I am a teacher. It was my first job, and I loved it. I remember many decades ago, arriving at Dondero High School, Royal Oak, Michigan to start my career. I received instructions to go to the auditorium. From my theater seat, I was told that the district was on strike, and I was to leave the premises. As I was not a union member yet, I was not to picket- but I was also told that there was no staff member who would be available to open the book vault and get me copies of the texts I would be using.
It was a signal that the business of teaching would be fraught with peril. I made it for 6 years of teaching before I started law school at night. I was after a career where I would be respected. ( I know- funny, eh?) I served on my School Board for 8 years because I wanted to support the work teachers do. I have looked at schools from both sides now, to co-opt Joni Mitchell.
Teaching is not for sissies. Schools are the petri dishes for far too many social experiments, and the catch basins for dozens of unfunded or underfunded social programs. The education structure is the delivery system for mental health identification and services. The school is responsible for identifying illness and malnutrition, abuse and mental deficiencies. And then they are charged with attempting to facilitate programs that are so far afield of the teaching/learning model that it would make most citizens freak out.
And after performing as the frontline of social responsibilities- they are charged with teaching, inspiring, learning, implementing new programs, keeping copious records, communicating with parents. Then grading papers, preparing new lessons, continuing education improvement. A good teacher is stretched as thin as a balloon skin. No wonder they are popping!
It is an emotionally and physically daunting job. Because all of us went to school, we believe we understand the world of education. We do not.
Teachers are burning out with the ever-lengthening list of duties. Good instructors just want to teach, to watch imagination and hard work conspire to create a bright future.
But education has been politicized-by both sides. It has been well intentioned, at times, but it is not informed by the realities of today’s schools. However, since federal and state dollars are at stake, schools do what they are told, for better or not. Teachers and schools are judged by a matrix of common standards. There is no alternative but to eschew broad and deep learning paths: the test is the thing.
The reporting of said tests does not begin to reflect what is happening in the schools. Children with profound learning difficulties are evaluated alongside of average kids. The transience and absenteeism of kids cannot be asterisked. Homeless kids attend classes to get meals. Children disappear over holidays, never to be seen again. New students appear weekly, from parts unknown, sometimes without records, often without any abilities.
A school can make amazing strides with all these challenges, and are not given time to bask in their achievements. If the next increment of evaluation is not as great- they are a FAIL. If they do a great job with special education, they will attract challenging students with high per-kid costs, social accommodations and dire consequences to test scores.
Everything is so complicated.
It is difficult for an outsider to grasp the absurdity of many mandated programs and standards. It is impossible to appreciate the hoops teachers jump through, and hamster wheels they have to inhabit. My friends teach, my sister teaches- I know I could not have lasted for the years they have.
They are tired. They are burning out. Many are leaving the profession. I am in good teachers’ corner, every day.
BUT. This strike is a mistake for all of the parties.
I get it, I really do- the shutdown is an in-your-face raspberry from the membership and Karen Lewis. They can argue forever, but today’s walk off is not even about these negotiations. It is about respect and parity. They are saying “yes, we can!”
We know you can, but the question is, Should You?
No. It is a horrid example to children. Good teachers exhort them to stay the course when a problem gets hard. The negotiations were moving. They were close. The BS about implementing air conditioning and social issues was a pathetic attempt to inject humanity into a cynical battle of wills. This is a “do as I say, not as I do moment.”
Take it from me- it is a pyrrhic victory for the professionals who work so hard, and hear so little affirmation on a daily basis. It lets them be seen as selfish. I know that they are not. They can say it is “for the kids” because that is what the politicians say. We all know better.
As I learned many years ago- striking is for losers. Everyone loses. Mostly the kids, though-….and that is where the worlds collide. Let’s hope smarter and cooler heads prevail.