Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Appreciate your teachers... someone has to!

Normally I save these editorials for the Friday Free-For-All, but hits to the site are usually less on Friday no matter what I post, and I've got something I really want to say about some ongoing news...

For just under two weeks, Wisconsin has been the sight of a heated battleground, as Republican Governor Scott Walker has introduced a budget plan to take away most collective bargaining rights from public workers - including teachers. This also calls for deep cuts for schools and local governments to help close a budget shortfall.

This article shows the public divide over the issue:

A Pew Research Center poll released Monday found 42 percent of adults surveyed nationwide sided with the unions and 31 percent sided with Walker in their dispute. That poll of 1,009 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The latest New York Times-CBS poll found Americans oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of almost two to one — 60 percent to 33 percent. The nationwide telephone poll of 984 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Yet the GOP shills at Fox Opinion have been working overtime trying to spread anti-teacher sentiments. I don't have the strength to transcribe these horrible, horrible statements, so please indulge me by watching at least just the beginning of this video embedded below.

NOTE: This linked to the wrong video thanks to a bug on the Daily Show site. It has been fixed now.

It takes incredible nerve to attack teachers, calling them either overpaid, underworked or undermotivated. In particular, I take exception to that gasbag who acted as if the moment the school bell rings at 3:00, teachers take the rest of the day off. Many teachers are up as early as 5am, several of them serve as coaches or advisers to school teams. And as the child of a woman who has worked in education for over 30 years, I can tell you that the work doesn't stop at "Class dismissed."

When I was growing up there was many a night when my mother returned home at 5:00 or later and spent much of the evening dealing with school matters - be they paper work, phone calls, frequent evening meetings. I'm sure she would have loved to get one of these cushy jobs where you're out the door at 3 and school is out of sight, out of mind until the alarm the next morning - but they don't exist. Nor do they usually get three full months off.

Teaching is one of the last noble professions. It might be the last truly noble profession. They're expected to be parent, disciplinarian, traffic cop, therapist, prison guard, and if they find a few extra seconds... educator. These are the people you entrust to shape your children's minds and prepare them for the best colleges. They have their attention for at least seven hours a day, and you have the gonads to complain that $48,000 a year is overpaid?!

Their jobs have only gotten harder over the years. Budget cuts have increased class sizes while resources like textbooks and computers have gone out of date. Not that the up-to-date books are any help, as your colleagues in the Texas educational system have done what they can to rewrite history. Among the falsehoods they sought to propagate, the notion that Senator Joe McCarthy was a hero. That man's name deserves no decoration beyond spit accompanying its every mention. If ever a politician deserved to be stoned on the Capital Mall, it was Joe McCarthy. To glorify not only his actions, but his methods as well, is nothing less than evil.

(What exactly do people like you have against education, Governor?)

How do I know this history? Because I had many good teachers over the years, people who made a profound difference in the course of my life.

There was the 4th grade teacher who first stoked my interest in creative writing. At least once every three or four weeks she'd make us do a creative writing assignment. She even had me enter mine in a national writing contest - in which I was one of 104 winners. I'd never even thought about writing as a career or even a hobby up until that point.

There was the sixth grade teacher who guided me through a science fair project and helped me realize I was fascinated by behavioral sciences. On top of that, he was responsible for my learning valuable research and presentation skills - and he later encouraged me in leadership roles, seeing that I had an aptitude for it.

There was the ninth grade English teacher who reignited my passion for writing, taking my creative writing to the next level. He also gave me a solid foundation for my analytical writing, and he really cared about pushing me to do my best, even when it didn't take "my best" to earn an A.

There was the history teacher who got me involved in Mock Court and again taught me about writing and presenting from an impassioned point of view. With him as my mentor, I not only participated in a program where I spent two summers working in a law firm, but I was on a local area commission as a student trustee.

Another English/History teacher had a wry sense of humor and a slightly rebellious spirit that helped teach me to stop taking myself so goddamned seriously.

I had a Calculus teacher whose enthusiasm for teaching and love of her students made my hardest class a genuine pleasure to attend each day. She made a difficult subject entertaining and accessible - a task who's remarkableness was evident when she was replaced by a substitute for two weeks and the subject became instantly incomprehensible to all in the class. A Spanish teacher of mine possessed many of the same qualities.

And then there was the History teacher who gave 25 years of service to his country in the military, and was determined to give another 25 years as a teacher. He died in the 24th year of that pursuit, after a battle with cancer that lasted just under two years. His tenure in the classroom, however, expired a mere four months before he left us.

That's right - for over a year this man came to work every single day, dying and weak - not just from the disease that would take his life but from the treatments designed to stave off that inevitability. I remember him as an honorable man who went the extra mile. My favorite activity was that every day, he'd pull a few students up to the front of the room to take turns on "Impromptus" - sort of a verbal editorial designed to teach us both public speaking and applied thinking. You had to think on your feet, you had to make an argument, and you had to be persuasive.

The teachers I have known are overwhelmingly in the company of these good people. I'm proud to have thought of many of them as friends. For you to disparage the hard work of them and their brethren, Mr. Walker, makes me furious beyond belief. They are not lazy and they didn't spend their careers watching a clock and lazily collecting a paycheck. They took their jobs seriously.

I'm tempted to say three words, Mr. Walker. Three words that would invite you to an intimate encounter with yourself. And frankly, the only thing that stops me is that I know that if I was giving this as an Impromptu, that teacher would be disappointed that I stooped to that level. Not just because of the profanity, but because the positions held by you and those who stand with you are so obviously odious and repugnant, it would be beneath me to stoop so low to make that point.

Instead, I pity you, Mr. Walker. In 13 years of grade school education, I can count on less than one hand all of the unremarkable teachers I had. These "bad apple" teachers are few and far between, though you and your ilk speak of them as if they are rampant. I attended public school, and the majority of my day was with the most noble teachers one could hope to know. If you honestly never had such a teacher who made a difference, who saw potential in you that you didn't yet realize yourself, than you have truly missed out.

If we are to judge all teachers based on the mere presence of a few bad apples, then it would only be fair to judge you, Governor, by your peers. So tell me, how are you different from Rod Blagojevich and hooker-patronizing Eliot Spitzer? I'll tell you the difference - when Spitzer screwed someone, at least they got paid!

I can't believe that in your whole education tenure, Governor, you never had a teacher who cared about his or her job, sacrificed weekends and evenings in the service of your education, and who took a personal interest in you. And if such a person exists, I hope that they are ashamed of what you've become. To disparage them and take away their rights to bargain for fair pay for a difficult job is an act of ignorance so profound that I don't envy you your next parent-teacher conference.

See Scotty, the problem with you - heck, the problem with your whole party - is that you've turned into bullies. Even after the teachers concede to the budget cuts you remain determined to bring them to their knees on collective bargaining, for no better reason than sheer obstinacy.

But if there's one group of professionals that deals with bullies on a daily basis, it's teachers.

To my readers, if you get a chance today, try to reach out to some of those teachers you knew who made a difference. Or at least, reflect on those educators who put you on the path to success. When you see them, thank them because there will come a day when you won't have that opportunity.

And if you have time, tell me about your favorite teachers in the comments below.


  1. Bitter (That seems funny considering the post),

    THANK YOU so much for posting this. I feel the EXACT SAME WAY and was absolutely appalled by those FOX Idiot blurbs watching The Daily Show last night. I'm not prone to throwing my hand in the air when watching the Daily Show, but that definitely made me want run to Madison and shout the same three-word insult in Walker's face, and probably a black eye too. It makes me want to have Howard Beale moment!

    Teachers have meant a great deal to me. If it weren't for the great teachers I was fortunate to be taught, and inspired, and motivated by, I wouldn't have survived high school. The some of the best of them I am still in correspondence with. And I never forgot them and the work they did in me to make me who I am today. One of them actually invited me to come speak to her Creative Writing class, which was probably one of the best memories I have... thinking, wow, "These kids are so smart, and young, and they have so much potential, and I'd Love to see where they end up someday!"

    My great appreciation for teachers was so immense, that I wrote a script about it. And it wasn't just "another silly script", it was a passion project. And that passion and gratitude for how teachers can inspire kids came through in that script, and the passion paid off. The script was a Nicholl Semi-finalist this year, which was a tremendous honor. And the people in my life who deserve the most gratitude (besides my parents of course), the people I'd first stand at the podium and thank for it even being possible would be my teachers.

    It's insulting to think that these buffoons who think that teaching is the easiest job in the world, and that they are OVERPAID. In other countries (those 20 or so countries who rank higher in quality education than the U.S.) value the teaching profession to where they pay teachers what is a good wage.

    So, Scott Walker wants to cut all this "education hocus-pocus" to benefit "Job and Economy Building". Am I the only one who sees the faulty logic here? If you cut Education costs and Teachers, than how are said "Americans" going to have the appropriate job qualities and skills and education required for said jobs? I've been unemployed and it's been hard to find work, and I have a degree. If kids are not getting a good education, and have no educational resources, and the good teachers quit to go find work that can actually help pay their rent and gas, how are these kids going to even WANT to go to college, let alone graduate at all to get the degree that is required of the job that will "help build the economy." I'm pretty darn sure even Wall Street requires AT LEAST a GED to be a janitor on the floor. Even some labor jobs require a high school graduate certificate.

    Anyhow, I didn't mean for that to be a rant, but I commend you for saying this, and I wish and even hope that a larger majority of people see it the same way.


  2. Well said.

    I never went the same school two years in a row until the tenth grade.

    And I'll never forget those high school teachers.

    They worked hard to make up for a lot of neglect that I suffered from bad inner-city public schools.

  3. I needed time to let this one percolate.

    My mom is an elementary school teacher. From the age of six, I have watched her give every drop of energy she has to that work, never leaving before 4PM, usually 5 or 6. That makes for at least a 45-hour week NOT counting the couple of hours of grading and lesson plans each weeknight.

    Teachers, I think even the crappy ones, and I've had several, work damn hard. Any one who says differently is lying to promote an agenda, or woefully ignorant of the current educational system.

    At the same time, it's hard to deny that something systemic is wrong, and that at least part of the responsibility lies with the politics created by the teachers unions. I recall an NPR story where one county closed several underperforming schools rather than re-staff them, for fear of the legal action that would come from the replaced teachers. To me, that says something is wrong. Because the union is obligated to protect all its members, not just the good ones, a situation arises where good teachers lose their jobs because the bad ones can't.

    Now you have Wisconsin, where the average salary is around 70K (including the benefits package) higher than the private standard... and well above the national public standard. I don't blame the people of Wisconsin for wondering if they're getting what their tax dollars pay for, indeed, it is their responsibility to wonder, and to ask. Then if not, to find out why not and change the system accordingly. That's what representative government is.

    As Stewart is so quick to point out in other cases, however, diatribes and sound bytes now dominate the issue, destroying all subtlety and meaning in the national discussion. These pundits and politicians aren't interested in learning about Wisconsin and finding a good solution, they're interested in scoring points by pulling the party line. I know Stewart is playing for laughs, not insight, but in this instance, he’s part of the problem. Now, as usual, I'm disgusted with the entire debate.

    Should we screw our teachers? Of course not. Should we insulate them from all financial hardship in lean years at the expense of the police department, fire department, or other public services? Probably not.

    What are we to do with fewer resources than we need? We examine ALL aspects of the specific problem and make hard compromises. At least... that's the idea.

    I can't help but feel that so much of the anger coming from both sides of this is a direct result of the creeping feeling that our education is fundamentally broken. It's then compounded by the subsequent realization that we don't even begin to know how to fix it, since every strategy of the last twenty years has failed.

    Here's a brief and entertaining discussion of why that might be from someone far more knowledgeable than me...

  4. Walker, an interesting perspective and I certainly respect the argument even though you and I are on different sides of the issue.

    I'll just point out that even after the unions made the budgetary concessions that the Governor asked for, he still went after their collective bargaining rights. That says to me that this was a heck of a lot less about the actual budget, and more about neutering the unions... and that doesn't sit well with me. I think that Gov. Walker's motivations here are about a lot more than what he claims, and that "prank call" was very illuminating as to what he's really after.

    I do think Stewart did make an excellent point in saying that those siding with Walker are pretty quick to make an all-or-nothing hardline stance when it comes to vilifying teachers, yet are quick to minimize blame even when faced with other arenas where the system is broken and vilified (i.e. Wall Street.)

    So to my eye, all of these attacks on teachers just strike me as a means to an end on Walker's part. Could the system use reform? Possibly. But "reform" need not translate to "let's burn down the whole house and rebuild when perhaps a few renovations are all we need." (Not one of my more deft analogies, I grant you.)

    But do you know what I always found unfair in school? When the entire class had to spend recess inside because one unruly student acted out or did something untoward; when the entire class was punished for the actions of a disruptive minority.

    So for Gov. Walker and his supporters to justify these attacks on teachers by pointing to the few class clowns rather than the hard-working really, really doesn't sit well with me, both in a vacuum and when put in the larger political context.

    And it's quite disturbing to see this movement continue from Walker's camp despite how unpopular it is. Just yesterday, the Ohio Senate passed a similar bill by one vote and the measure was so unpopular that SIX Republicans crossed party lines to side with the Democratic opponents of that bill. Considering how polarized the parties are these days, it's remarkable to see that severe a break in the ranks.

    And I don't want to launch into a whole debate about this, but I think it's a little disingenuous for Walker's supporters to include the benefits package in the number they throw around. The actual salary is $48,000 according to the article I read, which on its own, isn't above the average. After all, when most people consider their yearly salary for budgeting purposes, do they include the benefits total in their calculations?

    Probably not, but it's a lot easier to stir outrage when you toss out that $70,000 figure.

  5. Fair enough. You're probably right that Walker and his crew are "strategizing" for their own ends, rather than serving the interests of the people, which is the assumption I was making. God I hate politics. Strike that. I hate the way many politicians abuse their power.

    As far as benefits go, it's possible I can't comment effectively. You're right that I wouldn't figure benefits into my salary if talking about it casually, but then I've never had a job that gave me more than 2-3k in benefits a year.

    When the benefits constitute a full 30% of the overall compensation I think it becomes relevant.

  6. Great post - no matter the side, opinion, stance. I won't pretend to know enough about this issue to really have a position in it, but I can feel offended as a former student and the child of a teacher to be told that our educators did not try hard or did not deserve their paychecks. I think the mere thought of that is absurd. Anything beyond that, I won't comment on. I'd just be making things up and rambling.

    I'm glad someone brought up Sir Ken Robinson. Unfortunately, I doubt we'd see his methods implemented in education anytime soon.

    While I do feel I've had some excellent teachers in my past, and I remember every single one's name and lesson's taught to me, I have for a long time felt that the education system - in terms of how and what students are taught, not how effective the teachers are - is broken. But, that's another topic for another day.

    I'll finish this off by saying that I too am glad that I met my second grade teacher, Mrs. Saunders who found a way to explain vocabulary, diction and the very foundation of speech and writing in ways that no one prior could. Looking back, I was extremely behind in the 2nd grade. I can recall still trying to understand left from right. I'm not sure if I just didn't pay attention or the methods used to teach me were ineffective, but Mrs. Saunders found a way and from then I applied that to every lesson, found a way to understand the material taught even if the teacher didn't get through to me. And of course, I can't go without mentioning Brother Bechner who emphatically exclaimed how poetry gave him an orgasm. It was his passion for story, dialogue and plot that made me appreciate the craft even more in high school.

    Thank you, Bitter, for giving me reason to remember these fine educators and the many others I did not mention.

  7. I'm a teacher in Wisconsin and I thank you for your kind words. They make a difference.