Friday, August 29, 2014

Stop It, Teachers

It's that time of year. Teachers go back to work, kids go back to school, and people who have no idea what they're talking about start bitterly complaining about the possibility that somewhere out there, there could be a teacher working under passable employment conditions. Which is a bad thing, because we have collectively decided that for teachers to have a decent, reliable job is not good for children. This is so widely accepted that teachers don't dare to express any self-interest at all. I love you all, but have you been brainwashed? Do you have Stockholm Syndrome? Because it kind of seems like you agree with those who believe you have no right to financial stability, a supportive work environment, or any desire to a happy life outside of work.

You run around, writing things like this. You make excellent points. You assure us everything you do is for the good of the children, and every word you say it true. However, while you do that, you're defending yourselves against hysterical accusations that you shouldn't have to dignify with an answer. The more you assure us that everything you do is for the children, the more you play into the implication that it somehow benefits kids for their teachers to have crappy jobs. You tacitly agree that putting any energy into your own needs is in opposition to the best interest of all children, everywhere. 

"The teachers have a union. What do the kids have???" ask hand-wringing c-list celebrities. True, kids are vulnerable. But frankly, their interests are being overrepresented here, although it's happening in a deeply disingenuous way. In a way that, ironically, isn't doing them any favors. They're going to grow up and enter the job market. Some of them will become teachers. What do we want to see waiting for them when they get there?

This year, Whoopi Goldberg, a Hollywood actress turned person-who-talks-out-of-her-ass-for-a-living, is the vehicle for the argument that tenure protects "bad teachers", but it could have been anyone. She claims to be a thinker, but she's merely repeating what millions of others have already voiced. You want to talk about someone with no accountability? There's no reason for Goldberg to put herself out by researching or even employing her critical thinking skills. She has a larger audience than any teacher, but there will be no consequences if it's revealed she has no idea what she's talking about. She has zero incentive to be responsible. Worst case scenario, she loses her job, spends an evening crying into her solid gold pillow. She does a little soul searching. She asks herself if she'd rather find a new project (so she can be fulfilled - she doesn't have to worry about supporting herself), or if it would be better to drop out and live out her days in luxurious retirement. If there's a teacher out there whose biggest concern is that you might get your feelings hurt, call me! I'd love to know your secret. 

Oh, to return to the golden days of childhood, when Whoopi starred in major motion pictures, playing fictional characters who made you believe Whoopi herself was intelligent, interesting and likable. You're a little black woman in a big, silver box. You breathed new life into the nun's choir. You let go of the fact that the woman you were madly in love with couldn't love you back, and sat right by Mary Louise Parker's side while she died of AIDS. I want to love you. I really do. 

After receiving some backlash that will not have the slightest negative effect on her life, Whoopi issued this very condescending rebuttal: 

Oh, your children and grandchildren went to school, or are currently attending! Than naturally, you know what you're talking about. Not everyone cay say that. Oh, wait. Yes they can. Literally every American can say they, their children, their grandchildren or someone they know has attended school, because we're all offered a free, comprehensive education. Whoopi Goldberg has indeed established herself as someone who has the bare minimum knowledge in this area. 

In the end, she mentions she's the child of a teacher. Like me, and Matt Damon. So why is Matt Damon so much more (forgive me) schooled in this issue than she is?

I can't get enough of Matt Damon being intelligent, sane and thoughtful. Why hasn't he been offered a spot on The View? Because while Goldberg clarifies that she was only talking about bad teachers, Damon exposes why that's such a manipulative point for her, or anyone, to make. So does Yuhuru Williams. 

Opponents of tenure however have used the “bad teacher” argument as a thinly veiled effort to attack teacher unions, claiming that they represent the interests of underperforming teachers over students. In reality, when empowered by state law to do so, teacher unions are often the loudest voices in favor of critical reforms that benefit students. By advocating for small class sizes, increased opportunities for professional development, safe and secure instructional spaces, and much needed resources for student instruction, teacher unions are generally the first and strongest advocates for interventions on issues such as poverty and the inadequate distribution of resources that most contribute to low-performing schools.

What's a bad teacher? There is no definition. It seems a bad teacher is someone who has offended a child or parent in some way. Over the course of a 30 or 40 year career, will even one teacher be able to escape this accusation? Currently, there is no way of measuring teacher performance that doesn't penalize the hardest working teachers - the ones who work with the highest need students. If you're so worried about holding teachers accountable, maybe you should be working on finding a way to do so.

But teachers. Teachers, teachers, teachers. You work hard every day. Your career required you to make a considerable investment of money and time to even get through the front door. You're professionals, and most of you hold yourselves to a high standard. Would you mind spending 13 years educating my children? The average person would laugh in my face, but a teacher doesn't blink. "Sure!" they say.

Do they do it for the money? The status? The summers off? Because they secretly love seeing children falling on the playground? The answer isn't my concern. I don't ask my children's pediatrician to do an amazing job overseeing my kids' health, and also prove she's worthy of doing so. Is it really, really important for her to do a good job? Does she owe it to me, and to my kids? Yes. But I'm not going to focus on that. "Somebody, think of the children!" has been done to death. It's important for professionals who cater to our physical, psychological and intellectual health to be well-meaning and competent. Duh. It goes without saying. I've already said too much, and in doing so done exactly what I'm lambasting teachers for doing.

Again, though, I say teachers! You aren't helping when you make sure to emphasize that every decent working condition you fight for is for the children, and that those children are you students, not the ones you have at home. Mentioning your own kids' needs is forboden. In the context of fighting for your working conditions, you never do it. Look, I'm not downplaying how important you are to your students. My kids will remember you all their lives. But those kids many of you have at home, the ones who are legally yours? You love them more. Admit it, and know that's the way it should be. It benefits them for you to be financially stable. They need houses, healthcare, college funds, enriching experiences and satisfied parents who aren't constantly worried about their livelihood, and unlike my kids, they're completely dependent on you to provide it all. No matter how much you love them and they love you, I'm virtually certain my kids won't be at your death bed. Yours will.

You defend yourselves against accusations of having some interest in your own job security and financial situation without ever stopping to say, "Well, yeah. I have what should be a firmly middle-class job, and I care about securing a middle-class lifestyle for my family."

I'm the child of a public school teacher, the product of dozens of them, and now the parent of two children in public school. So basically, I'm Whoopi Goldberg, a person with average knowledge. Unlike her, I have an original point to make. One that, disturbingly, I never hear. The Emperor is naked. The kids are very important, but no more important than their teachers. Fortunately, teachers and students do not have conflicting needs. But when does a person's well-being stop mattering? At the age of 18? Upon the birth of their first child? Or do you stop mattering the second you have a teaching certificate in your hand?

While you repeatedly assure us it's all about the kids, you play into the idea that you don't and shouldn't matter. You also seem to aggravate the stunning entitlement already displayed by the general public - we are further convinced you owe it to us to give us your lives. You don't. You provide a service, we compensate you for it. The fact that you put heart and passion into it is just so much velvet. It shows, it has a positive influence on all of us, but it can't be measured, and you don't have to suffer to prove it. No one is held to our collective puritanical morality the way you are, but have you stopped to ask yourself if you really believe in it? You didn't take a vow of poverty (well, that's debatable, but you shouldn't have had to). Nowhere in your job description does it say you must live an ascetic lifestyle at all times, and your students do not benefit from you volunteering for one.

They're kids for a short time. All too soon, they grow up. They get jobs. Some of them become teachers. Can you really tell me those students don't have a special place in your heart? When you sell yourself out, you sell them out. Period. No matter what they do, the conditions of one standard, run-of-the-mill middle class career influences all the others. Don't sell them out. Give them the chance to grow up and have a stable future. You do this already, of course, by teaching then every day. Yet here I am, audacious enough to ask that you do more. It's too much to ask. It's not fair. You didn't sign up for it. It's not your job. I'm asking anyway.

I'm sorry if this sounds dramatic, but the future of the American middle-class lies in your hands. Renouncing your own needs won't save it. Speaking up for yourself may not either, but it could help. When I started writing this, I was full of my usual righteous indignation. But now, I want to beg you. Please, please please. Think of the children. Consider their future. Metaphorically put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help them. I know you want them to advocate for themselves, to believe they're worthy of being fairly compensated for the work they do. So model it. Please. 


  1. Beautifully written! As a classroom teacher, I appreciate your view!

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  3. Thank you, Socalritts, and thank you for commenting! I