got involved in an election. We used our organizational skills, our verbal skills, we taught potential voters in addition to our students. We hauled ourselves onto buses at the crack of dawn and spent the day knocking on doors in some key district. We manned phone banks, it was hard work, it was necessary, we were electing a president who would make difference in the lives of Maria and Juan and Amir.
The next election cycle is revving up and we’re bitterly disappointed.
At a town hall meeting about a year ago we watched the President beat up a teacher who asked a question. He ignored her question and tried to get her to agree that the problem was “bad teachers.”
Foreclosures, unemployment, a recession and yawning local budget gaps, and the problem is “bad teachers”?
The elites, including slick Arne, flack a combination of charter schools, “test it if it moves,” salary and tenure and promotion and dismissal based on test scores, complex “value-added” measurements that no one understands, a plethora of “solutions” that ignore the world in which our kids live and blame us.
Like a thwarted lover we’re angry. We feel jilted and double-timed. When the rich and powerful say “trust me,” someone tends to get pregnant!
For the first time we go to union sponsored rallys; when some neighbor makes a derogaotry remark about unions we lecture them. We send emails to our legislators, we call them, we visit them.
Rather than rolling our eyes when our hisbands tells us he’s golfing on the weekend we drag him and the kids to some demonstration. From that quiet caring first grade teacher to a radical activist.
Diane Ravitch is our heroine.
A new phrase for us, she “speaks truth to power.” We read every one of her books and articles, we listen to her shame the president and the powerful elites who are demeaning what we do and the children we teach.
I agree with the California 30-year California teacher who is outraged over the assault on public education and her school.
We begin to understand why Juan is so angry.
He’s disrespected, no one listens to him, he feels ignored.
I can teach my ass off, I can work late into the night on perfecting my lessons. Until someone works to change the odds, to even the playing field no matter how hard I work they have a right to feel moody and angry and withdrawn.
They turned me into a fighter and I think I like it.
A year from now my union will call me and ask me to work for Obama. I’ll vote for him, I can’t vote for the Michelle Bachmans and Sarah Palins, I don’t know if I can work for him.
He has to romance me, he has to whisper sweet nothings in my ear and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be seduced again.