I wrote the post below as a letter to friends during the protests in Madison last February. I have updated it some, removing parts that dealt specifically with the budget bill.
Once upon a time, we were all idealists. We were educated by amazing teachers who laid the foundation for us to follow our dreams. We earned our degrees and went out into the world to find our place and fulfill our destinies. I’m sure you were like me, choosing a career that was fueled by your passion not money. Now those same passions are being used to strike out at one another…how did that happen?
I’ve never suggested that your choices are not important, but many of you have felt compelled to tell me how mine is failing and that the rights I am fighting to keep aren’t really mine. For the last 5-10 years public education has been under serious attack, and most teachers, myself included, have shrugged it off, sucked it up, and continued to do what we do best, teach children. Contrary to what most of you believe, we have done so with tighter budgets. The rhetoric has really ratcheted up, and Governor Walker’s bill was the proverbial last straw. If you remember the movie Network you’ll remember Howard Beale’s line, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!” That’s where I am right now.
Teachers I know work hard and earn every penny they make. They are there before and after school. Many take things home at night and on weekends. They use their own money to buy classroom items no longer available through the budget. It is a misnomer that we have summers off. There is summer school, curriculum writing, professional development, and mandated college credits.
The demands for what we want students to learn have increased exponentially. Don’t believe me? Pick up a 5th grade Science textbook and look at the Physics concepts being taught. Read up on the technology that is now being used in schools. Look at the list of AP courses being offered in most high schools. Check out the National Core Standards and what they expect of kindergarteners.
I’m not telling you this so that you feel sorry for me. I’m not telling you this to belittle the career choice you have made. I’m telling you this so you understand why teachers across the nation are finally saying, “ENOUGH!”
Our schools are not failing, our communities are. More students live in poverty, coming to school unprepared. Your parents taught you so many things before you started kindergarten. Many of our students don’t have that advantage. Children who live in poverty start school with less than 1/3 the vocabulary of better-off students. You look at a child who is 2 grade levels behind at 5th grade and see failure. I look at that same child and see success because I know where he was when he walked through our doors. That is if I’m lucky enough to still know him in 5th grade. Students in poverty are also very transient.
I’m angry that we talk about the need for education reform and then continue to slash education spending while giving tax cuts to corporations owned by billionaires.
The continual bashing of public education has awoken my inner activist, and I’m no longer going to smile and make nice while my profession is under attack. I was at a leadership conference last October, and the speaker ended with ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu’. Well, this teacher is tired of being on the menu.