I'm A Teacher, Not The Enemy

Something important, perhaps even historic, is going on in America right now. Just like the Middle East is experiencing a seismic shift in its culture, so are we in ours. Well, actually there are always seismic shifts going on here; but this one is a little different. This one’s about teachers. You know, those under-paid civil servants who have for so long been paid so little trying to do so much that no one bothered to pay much attention.

Apparently that’s changing. Recently the media has swung a very intentional spotlight on how we get so much for doing so little and how state budgets are being relentlessly raped by our over-padded salaries and especially our over-valued pensions.

How exactly did we change from the image of caring, low-salaried civil servants to some politicians’ newest villain in the battle for saving America? One explanation: there are indeed some damn embarrassing examples of lousy teachers hiding behind tenure laws just long enough to reap fat, double-dipping pensions. However, that’s an embarrassment that can be equally attributed to many workers in the private sector as well; only their story isn’t as conveniently on the public record. The second explanation is more calculated: if today’s plutocrats, individually and corporately, are to avoid the righteous slash of the deficit hawks, it’s probably a good idea to find a spotlight to put on someone else.

Over a century before atomic weapons and global terrorism, H.G. Welles already spelled it out for us: “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

There isn’t a mayor or a governor who doesn’t say much the same thing, speech after speech, campaign after campaign. Just as likely, there isn’t a responsible parent who doesn’t agree. But now here’s where this latest seismic shift does a 180…! Instead of living up to the pledge to close the nation’s education gap with better schools and better teachers, suddenly it seems better to widen that gap by making schools and teachers the problem, not the solution.

Lets face it, for every bad teacher this new deficit crusade correctly spotlights, 10 better teachers are now hearing that their profession will probably remain poorly understood, poorly supported, and now poorly respected as well. Why this sudden public backlash…? Because suddenly about 10% of teacher ranks have been found giving too little in the classroom, and getting too much in their pensions.

That 10% is unacceptable. OK, so here’s the deal. That 10% should feel the wrath of the deficit hawks. However, at the very same time, so should that same 10% in every corporate office, Wall Street bank, lobbying group, and government operation in the land. In other words, isn’t it time every American in every field of endeavor agree that every one of us needs to accept our responsibility for how this latest seismic shift plays out? So lets confront our history together, throwing no stones we ourselves don’t deserve.

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  • There are several things you miss...

    (1) Teachers, except at private schools, work for the taxpayers; however, those that make public pronouncements don't seem to recognize that. Unlike in New York, where strikes are banned, and strikers are fined two days pay for each day missed, teachers can and do strike with economic impunity in Illinois, since then they have to be paid for "make up days."

    (2) Although there are some higher ups in corporate America who claim to be paid the "market rate," the vast majority of workers in private industry are employees at will, not tenured, like teachers, and can be put on the street or made independent contractors for any reason other than racial or sexual discrimination (age discrimination laws have no teeth). Yet, let any school system do anything about that 10% (how many does that add up to in Chicago?) and they will yell "due process violation." In the meantime, there was the report on TV a couple of days ago about civil serpents in the U of I administration also claiming that they are paid "market rate" and are entitled to limos and free condos. At least Jeff Skilling is in Club Fed.

    (3) Unsuccessful companies, like Kodak, go out of business. The government bailed out GM and Chrysler, but their preexisting stockholders pretty much got zeroed out. It has been 17 years since Daley took over the Chicago schools, and yet there are few areas of excellence, and teachers bring race discrimination actions when the administration threatens to shut down an underperforming school.

    (4) At least the teachers who post on comment boards or go before the media are unthinking sheep, especially saying such things as:

    (a) the one on District 299 here that everything would be o.k. if they just got the same resources as the U of C Lab School, without taking any personal responsibility for the results in the public schools.

    (b) the usual one about "we made our pension contributions, and the state didn't, and the Constitution protects existing workers from any changes," now only modified by "the state will face suits if they make any changes," like that is supposed to scare us. Let's not forget that the entire 66% state income tax hike went into pension payments, and vendors are still not being paid on time.

    So, maybe if you told us how we actually could get rid of the 10%, and who feed these lines to the robots, maybe you would improve the perception of teachers. Maybe getting rid of Karen Lewis as the "face" of the union would help perceptions, too. It isn't about her rank and file, it is supposed to be about the students.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack ~ You make some good points. And while I admit (and did in the post) there are embarrassing flaws in the school systems (especially in large cities), my argument is really broader. First, I submit that 10% or more of every endeavor is flawed, but that calls for surgery not lobotomy! Second, losing images like Karen Lewis will help put our case in better perspective, for she is the wrong face to our cause. Third, you have to wonder why NOW the pension plans are a big target, just when the 1% needs to find some fall guys for their role in exploiting the national budget via their aid, deductions, and relentless lobbying favors. Teachers are hardly perfect...but there are better ways to make the system more perfect

  • In reply to Jack Spatafora:

    "Now" is easy to pinpoint (a) that the 67% income tax increase went entirely to pensions, and hence others aren't being paid by the state, indicating that tax increases are not going to solve the problem, and (b) the two politically-connected crumbs who got pensions for subsitute teaching for one day, as well as other abuses. And it isn't just now--Chicago property owners got their real estate transfer tax tripled in 2008, supposedly to fix the CTA's pension system, but there is no indication that that resulted in a permanent fix. BTW, the CTA employees had to pay increased contributions, but supposedly the rest of the public employees are resisting that.

    As far as "exploiting the national budget," the feds can print money while the state can't. Eventually Illinois will become Greece (unless Illinois can decouple from the dollar), and I suppose then the teachers will be marching in the streets.

    Whether there is anything to your 10% everywhere comment, at least the private sector can fire its incompetent 10%.

    And don't tell me that part of the problem isn't that the teachers' unions have successfully lobbied the state legislature, to the taxpayers' detriment. What other explanation is there for them having a separate Labor Relations Act? Or that Emanuel's apparently paltry reforms had to get their approval first, which they claimed they gave, and then denied?

  • Teachers are not underpaid. They are overpaid, that is the problem. Salaries are not in line with production. I don't see why the private sector is even brought up; it is irrelevant!! Teachers' benefits far outweigh their results. Chicago schools are terrible, and teachers get a large salary, shortest hours in the nation, shortest school 'year', and a very sizable pension. Why do we pretend it is a anywhere close to a year?

    Teachers are villains. Get used to hearing that or change.

  • In reply to Chitown60618:

    ChiTown ~ You have reason to be angry, but to toss a grenade like villains" tells me you know little about what it is like to be a teacher, especially ion the CPS. Tougher than most anyone in the private sector because you are often working with unmotivated kids, unsupportive parents, and poor classroom tools. Once you delete the villain charge, then maybe you can join those of us who are good at what they do and what to make the system better at what it is supposed to do. One way to start would be to make sure we don't GET tenure, we EARN it

  • Don't get me wrong, you make some ok points, but the true fact of the matter is that the current assembly of teachers are negotiating for their own benefits and not those of the kids. I once went to school. I saw unmotivated kids whose parents did not actively participate in their schooling. And this will continue to happen in the future. At no other time has our education system been so failing. This is 2012; the students should be leaps and bounds ahead of their 1980's counterparts, but I can't say that they are. Youth knowledge must be at a modern day low. While grades are at their lowest, teacher compensation is at its height? We all don't need to be math teachers to figure out that money is not well spent. All new "education" money is going for pension benefits. Nothing new will be contributed to the classroom and that is a travesty.

    In regard to your comment, "One way to start would be to make sure we don't GET tenure, we EARN it", why do teachers deserve tenure? Outside of "because", what benefit to education does it serve?

    Outside of Supreme Court Justice, who attains lifetime appointment to a position?

  • Education is such as essential part of a great society, but it gets so messed up so many times because of teachers, parents, administrators and community violence. I can't say all teachers are great but I can say there are enough of us to make it worthwhile to keep trying to get it right!. So yes...make us EARN tenure. I never doubted for a moment in my 40 years that I was doing great work with my kids. And I'm not alone. So here's hoping the public keeps trying to sort this mess out without . vilifying. I appreciate your cncerns...

  • Jack S., you make some valid points and are not hysterical, which is nice.

    How can it be justified for teachers to threaten to strike or to strike when, in so many cases, they are making at least a third more than the residents in their districts?

    Where does feeding the beast end? Most property tax bills have the biggest percentage of the revenue going to school districts.

    People are tapped out. I know people who teach, and they do not live in the same world as the rest of us. They really seem detached from the realities of the cost of living. They talk only to each other and do not understand how bust people really are, with no end in sight, due to the ever-increasing cry of "more, more, more".

    We are tired.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Richard ~ I hear you, but I can assure you most teachers are tired too. They don't earn mor4e than the national everage and they often work in tough venues. The media is giving them a bad rap becaus of a few bad examples. But overall, we are in the same boat the rest of you are. We need more WE instead of the usual THEY these days. Here's hoping...

  • Your union is the enemy. It is the enemy to good government, fiscal sanity, and good education. As are all government employee unions, your union is the enemy of this entire country.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Publius :

    * I agree that our union, as now represened, has not been helpful; but lets remember teachers wished to be considered professionals (like lawyers and doctors) but by mid 20th C the public still paid and managed us like factory workers so we had to (reluctantly) unionize

    * granting all the flaws, teachers and the schools still need some way to have a voice in the society; otherwise we become another US Postal Service; education is too important to squander that way

    I too hope there are better solutions

  • You're right, Jack. One of the main reasons people dislike teachers is we have so many negative portrayals of us in movies and real life. Or we're glorified into being something impossible in movies. I wrote a couple of posts on my blog about this same issue, so I'm glad you're continuing to push this conversation. Check out my posts on The White Rhino if you get a chance. One is titled "Cameron Diaz and Reasons People Hate Chicago Teachers." I modified the title for the next one, when our CTU leader flubbed, to "Karen Lewis and Other Reasons People Hate Chicago Teachers."

    I also think that part of it is our own fault. There are so many great, intelligent teachers out there with challenging, insightful ideas but they don't express them publicly. One of my friends refers to them as the silent majority. The few voices we do hear are extremely conservative in terms of the status quo or impossibly progressive (Transform every school and every single student!). We need some in between.

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    Ray ~ Maybe we should start this lkong road back to sanity by replacing Lewis. In an age imagery, she sends the wrong image...

  • Really disheartened by these comments.

  • In reply to Peter T. Walsh:

    Peter ~ If by disheartened you mean the negatives about teachers, I as a teacher agree. But if you refer to the union, I fear it has not always portrayed us and our profession best. There is failure on all sides -- union, teachers, administrators and very often parents. If we don't get this right, the nation as a whole loses to those countries who try better. Starting with recruiting gifted teachers more like we do gifted athletes

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