Teaching: A Noble Profession

I believe teachers have been cast as sin-eaters for our country’s festering educational woes by conservative political opportunists.

With sickened heart I read a Yahoo News AP news article entitled “In bold move, Colorado alters teacher tenure rules” [website: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100612/ap_on_re_us/us_grading_teachers] and the following reader’s comments were in turn angry, ignorant, belligerent, misinformed, horribly misspelled, and often racist. The hatred against President Obama, blacks, unions and teachers was palatable. And the taste disgusted me. Without labeling themselves, their rhetoric announced them as Teabaggers of the worse ilk, I suppose anyone that could spell and organize their comments would be labeled “elitist” and tarred and feathered for their efforts. My commentary written here, spelled checked and riddled with union liberal ideology would brand me a socialist, no, worse – a Marxist, because I am a “freeloading public high school teacher” that is accused by them of working part-time for a full-time salary paid on the backs of the taxpayer.

The fact that NCLB dissolved tenure in most states in 1993 was not mentioned in the article, so loss of tenure for thousands of teachers is old news, as is life-time certification. Comment writers sounded as if they were frothing at the mouth as they typed out their misinformation about how “bad teachers” could have a job for life (untrue, contracts have dismissal for cause statements that can be utilized to remove a poorly performing teacher), how teachers are paid yearly for only working 180 days (untrue, a teacher can stretch her pay through 12 months to help in personal budgeting, she is not getting paid to not work – she can however, choose to be paid for the ten months that she works, in bi-weekly paychecks), teachers work part-time (untrue, unless a teacher truly does work a .4 day, most work with students for more than 6.25 hours per day and are required to work at least 7 hours in the school building – I tend to work until 5:30 PM, so that means I work longer than most American workers). Teachers work without being evaluated (untrue, we are observed and evaluated yearly). Another myth is that teacher’s pensions are entitlements (I wish! 11% of my wages go into my pension account, sort of like my 401K when I worked for defense – I will not see much of my pension because I worked in a private school and I can’t buy into the state pension, so I will see about 45% of my pay when I retire, whenever I do, I am already 55 – and will receive no Social Security that I paid into for 27 year – can’t double-dip because teachers are so wealthy with summer home and ski vacations in Vale! If the state pension is underfunded, as some state’s are, it is because the funds were used to shore up other deficits – sure it hurts the taxpayers, but hey, I am a taxpayer, too.)

I spend a lot of time after school writing student educational plans, progress reports, surveying teachers on student assessment/work owed, behavior, class standing, and communicating with parents. I meet for 2+ hours 4 times a month with a group of students as adviser, serve on an academic committee that meets once a month, and attend monthly department and faculty meetings, and detention duties. I also spend quite a bit of my paycheck on class room supplies, art supplies, and food to feed my students when they come to school without breakfast, or lunch money – for this I am credited $250 on my federal tax form.

When I am not in school I attend classes, workshops, symposiums: to renew my certification(s) every five years I must earn professional development credentials, graduate credit, or CEUs; I am at a Masters +60 grad credit pay grade. I have worked in industry (draftsman and defense plant engineer) before being laid-off in 1990 due to peace time. I was classified a dislocated worker because the business shut down and left the state. I was unemployed for 14 months while I looked for work and was retrained as a special needs teacher (in addition to my art education certifications) – I took a steep pay cut of $20,000 to teach in a private school without any safety net (no unemployment taxes) or contract. I taught at-risk males ages 13-22, at times both rewarding and thankless. Working with teens with disabilities both as a special needs teacher and regular education art teacher really takes super human effort due to lax parental support, it’s often the exception whenever a parent will work with me on trying to improve a student’s efforts to learn. I feel that I have been instrumental in changing lives – though not all – because success can be elusive when it isn’t a priority in a student’s messy life.

When I read the comments they stung, but I knew I was hearing regurgitated Teabagger-talk, talking points from Palin, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, and Beck, etc., pretty much all of Fox News stable plus conservative talk radio talking heads. To know that most of Yahoo News comment writers were so deeply entrenched in their teacher-hatred bothered me because they, for the most part, were products of their local public school system. A lot of them could name teachers that had affected them in negative ways (I too was exposed to several poor teachers which inspired me to become a teacher – to correct their bad karma). I also have been exposed to lazy and inept workers in my industrial sector non-union jobs, and in the service field. We are all human, some profess to be more so, more compassionate, more consistent, more knowledgeable, more engaging, more flexible – hardly any of the comment writers would have fallen into any of these descriptive phrases. The negativity sprang off the page finally caused me to give up the fight, the statistics were mind-blowing: for every 4 positive-reality statements supporting teachers, tenure, unions comments, there were 9 corrosive anti-public school, bad teachers, bad tenure trash-talking comments. My eyes burned.