Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teachers and the Unions

Okay - I have kept quiet on this issue long enough.  This is an issue that is dividing families and friends.  You should have read some of the horrible emails and FB messages I have gotten - from both sides of this discussion.  So here is my stance...well, it is more of a request.  PLEASE STOP BASHING TEACHERS!  Yes, I know. We only work 10 months out of the year, have all of our holidays off and we are done at 3pm and yada yada yada.  I KNOW!

Please also note that the teachers are PEOPLE!  These are people who hold the lives and futures in the very palms of their hands NOW.  What they do today, impacts your child FOREVER!  You have no kids?  Guess, what we do will impact your caregivers, and therefore your life -  forever!

I am no longer in the public world.  I am teaching for a much reduced salary in a private school in order to afford private school education for my 4 kids. (Ironic all the way around, isn't it!)  It is a trade off the has been wonderful so far.  My class sizes run from 11-27. My boys are in true 15 student classes, as opposed to the 30:2 classes SAGE provided.   Last year, my classes at MHSA were 40-48, with the exception of my AP class which "only" had 16.  We did not have enough books, ever, in the 12 years I taught in MPS, to allow all kids to take a book back and forth.  That meant I had to create assignments that did not rely on the text or the internet - because not all kids have regular access to the web, either.   Aside from those restrictions, we were limited to ONE case of paper per day for 45 staff members and 950 students, in order to cut costs.  SO, no textbook or textbook created materials were used - unless we provided our own paper.  And from what I have heard, copies are being limited, regardless of who bought the paper.  For instructional purposes, I have almost always created ALL my own materials.  I have 2 flash drives FULL of PowerPoints, projects, assignments, rubrics - all created by ME - during the wee hours of the morning when my house is finally quiet enough to work or while sitting on the deck during the summer watching my kids play in the backyard.  I don't get paid for that.

Especially in urban districts, the teachers are often the only advocates for the children, sadly.  Breakfast commonly consists of Flamin' Hots and Hawaiian Punch, with maybe a Honey Bun to boot.  We buy clothes and supplies for our kids, students, as well as our classrooms.  I created a "SmartBoard" out of a Wii Mote, a Bluetooth dongle and an IR pen.  I created a document camera out of a ring stand and old camcorder.  We know how to make do with little to no supplies.  Many of our kids are written off by society - forgotten or left for hopeless.  I have lost 18 kids in 13 years - YES, EIGHTEEN!  I have gone to 15 of their funerals.  My  heart has broken with each and every one of those losses.  The guilt is enormous.  What could I have done differently?  What didn't I see?  Why didn't I suggest something different? I have been called Mom by more kids than I can ever count - sometimes by accident and sometimes by affection.  I am touched deeply by that compliment.  These are MY KIDS.  I am here in spite of all the issues, because of the kids. Don't you dare tell me that I am in this for the money!

As for the issues being debated, we in the education world know that there are sacrifices that must be made.  WE GET THAT!  Please don't lecture us about the private world, we understand that as well.  But when Gov. Walker wants to dissolve the unions, there are bigger issues at hand.  We have - for years - forgone pay raises in order to keep our health insurance, so we have indeed made sacrifices all along.  We began paying into our insurance several years ago and knew that trend would continue.  Now, we as teachers know that there are more cuts to be made and are okay with that - believe it or not.  But you have to realize that there are work conditions that the union ensures are safe and productive.

I have a student I can think of at this very moment - from 1999.  (At 150-200+ kids per year, you can do the math on how many kids ago that was.) I can picture him and remember his name just as clear as though it was yesterday.  BB had "that look" in his eyes, a ticking time bomb.  One day in my social studies class, he got upset because I would not give him my colored pencils during my instructional time.  He literally threw a table at me.  Kicker to this - I was 5 1/2 months pregnant.  The school board required me to keep him.  It was part of his disability - I needed to be more understanding.  The union stepped in and had him removed from my classroom.  They also ensure that we have something as simple as adequate parking, security guards for our halls and comp time when we stay until 9pm to ensure all parents have the opportunity to speak with us regarding their children's progress (after coming in to teach a zero hour class - FOR FREE at 6:50 AM). The positives of the union definitely outweigh the negatives.  I can go on and on.

I am not a Union Lackey.  I think there are some teachers who should not be in this profession and are protected by the union simply because they have put in three years and achieved tenure.  BUT, had administration, college education faculty or mentors stepped in during the early years of their education/careers, perhaps these sub-par teachers could have gotten the guidance they needed - either to improve their teaching  and/or classroom management style or to continue looking for their true vocations.  Unions, aside from negotiating our salaries and benefits, also ensure our working conditions are safe and secure.

Until you have spent any amount of time in the classroom, please don't bash teachers.  Most of us work long and hard to make sure our kids are educated - both academically and socially.  We work with little to no supplies or support - sometimes from homes, administration or the community at large.  We are


N.B - Didja know that teachers in the public schools often only get paid for 9 of the 10 days of their pay period?  This allows a paycheck to be sent to us on our breaks.  The days are "banked" for us and distributed over Winter and Spring Breaks, etc.
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