Friday, February 18, 2011

My latest endeavor ... and defensive ramble

I agreed several weeks ago to write for the Knickerbocker Ledger and today I am thrilled to say that I posted my first article. If you get a chance I hope you will give it a read.

I hesitated with posting it a bit, honestly, as I have been glued to what is happening in Wisconsin. My first inkling was that maybe being a teacher was not the best thing to broadcast right now. The country seems ready to crucify us because we stand firm on not wanting to make concessions to a legally binding document. I ask all of you to consider how this would play out with your creditors, the contractors you hire, the mechanics and service companies you do business with. I am not talking about negotiating a new agreement and shopping for the best deal one can make, I am referring to the agreements you already have in place. How would that work out? imagine agreeing to a price for a repair to your car and then trying to re-negotiate it after the work is done?  I realize that everyone must help tow the line, but have you stopped to ask the politicians that are trying to push this legislation what happens to their pay when there is a state mandated furlough, do they give back their check too? In some cases, they don't have to. That varies by state.

Did you know that most teachers in this country make so little that they have to work two jobs just to make ends meet. I am not only talking about disadvantaged districts either. I am talking about districts where the per-student expenditure is well above the national average and the teachers make only 30K a year after 20 plus years of service. It is not the grand cash cow everyone makes it out to be with lavish vacation time, endless sick and personal time, and great benefits. It can be a bear of a job with extremely low pay, 10 hour days, and the time off being used just to catch up on the endless paperwork and lesson planning. As for the personal and sick time, I attest that I have no more than my corporate counterparts and I have to account for the time I do take to make sure its in line with my contract.

Then, there is this little thing called education to land the job. I have as much completed graduate work to my name as your average family physician, I have to pay a similar amount of malpractice insurance which my union has thankfully negotiated for so that my premiums are lower, and have similar loan burdens as that physician but I don't have a similar salary though will admit that I am one of the "lucky" ones to have a district that values its employees and pays them accordingly.

Your next argument will be tenure I am sure. I'll do my best to explain it. A tenured teacher can be fired for the very same things most of you can be fired for: insubordination, breech of contract (which includes things like not being prepared for class, being late, leaving early, being negligent, abusing leave time, etc ) and breaking the state labor laws. We can also be fired for being immoral (engaging in inappropriate behavior) and for breaking civil laws despite the baring or relevance to in class performance, meaning it happened on personal time. The only thing tenure does is grant us due process so that if there is a case of an impending termination decision, more than one person would be making that decision and the teacher would have representation. It limits the subjective possibilities.

I am not usually one to share my own personal political thoughts but in this case I feel very empathetic and a good deal of that is due to the fact that I also continually find myself trying to defend my chosen profession as if I am getting away with that pot of gold, stealing it even.

Yesterday, while being admittedly glued to the events in WI, I was listening to this one radio commentator talk about how egregious it was that the schools closed in WI and now students were starving (physically) because there were no meal programs available. He was less concerned about the teacher who called in to say that the students wanted to be in school learning and that they felt like the government (not educators) was cheating them out of their right to do so.  It seems that in this case the WI students have learned that their own rights were being violated by a government who decided to go back on its word to the people. Its heart warming to see them stand up with their teachers and make the argument that what was OK in Egypt a few days ago has to be OK here too. What a testament to the students. Dewey would be proud as education is the only way democracy can exist!

I ask you to consider all of this before you bash the institution that you are asking our young to have faith in. Remember most learn by example and follow the lead of those they care about most. How can you ask a child to believe in the importance of learning if you then bash the institution and its functional assets (teachers and support staff)?

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