by Anonymous (a high school English teacher)
As a public school teacher, I should probably have a lot to say in light of the recent discussions surrounding education and state employees, especially as the two became seemingly synonymous in political debate.
Instead, two weeks ago, I found myself at a loss. I found myself turning away from news stories about the teachers in Wisconsin, the arguments on Facebook, from most conversations about unions, workers’ rights, and public employees, especially teachers.
At this point, what do I say? Where do I start?
During an average week, I see one hundred students daily, and I teach them English. We read, we write, we revise. We work towards a classroom environment that is productive, respectful, and safe. Sound wonderful? Yes. It often is. To make this happen, hours of planning, grading, and organizing happen behind the scenes. I attempt to squeeze this work into my paid prep time in order to get home to my partner and daughter at the end of the day. I could go on about the extra responsibilities and struggles that pop up during any work week, but I won’t — partly because when I put them into writing, I can’t seem to do them justice and partly because of the fear that someone who believes I am overpaid and underworked will take what I say and use it against me, will somehow twist my words into proof that as a teacher, I live a posh, luxurious life–that I don’t deserve the same respect or compensation as someone in the private sector.
As I watched the events in Madison unfold, everything has been personal. The protests started the same week that five hundred teachers in my district lost their jobs because their positions had been cut in a “Reduction in Force” or RIF list. Add over five hundred district employees and support staff; more than one thousand people will be unemployed in August as Austin ISD tightens its belt. As conversations about Walker’s collective bargaining laws turned toward bad teachers and educators’ responsibility for our failing schools, and as I listened to family members and friends criticize the wages, health benefits, and retirement packages that state employees receive, it was impossible to fight the feeling that each conversation was directed at me, my parents, and my grandparents along with my colleagues and close friends.
Everyday I stand in front of my students, most of whom are young adults of color, most of whom are economically disadvantaged, many of whom receive public aid, and several of whom are undocumented immigrants, and I teach them to use their voice. I teach them to read, critique, analyze and connect everything to themselves and their world. I teach them that there is power in their words, that both their struggles and victories deserve respect, that they have the power to make a difference. At the young age of fifteen, most of them have lost faith in their ability to be heard. Most of my students are victims of our privilege system — they don’t believe people will listen, largely because often, people do not.
Personally, the worst part of this teacher-centered media frenzy and the arguments on social networks has been the loss of my own voice. I know that my job is important, that I am surrounded by outstanding teachers. I know that we need unions and we deserve a decent wage and benefits that provide health care and retirement.
Despite knowing these things, though, I cannot shake the persistent feeling that no matter what I or my colleagues say, our words will not be heard by those who make decisions.
The actions in Madison by the Republican lawmakers and Governor Scott Walker only drove this feeling home. While the presence of so many non-educators in the Madison square was heartwarming, any hope for a reasonable compromise fell flat with the elimination of collective bargaining rights. To me, this proved that the motivation of Walker and the Republican party was indeed an effort to attack teachers and other state employees and had nothing to do with a fiscal crisis.
As a teacher and one of the many victims of this attack, I felt my anger and passion slowly morph into apathy.
MOVING FORWARD with so many concerns about the future of our education system and the changing conditions of the teaching profession, many educators like me are trying to fight the feeling of defeat. As teachers, especially teachers of at-risk youth, the emotional demands of our jobs are inherently great. With my one hundred students come one hundred stories, one hundred complicated histories, one hundred sets of individual challenges on a daily basis. By the end of each school year, I burst with pride when I think of my students’ growth, their determination, and their potential. I love the kids in my classroom and my work, but it is exhausting. The ongoing pressure to increase achievement, my own desire for each child to succeed, and the daily ebbs and flows of life in a public school are now piled on top of this crystal clear evidence that so many people in our country have no respect for what my colleagues and I do or for the importance of public education in general.
During my five years as a teacher I have learned that no matter what happens, the kids will be there the next day. They will show up and expect me to educate them, and they deserve that. There is little or no room to recover or wallow, and certainly no forgiveness in terms of wavers in classroom productivity and performance.
As I search to recover my own voice for myself, for my students, and for the future of our schools, I hope that those who have been so vocal in their support of teachers and state employees during these past few weeks — especially the non-teachers who have been diligent in their protests — continue to stay informed and speak up. During the weeks when the Wisconsin protests were splattered across homepages, I felt a cautious optimism. I felt that finally, people other than teachers were taking an active, passionate role in caring for our public school system. Now, ten days after the Republicans in Wisconsin voted out collective bargaining rights, my optimism has all but faded. As the law has been blocked by a Wisconsin judge and the unions have been given a bit more time to fight their fight, time is critical, and I wonder how many people still have education and workers’ rights on their radars. Certainly these issues have fallen from the prominent headlines and seem to be fading in public dialogue. I fear that once again, educators will be left alone, raising their voices in protest.
As we learned in Madison, the fight for education and workers’ rights is far from over, and teachers can’t be the only ones on the front lines in support of schools. While protests in Madison continue, recounts in Wisconsin begin, and education budgets take constant hits, children continue to sit in classrooms and teachers do their best to teach.
The kids need support, and frankly, so do I.
[Added by scatx – LOTS of links that show why we need to be STILL be talking about teachers right now:]
- Education Roundup: Pink Slips and Protests (Mother Jones – March 21, 2011)
- Profile of a pink slip teacher in Oakland, CA (Oakland Tribune – March 20, 2011)
- Illinois school board reports 2,000 teacher layoffs in 2010 (Kane County Chronicle – March 19, 2011)
- NC educators’ group rally as teacher layoffs loom (AP – March 18, 2011)
- Hamilton High School students in Los Angeles walk out to protest cuts, teacher layoff notices (LA Times – March 18, 2011)
- Port Arthur, TX ISD trying to avoid teacher layoffs (Port Arthur News – March 17, 2011)
- Portland: Teacher layoffs move forward (Portland Tribune – March 17, 2011)
- Obama and teacher layoffs (Understanding Government – March 17, 2011)
- After 10 Waterford, CT teacher layoffs are announced, ‘It was a hard day’ (The Day.com – March 17, 2011)
- Teacher Layoffs Can Hurt the Poorest Neighborhoods (NYT – March 16, 2011)
- Florida House approves teacher tenure law (Miami Herald – March 16, 2011)
- Teacher layoffs approved in Vincennes, Indiana (WTHI – March 16, 2011)
- Cleveland, OH school system facing more teacher layoffs (Columbus Business First – March 16, 2011)
- Teacher layoffs possible in Zionville, Indiana (Zionville Times Sentinel – March 16, 2011)
- Teacher Layoff Day at Mission High in CA (Mother Jones – March 15, 2011)
- San Mateo County (CA) educators protest as tens of thousands of school layoffs feared statewide amid ongoing fiscal uncertainties (Mercury News – March 15, 2011)
- Union Estimates 19,000 Teacher Layoff Slips So Far In California (Huffington Post – March 15, 2011)
- Friday’s Wisconsin Solidarity School Walkouts — Media & Blog Roundup (Student Activism – March 13, 2011)
- A Letter to Scott Walker From a Wisconsin Teacher (Mother Jones – March 12, 2011)
- TX Governor Rick Perry: Don’t blame state for teacher layoffs (Austin American-Statesman – March 9, 2011)
- Teacher layoffs in Utah (Salt Lake Tribune – March 9, 2011)
- Teacher Layoff Plans in Los Angeles Pose Broad Implications (NYT – March 4, 2011)
- Nearly 2,000 Teachers Dismissed in Providence, RI (Ms. Magazine – March 4, 2011)
- Teachers Wonder, Why the Scorn? (NYT – March 2, 2011)
- Teacher layoffs raise class-size tensions (MSNBC – March 1, 2011)
- Two Facts (Shakesville – March 1, 2011)
- Wisconsin workers’ rights are a feminist issue (Feministing – February 22, 2011)
- Austin, TX ISD teacher layoff notices issued (KXAN – February 17, 2011)