Dear Teacher Colleagues,
I hope that you are all enjoying a relaxing break before heading back to school next week. A little tip, if you want to stay relaxed, avoid the comments sections of news sites and blogs (particularly when it comes to education). I spent part of my break reading news stories about our schools and about education policy. I also made the mistake of reading the comments under some of these articles and stories. I have some bad news based on reading those comments. There is a whole section of the American population who are on to us. This segment of the population has figured out that it is teachers who are holding back American schools from being great again. They have figured out that we are becoming rich with our outrageous salaries, benefits that include health insurance, and our very cushy schedules. They have had it with our 24 minute lunches and the fact that our fat cat salaries make it possible to donate (on the average) between $500-$1000 in school supplies to our students each year. These people in the comment sections know that teachers just care about protecting our jobs. They have figured out that we became teachers to brainwash young people to become adults who are unable to think for themselves. This is what a lot of people believe, if you don’t believe me, get into these comment sections and read up.
OK, so I need to stop reading the comment sections, but it is important that we recognize that these people are out there. If we’re honest, these are the people who got out and voted in the 2016 election. No matter how wrong they are, the narrative that we, as public school teachers, are failing our kids is out there and it is wrong.
How do we change the narrative? I wish there was a simple answer, but there isn’t. People like Department of Education nominee Betsy DeVos have spent billions of dollars to tell a narrative that argues that by simply providing unregulated for-profit charter schools throughout a state that it will elevate student achievement. Her billions of dollars have only served to line the pockets of those opening schools that are not performing better than their public counterparts. Less money is getting to young people and more money is going into corporate pockets with no evidence of real replicable results.
My bank account (and mine is pretty similar to most of yours I would guess) has a few less zeroes than Ms. DeVos or the Koch brothers, so simply buying legislators is out of the question. What do we have in our power to change the narrative? We have our stories. Historically teachers have not had to “fight” for public schools. Americans have understood that public schools represent the best opportunity for young people to achieve the American Dream. For whatever reason, some Billionaires have decided that only “free-market” competition among schools will “restore” American education. Interestingly, the research doesn’t back that up. Christoper and Sarah Lubienski wrote a very interesting book entitled “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.” This book details how Public Schools actually outperform non-Public schools in almost every measurable way. We have to tell that story.
We, as teachers, have to tell the story that Public Schools are full of success. We need to blog, write letters, give speeches, and get on social media to tell our story. Tag your stories with #ITeach to identify yourself as a proud teacher.
Lastly, I believe it is important for teachers to be subject to one another. We need to be there for each other. We need to lift each other up. None of us got into teaching because it was easy. We got into it because we cared about young people. We got into it because we care about the future. We got into it because it is in our blood. To those who think that teachers underperform and are overpaid, where is the army of those who are better who will do the work for less money? Bring them on. Our classrooms are filled with great teachers. Are there bad teachers? Sure, and they by and large leave the profession. We, as teachers, need to be subject to one another. My favorite president of all time is President Josiah Bartlet from the “West Wing.” President Bartlet had this to say: “Be subject to one another … In this day and age of 24-hour cable crap devoted to feeding the voyeuristic gluttony of an American public hooked on a bad soap opera that’s passing itself off as important, don’t you think you might be able to find some relevance in verse 21 (of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians)? How do we end the cycle? Be subject to one another.”
The American public is hooked on this voyeuristic gluttony without a doubt. As teachers, our only hope is to tell our story. We must be truthful when those with an alternative narrative lie. We must be humble when others are self-righteous. We must be willing to be proud of the work we do. We must proclaim loudly that public education is how our young people will change their lives for the better. Politicians will talk about making people’s lives better, but teachers will actually do it. We will do it with the families we serve, with the communities we live in, and we will do it by being subject to one another.
Have a great 2017. Speak up!