To Whom It May Concern (Which Should Be All of Us)- Draft 2
There are some things that need to be said about the state of education in our country. I'm going to have to let the two things that are most uncomfortable for me to talk about, politics and money, have a place in this conversation. But I need you to listen anyway. Please. Pretty please. If I had the choice to "just" be a teacher and not get involved, I would do it. I would put my head down, go about my job and my life, and be happier for it. The problem is that it's not a choice I have any longer. I need to be heard. I need to be heard so badly that I'm sitting here, still soaked from the shower, balancing a nursing baby and a laptop, scrolling through the list in my head of the hours of work I need to do this morning and trying to triage to make time for this because I need you to hear it.
You can’t be apathetic when it comes to education. You just can’t. It's not enough just to care. You simply have to walk the walk. Education isn't just an issue that only affects teachers and people who have school-aged kids. I'll let John Green describe this one for you: "Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of social order. We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education. So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don't personally have a kid in school: It's because I don't like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.” It’s time to act.
The work we do in our schools every day is important. It is crucial. It is necessary for the survival (and dare I dream advancement?) of our society. I believe these things with my whole heart. I don't believe them because I read them in my Facebook scroll or saw them on the news. I certainly haven't heard them come out of the mouths of politicians, not in the way that I want and need them to. I believe these things because they are deeply ingrained in the life I live every day. They are the inescapable facts that dictate my every move far beyond my contracted hours as a teacher.
Here's what it boils down to: the work we do in our schools every day is priceless, but that doesn't excuse us from the responsibility of giving it a VALUE.
Let me say it again, maybe in a different way this time, to make sure it gets through: because teachers are called to do everything in their power to help each child who enters their classrooms, many would do it for free, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THEY SHOULD HAVE TO. It's time to invest in our future, which means that we have to invest in education.
Let me give you some background. I work for an incredible school district. I often thank my lucky stars for somehow stumbling into such an amazing school on my first interview. I'm at a place where I just fit. My students, my colleagues, my families that I meet each year-- they are everything. I love what I do, and I love where I do it. That being said, it has been a devastating blow to have two tax levies fail here in less than two years.
The community that I value so much doesn't value me back.
At least, they don't value the work that I do. Not as much as they should. In turn, this means that they don't value the power of educating our youth. Not as much as they should.
After much research and reflection, I know the reasons why. I don't accept them. Please understand that this is one of the times where this is going to get uncomfortable for me. I'm going to share facts and run the risk of sounding whiny. One of the main reasons our community decided to deny us the funds we need to simply maintain the status quo in our district, which I think our staff can widely agree is not enough, is because we got a "raise" a few years ago. Yes, I'm an English teacher. I used those quotation marks right. You see, our "raise" was given as a gift at the same time that we were gifted extra days added to our contract. Admittedly, I'm not super great at the money and business portion of life. However, receiving extra money as compensation for working extra days... is this what you understand a raise to be?
That's not the only flaw in the logic here. We'll get to the whole teachers-are-the-opposite-of-greedy argument in a minute, but by blaming the teachers or using them as an excuse, people are ignoring a crazy important part of the issue here: THE KIDS. In order for anything to be successful in the education world, the center of every discussion, every decision, and every step we take has to be our kids.
When a teacher stays after school to tutor struggling students because she operates under a philosophy that dictates that all students can learn at high levels, it takes away from the time she could be home helping her own kids with their homework. But she does it anyway. For free. Shouldn't there be funding for that? When a teacher sponsors a chess club to give kids a safe place to land where they are accepted and loved, he's giving pieces of the time he could be spending playing Trouble with his own son at home. Because he can't stand another day of those kids being bullied after school. Wouldn't there be funding for these kinds of things? When a teacher starts a breakfast club as a "treat" for her homeroom in order to make sure that one of them who was recently diagnosed with diabetes eats at least one balanced meal a day, it takes away from the fund for treats she can provide for her own family. But she does it anyway. For the kids. Couldn't there be funding for this? Not in our current system. Not even a little bit.
Isn't it embarrassing to us that master teachers who have taught for decades are being forced out of classrooms because their districts can't afford to pay them even a little bit for their experience? Isn't it embarrassing that new teachers have second and sometimes third jobs in an attempt to survive while doing this important work? Isn't it embarrassing that we refuse to fund the things that we should find most valuable?
If you do the research, and I really wish you would, you will find that it's not an exaggeration to say that there is a direct pipeline that leads to prison for a great number of our youth who drop out of high school. You will find staggering figures about the earning potential for someone without a high school diploma vs. someone with a high school diploma vs. someone with a college degree vs. someone with an advanced degree (unless, of course, those "someones" decided to become teachers). We're speaking in millions of dollars here. As Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men."
When I got my contract last year, I thought twice before signing on the line to sentence myself to another year of the most rewarding yet most devastating job I can imagine. In the interest of full disclosure, I thought about it a lot more than twice. Less than five years after being named my district's Teacher of the Year, I was ready to throw in the towel. My family encouraged this move, dangling jobs with more respect and higher salaries in front of me. Less hours and much, much less take home work. Weekends free? It was all so attractive. I seriously thought I was ready to walk away. I couldn't find a place for my idealist mentality in the reality of teaching anymore.
But then I signed my contract anyway. Why? You guessed it.
It is one of my greatest curses and my greatest blessings. At the end of the day, I could walk away from everything except for those KIDS. Which brings me back here. To this. To you.
You see, teachers aren't greedy at all, and we are not the problem. We are the people who get up every morning with the simplest and most difficult goal of all: we want to change the world. Every day. For every kid. But we can't do it anymore without your help, and we can't keep doing it for free. I did not become the latest casualty of the profession, but in less than a decade of teaching, I have seen many gifted professionals move on because they just can't stomach it anymore. The politics. The public indifference, disrespect even, for the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. The kids who need more than we can provide with what we are given and the toll this takes on our lives and our kids, those we claim as our own at school and those who belong to us at home.
Tonight, I will have to rush home after work because I forgot the shoes I need to walk me through a night of volunteering with our staff, students, and families at the local food bank. I hope to hit a red light somewhere along the way to give me time to knock a few other things off my "to-do" list (because even red lights offer an opportunity for progress). I'll make it home in time to eat a late dinner with my kids before putting them to bed and diving into the hours of planning and grading it will take to make tomorrow a good, productive day for my school kids. All the while, I'll be thinking about how thankful I am for my life as I worry about what's happening in the lives of the 140 humans who I need to help raise to change the world.
What are you doing tonight? Could I kindly suggest a few things? I want to give you the opportunity to make a difference. Yes, you. You don't need the most powerful elected officials to help you or even a crowd of people. Here are some things that you will do that will make a difference:
- Share. Share this post. Share your thoughts. Share your time by volunteering at your local schools. Share funds by donating to education or politicians who support our kids or any number of GoFundMe projects posted by teachers online.
- Do your homework. Yes, even as an adult peer, this teacher is asking you to do some homework. Educate yourself about the major issues in education. Are you wondering why people are making such a big deal about this "growth vs. proficiency thing" in the confirmation hearings? Make it your business to know why. Why is there a lack of funding in schools in the first place? You can't fix it until you know about it.
- Get involved in your local schools. In the next twelve months, there will be a school board election where you live. Guaranteed. The people who are elected will be the main stewards of your local tax dollars. Do you know who they are? Do you know what they're spending and why and how? School board elections are often decided by a narrow margin because there are so few people who vote. You have a chance to have a direct impact for our kids.
- Refuse to allow Betsy DeVos to become our new Secretary of Education. She does not have experience, and she does not have enough respect for the position to have even done her homework before her confirmation hearings. A quick Google search will give you a number of different politicians to contact and a number of different ways to contact them to make sure that this does not happen.
If you need more ideas, send me a message. I'll catch up with you at my next red light.