There are two kinds of teachers: conservative ones who valiantly sacrifice themselves to maintain our nation’s greatness, and teachers who won’t shut up and do as they’re told. As you may know, I’m the second kind.
Both kinds of teachers can have self-esteem issues. In a capitalist consumerist country, no matter how many times people at parties tell you you’re a saint for teaching, you still go home knowing money talks. If you were so valuable to all those people, they’d tax themselves enough to pay you like a doctor. Doctors save lives. Teachers saved my life. I know that.
I remember a male relation telling me he made $100 an hour, back when I was a kid. I’ve always remembered that. My time isn’t worth $100 an hour to the marvelously wise free market– not yet– but it’s worth way more than that to me. I’ve worked my whole life to become an educated person (inside and, mostly, outside of schools). I have enough life experience to know how to find common ground with students and give them honest, unbiased answers to sticky questions. I can defuse ugliness by holding up my palm. I can stop you from doing what you shouldn’t do by looking at you long and hard. Sometimes by just standing in your sightline. And those skills didn’t come easy.
People are hating on teachers a lot lately. Civilians don’t know that spring break is the time when every teacher goes insane. Teachers start saying all manner of crazy things at this time of year. Everyone is quitting. Everyone is changing schools. Teacher happy hours last longer. The tabs are more expensive. By mid-April, we’re so exhausted we don’t even have the energy to threaten to quit anymore. These are the “zombie” months. So don’t worry, we’ll all calm down and stop protesting and making signs. We’ll be too tired from all the effort of shaping up those kids to convince them to be good citizens, not to break into your car or destroy the economy with their financial schemes.
What encourages me is that teachers have been on the defensive, and now we have the opportunity to go on the offensive. Not what we hate about school reform– let’s scream about what we want. What would make schools better? What analogies or soundbites would help people understand the real problems in education, and the real, small, slow solutions? It’s not that we need to defend the territory won for us by the labor movement and feminists and the great educational theorists, it’s that we need to expand our sense of entitlement. Who else is going to do what we do? Who can do it better? Let’s be honest: the country can’t run without us.
Not only should we be paid like doctors or lawyers, we should have their autonomy. Not only should we have job security and academic freedom, we should have sabbaticals around year seven. Do we need unions for that? Maybe, maybe not. Unions for teachers were a compromise, a rather ill-fitting solution at times. They served a great purpose, but there could be other answers.
I know. That’s as crazy as a black man running for president. Or someone surviving a concentration camp having the chutzpah to get married and have kids. People who were told they were completely worthless, not shutting up. Instead, accomplishing the impossible. They set the example.