This Last Morning

This morning I’m thinking about endings, about finales.

Oh right, I hear some TV show ended last night, didn’t it? Sure hope that lived up to everyone’s expectations.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.

This morning I turned off my alarm clock for what may be the last time for the next two and a half months. That is a lovely thought.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.

This morning I am thinking about my friends who are leaving my school. Because today is their last day of teaching.

My friend Veronica, who came to Tucson and to this school from out of state, and was thrown right into the deep end, teaching high school students who have, many of them, gone to the same charter school for five, ten, or even twelve or more years (We had a graduate last year who went to pre-school with this charter, so, fourteen years in one school. It’s like Little House on the Prairie or something.), and who were used to their friends and their teachers, and who DON’T LIKE CHANGE. Then a year later, and for no valid reason, she was switched entirely to middle school students — who are, of course, demons. Turns out, Veronica is a splendid demon wrangler, and she spent the next two years lashing them into submission, mostly with her height, which is remarkable; her voice, which can be both piercing and booming as she wishes; and her humor, which is far more biting than her students knew.

But I knew, and that’s what I’ll miss: her humor. The evil little chuckle, the manic smile, the way she says “YEAH!” when I make some joke about making students suffer. I’ll miss the dedication and effort she put into helping children, too.

My friend Kellie had a similar experience with coming from out of state to teach high school and then ending up with middle school, except Kellie’s was even faster: she never even got to teach high school. And it’s an absolute crime, because she is exactly what a high school teacher should be: she has deep knowledge of and love for her subject; she’s cool and relaxed; she can relate to teenagers and speak to them like human beings. The school found a great science teacher — and then they threw her into the demon pit of middle school, where she suffered all year, without support, without any consideration for her needs or wishes. Since she had taught before, she knew exactly what she was missing, and she is leaving this school to go where she belongs: to a high school.

I’m going to miss her humor, her style, her passion for science, and her companionship. It’s been great to have her on my end of the hall, and it’s going to be far less interesting next year without her.

Adriana, my fellow English teacher, came in specifically to teach middle school, because clearly she’s insane. But what’s really insane is this: she taught them. She taught the hell out of them. She took students who were absolute hellions, and she not only controlled them, not only taught them to follow her rules and expectations — she taught them English. Whoever ends up teaching those kids when they get to high school is going to have a far easier time, with far more capable students; and it will be because of Adriana. I am personally grateful to her because her willingness to teach those tiny hyperactive, hypersonic imps meant that I didn’t have to do it: she spent three years jumping on grenades for me, and I can’t thank her enough.

I’m going to miss having her in the department, having her in meetings, hearing her infectious laugh, and knowing that the students were being mashed into some kind of shape by her incredible efforts. She’s been an inspiration to me, and I’m grateful for it.

The last one is both the hardest and the easiest to deal with: because it’s my wife, Toni DeBiasi. She’s been in the classroom next to me for the last three years, which has made them the best and most enjoyable three years of my two decades in teaching. She’s been utterly incredible: she came in with not much experience teaching, certainly nothing like multiple classes for an entire year, and she mastered it, entirely and completely. She’s so smart, and so capable, that she has been able to build a successful fine art program, in a STEM school, while also becoming a vital emotional and mental support for her students, who love her almost as much as I do. She came in to an empty room, almost — except it wasn’t, it was chock full of crap — because the previous teacher took out all of her teaching materials and lesson plans, and left Toni with a small, cramped room filled with shelves, filled with old paint and old paper, old clay and ceramics, old tools and materials that she had no idea what to do with. It took months to clean it all out, even while she was trying desperately to come up with material to teach her five classes, covering every ability level from elementary to college. May I also note, since I saw it first hand (Though I’m sure that the other three did the same in their own lives), that she managed to help me keep our household together and running, if not smoothly, at least consistently.

I’ll miss her at school, but at least I have the consolation of coming home to her every day.

 

I want this post to be more about recognition than making a point, but there is a very clear point here: all four of these women are excellent teachers, and all four of them are leaving the school within three years of being hired. That’s an issue. All four of them taught middle school, and for three of them, that’s the main reason they’re leaving (Veronica can’t stand the Tucson climate, which is also fully understandable.); that and the near-complete abandonment of them all by the institution. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with, or it will only get worse. Though all of them have gotten support from fellow teachers, friends, and loved ones, still, the school has not been able to give them what they need, and so the school has lost them — but the loss will be felt most keenly by the students. And by me and the rest of the faculty, of course, because these four women are lively and fun and intelligent and splendid to be around, and we’ll miss their spirit.

I will also note that three of the four are leaving teaching, two — Adriana and my wife, Toni — leaving forever. This is, again, a problem that needs to be dealt with, and it is a problem for this entire country. Twenty years ago, nearly, I wrote an essay about being a teacher, and in it I pointed out that the lack of structure and support, and the lack of respect and interest from students, was the main reason (along with money, of course) that 40% of teachers left the profession in the first two to five years. That has not gotten better: if the trend at my school is any indication, it’s gotten worse.  We need to fix it before we lose everything.

But any fix will be too late to save this loss.

Thank you all for your friendship, and for your wonderful gift of teaching. I appreciate you all, and I will miss you all in the hallway.  May the best of your past be the worst of your future, and may the road ever rise up to meet your feet.

This Morning

This morning, I’m embarrassed: apparently my groundbreaking new idea for a school is — a Montessori school. And here I thought I was so clever. I guess it’s true that there are no new ideas, that everything’s already been thought of, and all we can do is change the wording or add a digital clock to it. (That’s an old joke now, of course. Who even has clocks any more?)

Well, this morning, I’m going to say the same thing I said when I realized that my first novel was strongly based on other books I’d read: So what? So what if the idea isn’t mine: I make it mine by spending my time and thought on it. I shape it, convert it, change it, even if it’s only a little bit — whoever first put digital clocks into stoves and coffeepots is responsible for making me aware of the time more than any damn clockmaker — and then it is no longer the story it was, it is the story I made it. Shakespeare didn’t come up with his stories, either — but he told them better than anyone else ever has, before or since.

(In case you’re wondering, my first novel was intentionally based on Harry Potter — 11-year-old boy with a sad home life finds out he’s one of a group of magical people — but about a third of the way into writing it, I also realized that it was a multi-layered narrative about a lonely kid, with a father but no mother, who reads books and tells stories and has vivid dreams of himself being a hero in a magical land called Illusia. Ever read The Neverending Story? Yeah, me too.)

So let’s get back to the matter at hand: my Montessori-rip-off dream school. In Sunday’s post I described how the school would work: students take individual units from subject-matter teachers, advancing to the next unit only when they master this unit, but able to schedule their units in any order and at any pace they like; and they graduate when they complete a set number of units. There will be more to graduation, because school is not (or should not be) solely about classwork, but today let’s focus on the most important part of this school of mine: the teachers.

That’s right: the teachers are the most important part of school. They’re not the only necessary part, because without students, a teacher is just a crazy person talking to desks and walls and making PowerPoint presentations in the darkest hours of the morning; but teachers are more important than students because one of us can provide for dozens and scores of them, and because one student is more easily replaceable than one  teacher. And if you are a student  and your feelings are hurt by that, deal with it; I said you were necessary. In an abstract sense, you are the heart of the school, because without you there is no reason to have a school; but the teachers are the bones of the school, because without them the whole thing falls apart into a puddle of inert goo. With a big beating heart in the middle of it, flopping around like a dying fish. Hope you like that image, students. (We need each other. I hope we all know it.)(I also hope that anyone my age clicks on that link and knows instantly why I picked it.)

So teachers: here’s the most important thing. At my school you will work only four days a week. There’ll be a full salary for those four days, and no required duties beyond them — though I will ask the teachers if they are willing to work more in exchange for more money, any extra duties will be entirely voluntary, and entirely compensated. I don’t know anything about school budgets, and where all the money goes; but I do know that every penny I could scrape together beyond the necessities like utility bills and rent and upkeep and insurance, every penny goes to the teachers. We’ll fund-raise for new books; teachers already do that, anyway. But the salary will be as high as I can possibly make it, partly because you deserve it, and partly because I need good teachers to handle this gig, because they’ll need to deal with a mixed-age class that changes every two weeks or so, and that sounds pretty nightmarish. (I also have a plan to make that easier, I hope.)

I’m a bit torn on salary increases: because I kind of want all teachers to be paid the same. There would be cost of living increases, of course, and like I said, there would be extra duties available; but I’m not sure that paying teachers more for experience is the best way to go. New teachers have a much harder time, so I would want them to be compensated well, and I know that paying experienced teachers more tends to push for more teacher turnover, which I don’t want. At the same time, I know that experienced teachers tend to be better teachers, and I would  want to reward that and retain them. I’m open to suggestions. For now, I think there’s one high, flat rate for all teachers.

I expect the teachers to teach within a single subject area. I think that’s better, because  we all have preferences and areas of expertise, and that’s what I want the students to have access to. The younger grades may get confused by multiple teachers, and they may miss the chance to bond with a single loving adult; but I want them focused on learning, not on how much they love Miss Johnson from first grade. Ever notice that? When my students talk about upper  grade teachers they’ve had, it almost always focuses on the subject, did that person teach them, did they learn anything; but elementary teachers, it always seems to be, “Oh, I loved Mr. Braunschweiger!” “Mrs. Colgate? I couldn’t stand her!” It’s the person, not the subject. I don’t like that. Now, I don’t expect first graders to plan their units and select their new schedules; I’ve got no problem with the units for the younger grades being directly prescribed by the teachers. But I want them to get used to seeing individual teachers as the experts of specific fields.

Within those fields, I would want the teachers to design their own units; some administrator (And all of my administrators will be former teachers, in genuine content areas, with several years of experience, preferably at different levels) will make sure all the standards are being touched upon, but I want the teachers to design the curriculum.

The curriculum will include English, social studies and humanities, science, math, languages, art, and Career and Technical Education. That’s right: no PE. I plan for there to be physical activity, but I see no need whatsoever for an ex-jock to yell at kids who don’t like playing baseball. THAT’S RIGHT, GYM TEACHERS, I’M LOOKING AT YOU. AND SAYING “NO.”

There will be no inservice. There will be no required professional development: I want teachers who love their subjects, and will learn more about the subject because they want to. I want teachers who will get better over time because they believe in the value of education and want to do it well; I don’t think that I need to stand over them and watch them do what I tell them to do, and then check a box. There will be observations in the classroom, but they will be frequent and always informal; basically just me coming to watch people teach well. If I see someone doing something I think is poor teaching, I’ll either talk to the teacher about it, or I will ask the department to look into it, and they can decide if the teacher needs help fixing a problem. Otherwise there will be no formal evaluations, no rating system, and good Lord, no merit pay.

I think that’s everything; the extra duties, and the bell schedule, and my PE replacement, and all the specifics about classes and graduation requirements, will all come in future posts.

How am I doing so far? Any teachers want to come work in my school?

Expectations

[With deep gratitude to Judy Brady for her incredible essay, “I Want a Wife,” which was the model for this piece. You can read it here.]

Expectations

I am a part – a cog – in that machinery called education. I am a Teacher. And I am quite fond of some of the individuals whom I teach.

A friend of mine has just earned his Master’s in Education – online of course – and has immediately stepped from his third year as an elementary P.E. teacher into an administrative job with a large suburban high school. The school is respected, well-funded, and effective; so as you would expect, my friend is looking to improve the staff with some new teachers in order to earn his new administrative paycheck. He’s searching for brand new teachers, of course, some of those with fresh energy and inspirational idealism. He has asked me to help him in his search for a brand new teacher, and I am always happy to oblige.

So what are the expected qualifications of this brand new teacher?

The teacher will be required to teach the classes. The teacher will be expected to manage a classroom full of 35 students, students grouped according to their birthday and where they happen to live around the beginning of the school year, students who represent 35 different levels of ability and interest in any given subject. When around 10% of these students will move out of the class partway through the year, and be replaced by a similar number of new students arriving in the middle of units, the teacher will be expected to bring these newcomers up to speed and familiarize them with the new material and the new learning environment. The teacher must do this gently, of course, because new students are under quite a lot of stress. The teacher will be expected to handle between five and eight classes of 35 students apiece, every day (five classes would be if the new teacher is part-time, a decision that will be made at the start of the new school year, or within the first six weeks of instruction); though next year, my friend told me, the school will be moving to an A/B block system: four classes one day and the other four the next day, with all eight on a shifting schedule every ninth class day, the day when the school will occasionally have special schedules for pep assemblies and school-wide activities such as the science fair. The teacher will be required to design something science- or STEM-related for the science fair. And the project will need to correlate to the teacher’s own subject. And also the project must draw new students to the school, so the school can compete with those charter schools. The teacher will also be expected to participate in the pep assemblies, preferably in some sort of costume provided by the teacher and related to the school mascot, the Phalanx. But that’s next year: this year the school has an eight-period day, so the teacher will be obligated to prepare for every class, every school day. Some of the classes will be identical courses, but the student makeup in each case will be radically different, and the teacher will be expected to find a way to keep all of the identical courses on the same pace despite the need to differentiate instruction. The teacher will be expected to reteach subject matter to any classes that didn’t master it, and to give extra enrichment activities to the more advanced students who did achieve mastery. The teacher is expected to make the extra work, both the remedial practice and the advanced enrichment, particularly engaging and rewarding for the students, who will not wish to take on extra assignments on top of the required work. There are three minutes between classes, shortened to ensure maximum instructional time; the teacher will need to avail themselves of that time to give students assistance if they fall behind the rigorous pace. The teacher will, of course, be expected to teach bell to bell. Before the beginning of each class, the teacher will be expected to be standing outside their classroom, with a pleasant but formal demeanor, and to personally greet every student as they come into the classroom. The teacher will of course have to make sure they don’t drink too much fluid, as they won’t have a chance to go to the bathroom until lunch at the earliest. Fortunately, lunch is only four hours after school starts. Unless the new teacher is given an early morning class before the regular start time. The teacher will also be expected to spend the lunch period supervising a public area to make sure students are not littering nor using inappropriate language or touching; the teacher can use the between-class intervals for attending to personal needs.

The teacher will be expected to know the content. The teacher will be required to answer all questions correctly and completely, while also encouraging students to do further research on their own, and to offer the students an organized and vetted list of appropriate resources the students could use to find their own information. The teacher will be expected to stay current with the newest developments in the subject, to attend professional development trainings in their free time, to learn the latest methods and strategies, which the teacher will be expected to incorporate into their lesson plans. All lesson plans must be filed with the administration at the beginning of each quarter, and any last-minute modifications must be approved by administration at least one week before they are implemented. The teacher will be mandated to be open to suggestions from administrators, and to be eager to benefit from administrators’ cutting-edge pedagogical training. The teacher is expected to know how their subject matter connects to other areas of instruction and other subjects, and be able to coordinate thematically with other classes. The teacher will be required to control the pace of instruction to match that of other subjects so that no student falls behind and has to suffer through overwork in order to catch up.

In terms of the students’ work, the teacher will be expected to assess baseline abilities, to place students along a continuum, and to develop individual learning plans for each student so that they can receive optimum instruction for their ability level. The teacher will be obligated to provide easily-read charts and graphs of all student progress, both in aggregate for conferencing with administration and for each individual student for parent conferences. Where appropriate, the teacher will be required to coordinate student learning plans with the Exceptional Student Services department; all ESS clients’ learning plans must adhere to all applicable laws and policies, and must receive approval from the ESS department and the parents of the ESS students. The teacher will be expected to issue surveys and to conduct ice-breaking, team-building, trust-fostering, and getting-to-know-you activities, so that the teacher can assess the students’ interests, their cultural backgrounds and biases, their maturity level, and their relative mastery of the curriculum so that the teacher can find  materials that the students will find engaging, but which will neither be offensive nor beyond their current developmental stage or ability level. Once all of the students are assessed and plotted, the teacher will be able to start differentiating instruction in earnest, in order to personalize each student’s learning for maximum improvement, ensuring at all times that all instruction is drawn from the district-approved curriculum and adheres to research-based best practices.

Most importantly, the teacher will be expected to communicate with parents, both about grades and about interesting and important upcoming events. The teacher will need to plan interesting and important upcoming events so that parents can be informed about them. The communication should be professional, such as (but not limited to) a desktop-published newsletter or a website that offers updates through social media interaction. The teacher should note that district computers are not to be used for social media access. The teacher will be expected to encourage parent participation: invite them into the classroom, to help supervise the class (Though of course the parent volunteer cannot provide the instruction, not being a licensed teacher; the teacher will be obligated to make sure the parent volunteers have security clearance, have their fingerprints and background checked by the FBI and ensure the parent volunteers have had a TB test and proof of a recent MMR innoculation); the teacher will be asked to recognize that having a few extra adults to help supervise activities can be very beneficial for students, even high school students, as well as a great help to the teacher. The teacher will be expected to plan class activities which the parents as well as the students will find interesting and educational. The teacher will be required to provide the parent volunteers with an outline, an observation rubric, and a teacher script so they can follow along with the teacher through the lesson, and help observe and chart the students’ responses, especially that of their own child, so the parents can be involved in their child’s ongoing assessment. The parents probably won’t know all of the students in their child’s class, but the teacher will be able to make a printout of the seating chart with student ID photos with only seven or eight steps through the online attendance database. The teacher will be mandated to ensure that the volunteers aren’t given too much information about the students, and to collect the seating charts at the end of the day, so as not to violate confidentiality. The teacher will be expected to make valuable use of the parent volunteers.

The teacher will be expected to prepare students for their futures, to ready them for college, or for the workforce – though of course the school prefers that all students attend college, as that is one of the administration’s own evaluation criteria. The teacher will also, therefore, be expected to make sure students graduate, even if that means simplifying the material and curving their grades; that way they can also participate in sports and extracurricular activities, which are important because they inspire students to work harder in school. Those activities do tend to take time away from school work; but the parents prefer that teachers not assign too much homework anyway, as that causes the students stress. This means that the teacher will be required to arrange to give the student-athletes all of their work during the regular class period, so that academic progress can be maintained without impinging on extracurricular studies; this is a splendid opportunity for the teacher to differentiate instruction. The teacher will also be expected to adjust grades as necessary to maintain athletic eligibility for our top performers.

The teacher will be obligated to sacrifice, voluntarily, for the children. The school has limited resources, and everything must be focused, unalterably, on the children. The teacher will be asked to give up money, time, healthcare, benefits, retirement, tenure, and all aspects of an individual and satisfying future, for the children. The teacher will be required to agree that they did not get into this to get rich, that they teach because they want to make a difference. The teacher will be paid commensurately with their willingness to sacrifice for the children, though regardless of level of sacrifice, the compensation will not be enough. The teacher is expected to have expected this.

In the unlikely event, which has recently grown significantly more likely, of a school shooting, the teacher will be expected to carry a firearm (Firearm, a state-approved method of securing the firearm until needed, and sufficient training in its use to be provided by the teacher) and to end the threat to the children. The teacher will be required to be aware that the school shooter is likely to be one of their current or former students, and the teacher must not hesitate to pull the trigger and put the shooter down. Though of course, the teacher will be obligated to not do anything to put innocent lives in greater danger. If the teacher is troubled by this turn of events, the teacher should consider whether the teacher could have done more to prevent the crisis before it reached this danger point. Perhaps the teacher should have paid more attention, and done more to build trust. And also reported any suspicions they might have of students to the administration, so the school can follow up with law enforcement. If only the teacher had paid more attention. And if the teacher is unwilling or unable to use a firearm to defend the students, the teacher will be expected to shield the children with their own body, and die. For the children.

This is what is expected of this brand new teacher. The question is: who the hell would want the job?

Walking Out

[Read Part One: Money Talks]

[Read Part Two: But You Get Summers Off]

 

It is fascinating how America views teachers.

In the last week I’ve been told, repeatedly and stridently, that parents support teachers. I’ve also been told that we should be grateful for that support, and we shouldn’t do anything to risk its continuance. That as long as parents support us, everything will be fine.

But I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think it’s really true that teachers have parents’ support, and I certainly don’t think that the support of parents is the most important thing teachers could ever, ever have.

I don’t think everything’s going to be fine. Not unless we are willing to do what is necessary to make things right, right now.

I don’t mean to complain. I want that to be clear. I’m writing this series because I want people to understand, not because I want you to pity me. There are things about my job that I love, and that’s why I still do it; that’s why I defend it as vigorously as I can, because I want to be able to continue doing the things I love, hopefully without also having to do the things I hate, like enforce sexist dress codes and assign meaningless and misleading grades, or give hours and hours of pointless, mind-breaking tests. Or survive on insufficient money, with insufficient funds available for my classroom and my school to allow me to do an adequate job.

If I cannot get the things I need to be happy here in this job, I will quit and move on; I will find another state that pays teachers better, and I will get a job there. But while that solves my problem, there will still be a million students in Arizona who need teachers: and if not me, then who? Shall I give them the same advice that I keep getting thrown in my face, namely, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else?” Shall all one million Arizona students move with me to California and find school districts there with adequate resources, who pay their teachers a reasonable wage and so don’t have 40-50% turnover and hundreds of unfilled positions? That sounds like a solution, right?

It’s not. Of course not. Just like the other things that get spat at me and my colleagues on Twitter that are not solutions. But they do show how America views teachers: and it is fascinating.

So what should we do? What should teachers do about this funding crisis in Arizona, this decades-long slide into poverty and a broken, underfunded school system? To be specific, for those who haven’t been a part of this conversation up until now, Arizona cut more funding from schools than any other state during the Great Recession: funding went down 36.6% from 2008 to 2015. Some progress was made in the last three years, but the state is still spending almost 20% less now than ten years ago. About half of the new money since 2015 was mandated by a lawsuit brought against the state government by teachers, [NB: If you go to that link, Prop. 123 is the referendum I mention below. Please note where the lawsuit requires $300 million spent on capital improvements annually, and Governor Ducey promised $17 million.] because the legislature failed to follow through with an earlier state supreme court decision in another lawsuit; the first decision was that the state actually needed to fund schools, which apparently they did not want to. They were required to fund capital improvements to sites and facilities, and to provide funding for textbooks and supplies. They were also instructed to increase the funding yearly for inflation. That last part, they stopped doing; and so the teachers sued the second time, and the courts again decided that, according to the state constitution, Arizona does need to actually fund education. Rather than simply increase revenue to cover that expense, the state passed a referendum settling the lawsuit for 70% of what was owed; that money came from sales of state-owned land (Land which is already supposed to be used to fund education, a fact which made a judge rule the Proposition was illegal.). This is the source of the increased funding that our governor, Doug Ducey, has been crowing about for four years; and it still falls short of where we were a decade ago.

So essentially, the state of Arizona is a deadbeat dad: they do anything they can to get out of paying what they owe for their own children; up to and including just not handing over the money, refusing to pay the bill until the courts force the issue – and then grudgingly paying part of it, and demanding credit for what they did pay.

As I said: what should we teachers do about this problem? We are on the front lines, but though we do suffer because of this, in the form of absurdly low pay (Arizona ranks 48th in pay for high school teachers, 50th for elementary school) and insufficient resources to do the job properly, we are not the main victims: that would be the students themselves, who have to make do with not enough, not as much as other states, not as much as they deserve, in everything from school buildings to programs to textbooks to computer resources to good, stable teachers who stick around for more than a few years. We teachers see this, every day; we live this, every day; we try to make up for it, every day.

What should we do to fix it?

According to one fellow I talked with on Twitter, we should talk about walking out, but not actually do it.

“I support the need for more money in education,”

he said.

“I do not support the manner in which teachers are trying to get it. This hurts, kids and families. There is a much better way to accomplish this goal.”

So I asked, “How?” And because I’m a teacher, I added, “Please be specific.”

He replied,

“Here is how. Use this momentum from #RedforEd to force the Governor and legislators to the negotiating table with the threat of a walkout to start the 2018 – 19 school year. Parents will support you, Ducey will be motivated due to election. Kids and families not affected.”

We went back and forth a little more, but this was the gist. I did not say, though it is true, that the #RedforEd movement has been active since February, and so far the governor has refused to negotiate directly with the main group, Arizona Educators United. (By the way: that is not a union. It’s just a group of teachers who decided to do something more than try to make do with what we’re handed by the state.) I did say that I don’t understand why Ducey would feel more pressure to negotiate after the teachers decided to do nothing for four months; my Twitter friend didn’t have an answer other than he wanted us to wait. He wanted teachers to make sure that kids and families were not affected, because that way we would keep parents’ support. (Because his son is a high school junior, and apparently it would be catastrophic if he didn’t have school now.)

I’ve heard this from more than one person: they support the teachers, but not the walkout that the Arizona teachers have planned. They think we should continue threatening the walkout, but not actually do it, because that will hurt students and parents.

That’s right. It will. And that’s the idea.

I don’t want to do that. I want to believe that Americans like their teachers enough to understand what we’re asking for, and why. I’ve tried to make it clear with these blogs, but in case I haven’t, let me say it outright: we want to be able to do our jobs. That’s it. We don’t want to get rich: as everyone under the sun knows, teachers don’t become teachers to get rich. No one expects that. We don’t want someone else to do our job for us, and we don’t want to find a way out of work: that’s not the reason for the walkout. I think, actually, that parents sometimes forget that teachers are not their teenaged children; after all, we spend all of our time together, and the kids often tell their parents how much they like some of us, and how much they hate some of us; I’m sure in their anecdotes, teachers sound like – other teenagers. “My English teacher is so cool, all laid back and stuff. But my science teacher is a total loser. He thinks he’s funny, but he’s so lame!” And teenagers want a day off. Several days off, if possible. Because they’re teenagers: I had one of my students, very sweet girl, when someone mentioned a school district that was canceling classes because of the teacher walkout, say, “I’m so jealous!”

I’m not. I’d rather not be one of those people who have to take the risk, who have to dig in their heels and fight the entire community, simply because the community has ignored and neglected our needs for years and years, and a few years more. I’d really rather be one of the self-righteous people arguing against me, than me.

We don’t want days off, don’t want to get out of work; we want to be able to be successful in the work we are already doing. Teachers aren’t striking for fewer students (though we should) or lighter requirements in terms of preparation or training or testing or evaluations, or anything else related to working conditions: all we want is more money. And not just for ourselves: because Governor Ducey offered teachers a 19% raise over the next three years, and the teachers’ overwhelming response was to vote for the walkout.

Why did the teachers turn down the pay increase? Three reasons: one, we don’t trust the governor and the legislature, who have failed for years to provide legally mandated funding; two, the pay increases extended past the gubernatorial election this fall, and so who knows if the next governor will feel any need to keep Ducey’s promises (And I include the possibility that Ducey will get re-elected and then feel no need to keep his own promises afterwards); and three – and most important – the pay increase was only for teachers, according to the governor’s definition of “teacher.” It did not include teacher’s aides, or secretaries, or counselors, or janitors, or anyone else who is just as vital to education as the teachers are. It didn’t even include those who teach enrichment classes, like elementary school music and PE, because it was only for teachers who had their own roster. It did not include necessary increases to capital spending, where Arizona has cut 84% of funds compared to 2008, money that is needed for facilities and resources. The governor tried to throw money at the teachers – some of us – but he refused to fund education. And the teachers refused to accept the deal.

And yet we get called greedy. We are accused of taking extreme actions that will hurt children, because teachers are walking out across the state today, and classes are being canceled and schools are being closed, and parents have to find something to do with their kids. Wouldn’t it have been more greedy if we ignored what was best for students and schools and just took the payoff?

So let’s talk about the walkout, because I’ve been hearing a lot about it from people on Twitter. Comments like this:

I never said I don’t support the teachers, I do…but this is the wrong way to go about it. The community and parents have been very supportive of our teachers but this walk out only hurts the students and the community. For many students, they’ll have no where to go.

This particular person is insistent that she supports the teachers, in all things, in all ways, except in this one way: she says the walkout will hurt students and families. Because parents will have to take off work in order to watch their kids. That, apparently, is insupportably, unspeakably evil of the teachers to do. She also wants us to do nothing but wait, and know that we have the support of the parents. So long as we don’t walk out, that is.

I’ve also gotten comments like this:

Great example for your students, teachers. Akin to taking ball and going home.

#redforedaz is an evil movement founded by clowns WHO SIGNED CONTRACTS!! And your children are being left without an education! #MondayMotivaton

(Honestly, I’m curious about the hashtag at the end of that one. I’m supposed to be motivated by this? Also, the sheer number of typos in the anti-teacher tweets is both 100% amusing, and 1000% unsurprising. This is my favorite:

#redforedaz is another entitlement programme. Teachers are WELL PAID considering they work only 9 months. Average teachers salary is 35, 000 a year. Teachers are on a 45, 000 a year course! Wow!!! To think, these teachers are teaching you’re kids! #appalling

At least he spelled “appalling” correctly. He made it a thread, too:

Stop making teachers look like the victims. They are still paid whiner!

I believe this man has made his point.)

All right. First, the contract. Teachers do sign contracts, and those contracts determine our pay. It generally doesn’t change over the year, so we know what we’re signing up for – though there are performance bonuses and incentives, also known as merit pay; if my students’ test scores are high enough, my pay goes up, if they are lower, it goes down. If I’m a coach or I spend extra time helping students enter competitions, then I get paid more the better my students do and the more time I spend helping them. And sure, I suppose a teacher working hard and teaching well would be able to earn more thereby; but when my students intentionally tank the test because the schools have tested them to death and they just can’t care any more, or when the students this year aren’t interested in entering competitions, or this year’s volleyball team sucks, then all the good teaching or coaching in the world won’t earn me that money.

More importantly, the contract doesn’t really set working conditions: there’s nothing in there about a budget, or resources. There’s no guarantee that we will have textbooks, or enough paper to make copies for the whole year, and if we don’t, then I have to work harder: find new resources, create new resources, raise funds myself. There’s nothing in the contract about class sizes. So if I agree to take X dollars to teach for the year, and then my school doubles my student load, I have to work twice as much for the same salary. Which, of course, happens all the time. And if enrollment drops and a class loses too many students – especially if it’s an elective – then the class is canceled, and suddenly, my contract signed in the spring is worth less in the fall.

Tell me again about how contracts are binding agreements that I have a responsibility to follow through on.

No: it takes two parties living up to their agreement to make a contract binding. And if nothing else, the state of Arizona has not held up its end of the bargain, for years. I think there is no argument, legal or moral, that says that Arizona teachers can’t walk out on these contracts. I will also note that, unless the walkout lasts so long that the school year gets canceled, most school districts will extend their year for as many days as the walkout cost them; which means the same teachers who walk out will walk back into their classrooms and put in as many days of work as were agreed to, and without any increase in money, as any deal struck will not take effect until next school year at the earliest. And all of the teachers’ plans will be disrupted and delayed too, and our summer will be shorter, too.

So those who are arguing that we signed a contract and we have to live up to it, please understand: we will. We will do more to abide by the agreement than will the other side. If you want to uphold the rule of legal agreements and insist that people keep their word, then look to the state capitol.

I don’t know how much I need to address the direct ad hominem attacks; I’m sorry if the Monday Motivaton guy doesn’t like the leaders of the RedforEd movement, but it really is a grass-roots movement; thousands of teachers have joined voluntarily without any sort of pressure at all. I did, even though I was told I was being suckered by a 23-year-old Socialist, or that I had

“opted to follow a quasi-union led by DNC delivery boys. You sold freedom”

I don’t remember selling freedom. Didn’t get anything from the DNC, either. I’ve seen a couple of digs from teachers at the Republican party, but honestly, they have controlled the state government that shorted education for the last two decades, so they really do own this. But I have not seen the same calls for registering-and-then-voting-the-bums out that have characterized, say, the gun control movement led by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students; these teachers just want our current government to fix this problem, right now, and if the government does so, I think they can wrap up the election in November, since this is a comfortably red state as it is. If they don’t help fix this problem, then they shouldn’t be re-elected, though I haven’t seen any of the RedforEd movement people agitating for replacement candidates: the election is too far away. We want this fixed now.

I also don’t feel the need to argue that we aren’t childish: childish would be throwing eggs at the governor and then trying to steal office supplies to make up for our insufficient pay. Or just quitting: for the guy who said we were taking our ball and going home, wouldn’t that be if all the teachers quit and walked off with our educations? If we’re fighting to get better working conditions so we can continue doing our job, isn’t that very much not “taking our ball and going home?” How about the bad example, is it that? Again, I don’t know how much students are going to absorb the desire to strike; I know that teachers hate the idea completely, and so I doubt many of us are talking it up to kids; I also know that it would be a worse example to set if we let ourselves get abused and devalued, and yet kept busting our asses for insufficient compensation. I have heard students say for years that they don’t ever want to be teachers, based on what they watch us deal with: so I don’t think it is the teachers who are setting a bad example.

But are we hurting them? Are we hurting our students and their families by walking out?

On some level, yes. We are. Some families will struggle to find child care during the strike (Though I know a whole state full of high school students/babysitters who are going to have a lot of free time…). There are students who are taking AP tests who will miss out on some last minute preparation before the tests, which start next week. I presume there are athletes who will lose their coaches, and performers who will miss opportunities, and some experiences that won’t happen because the teachers are not working.

But this is what has done the most harm at the school where I work: the first year I worked there, 2014-2015, there were two teachers who quit at the end of the year, our Spanish teacher and one of our best science teachers. Both because of pay. We also lost a PE teacher and a science/math teacher to budget cuts. The second year, there were six teachers who quit: science, math, art, two social studies, and English. Seven if you count the long-term sub who replaced one of the social studies teachers for half of the year; he got a job in California. They had different reasons for leaving, but pay was a factor for several of them. The school didn’t replace the science teacher. Third year, it was two math teachers and another science teacher – and one of those math teachers was the heart of our school, the best math teacher I’ve ever known, the reason why our STEM school has had such success. They didn’t replace one of the math teachers that year, either. Oh, we also lost our school psychologist. In three years, we’ve had thirteen teaching positions emptied: and I work at a small charter school with a total teaching faculty of 23. We’ve had more than 50% turnover in three years.

How many teachers are we going to lose this year? What are the chances that their replacements will be better? Who is more likely to leave to seek employment elsewhere, the good worker, the smart teacher, the capable employee — or the one who is already entrenched and doesn’t want to leave for fear they won’t be hired anywhere else? That’s not to say the teachers who have stayed at my school are like that – but our turnover rate is not unusual, so I think it’s a fair argument for the state as a whole. A lot of the best teachers are leaving. Even if good teachers replace them, then experience is lost, continuity is lost, relationships are lost. And as budgets continue to be cut, despite the funding increases touted by our governor, class sizes go up and good outcomes become less and less likely. And I don’t mean good outcomes for the teachers: I mean for the students. The students whom we are hurting by walking out.

Hurts pulling off a bandaid, too. But it’s better to do it, and better to do it quick and sudden.

I do know that the walkout will hurt people. Teachers will get fired, faculty members will get into bitter arguments and conflicts; students will lose out on education and some opportunities; parents are going to miss work and have enormous headaches dealing with child care. But when the only alternative is to go on as we’ve been doing, then it isn’t a choice. Parents who argue that their support for the teachers will be lost because of the strike have not been enough to fix the problem, despite their goodwill and support, because the problem is still here. The goal of the strike is to push other people: those who have done nothing but take advantage of the teachers willing to work and keep working without enough pay, those parents who are willing to keep sending their kids to less-than-ideal schools so long as they themselves don’t have to worry about it, and all those people who ignore the serious consequences of an inadequate education system just so long as they don’t have to pay more in taxes. Those are the ones we want to hurt. Those are the ones we want to push to take action, to inflict their ire, perhaps goaded by us, on those who actually merit it: the government, the deadbeats, the people in the state capitol who have let us sink to this level.

I am sorry it will hurt, and I have tried not to be too aggressive or insulting with this series, or with my Tweets. It helped that I am currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my 9th grade English class, because I got to read this scene, when Atticus Finch tells his daughter why she can’t haul off and punch anyone who insults her father because he is defending a black man accused of rape.

“Come here, Scout,” said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around me and rocked me gently. “It’s different this time,” he said. “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”

There are a million students in Arizona. There are tens of thousands of teachers. We all live together, and work together. After this fight is over, we will go back to teaching, and they will go back to learning. We will all go back to doing what we can, working together, supporting each other, for the sake of the children, of our students, of our future. Let’s try to remember that, and try not to let this get too vicious. We all need this resolved, in the right way, in the best way: quickly, and well. Please help make that happen. Please help us get what we need to do what we want to do: to teach. To teach as well as we can, for as long as we can.

You say you support the teachers? Are you just going to talk the talk?

Or will you walk the walk?

Money Talks

Image result for red for ed

[Read Part Two: But You Get Summers Off]

[Read Part Three: Walking Out]

I don’t know how much what I’m about to say needs to be said. This blog is full of book reviews and liberal political ranting; the majority of my readers are people I know personally, which means they’re mostly teachers and liberals and readers (Oh my!), like me. I feel pretty confident that most people reading this already think that teachers should be paid more. But I want to take it one step further, because while most people seem to think that teachers should be paid more, somehow we’re not; so there does seem to be a need, here. My hope, therefore, is that people who don’t realize how vital this issue is will learn something that helps push them towards what I think is the right answer; maybe you all will even share this or some of the ideas with your own people, and then others might learn something or be pushed towards the right answer.

For myself, I need to do this. Because, you see, I teach in Arizona, and in two days, thousands of Arizona teachers are going to walk off the job and out of their schools in order to try to win the same argument I’m going to talk about here; and I won’t be walking out with them. That makes me feel terrible. So I need to do what I can to support them, and one of the things I can do is argue, and write, and then share this. So here goes.

Let’s talk first about what teachers make. I started teaching in 2000, in San Diego County in southern California; that year I made about $36,000 before taxes. I also got good health coverage, though I didn’t need it at the time, and about $4000 was contributed to a pension account in my name. However, as some of you know and the rest can imagine, San Diego County is quite an expensive place to live, and so that first year, I needed to take a second job over the summer to make ends meet: I went with the obvious one, and taught summer school. Six weeks of extra work, and I made $25 an hour, 7 hours a day. Not bad. That year I was able to purchase my very first car, a 2-year-old Chevy pick-up with 74,000 miles, and we found a decent 3-bedroom house to rent. (I should note: I am removing my wife from this almost entirely, because her income has been extremely inconsistent: some years she made a lot, some years not so much. She’s an artist. The point I’m trying to make is this: it shouldn’t matter. I’m a highly trained and capable professional. I should be able to pay for a lower-middle-class lifestyle for two people with no kids and no expensive habits. Don’t you think?) We were able to pay for most purchases, but when surprise bills came up, they went on credit cards. Luckily, not that many bills came up, and we didn’t purchase very many things. No large entertainment systems. No extra vehicles. We took one vacation, an overnight trip to Disneyland. We did buy pets, I’ll admit. The bunny cost us $20. The dog was the big ticket item: $150 for him.

We moved to Oregon in 2004, partly because we hadn’t been able to save anything substantial, despite the fact that I kept teaching summer school, and got a $1500 raise every year (Teachers generally have a salary schedule where we step up every year for some number of years, and then every couple of years, and then we top out after 15-20 steps. You can also get raises if you get more post-degree education, which shifts you up a column.), and we knew that we’d never be able to afford to buy a home in San Diego’s real estate market. When we moved, I was up to $42,000 a year pre-tax; my new position in St. Helens, Oregon paid about $35,000. Back to square one. I had to take out the retirement money because four years isn’t long enough to get vested into the California retirement system, so we rolled it over into an IRA. But there was a problem: the cost of living in Oregon wasn’t actually much less than it had been in California, and my monthly paychecks weren’t enough to cover our bills. I had to change from 12 monthly checks to 10, which meant I didn’t get paid over the summer. No problem: I would teach summer school.

They didn’t have summer school.

So we cashed out my retirement money, and that got us through the summer; about half of my total retirement savings from California was left. The next year I got a raise, but still not enough to go to 12 monthly checks (Please note: this is now my 6th year teaching, and I didn’t make enough to pay for two people with a very modest lifestyle, no kids, no expensive hobbies. When my lawnmower died, I bought a push mower.); fortunately, that year they ran a summer school, and I taught it. Allow me to point out: this was a second job. I know people make a lot of teachers getting the summers off, and we do – that’s one of the main reasons why I started teaching, because I wanted to use the summers to write my novels – but we work 50-60 hours a week during the school year. Especially the first few years, because everything is new and takes ten times as much planning (Especially when, like me, you get handed new never-before-taught classes and you have to make everything up from scratch.). You also don’t get to sleep, because everything makes you nervous or angry or both. Everything. I threw a book at a kid my first year because he was rolling around the classroom in my desk chair. (Don’t worry, I missed him.) The summer isn’t really vacation, it’s all the hours you lost over the school year, the only time you get to relax and do fun things, or spend time with family, or sleep. The average school year is 36-38 weeks long (My current school has a 40-week academic year with two extra weeks of professional development for teachers); even if we don’t count the work we usually do over summer on lesson plans and such, the hours are comparable: a regular office job is 50 weeks, 40 hours a week, which is 2000 hours a year; a teacher works around 53 hours a week, on average, for, let’s say, 38 weeks, which is 2014 hours per year. So having to teach summer school is exactly the same as having a second job right after your 40-hour-a-week job: you don’t get to take advantage of your hours off, you never really get to rest. It is not easy.

So I taught summer school that second year in Oregon, and it helped; but not enough, because we had bought our very first house, which saved money on rent and allowed us to start building equity, but it also meant we had new bills. So that we’re clear: we did not go crazy with this purchase; we bought the ugliest house in the best neighborhood, and in April of 2005, it cost us about $140,000; we didn’t have a down payment, but there was a special deal offered to teachers that covered 100% of new home mortgages. So that year we had to cash out the rest of my retirement money to make it through the summer. And I had no idea what we were going to do the third year.

The third year in Oregon, I found out that my district had been shortchanging me: they had calculated my column on the salary schedule as though my credits were quarter credits, when most of them were semester credits, which should have moved me up to the third column (Bachelor’s degree +45 graduate credits instead of +30, because I did two and a half years of graduate school after my BA. Teacher training, not a Master’s program, but it counts.). They gave me the difference in one large check: that and the new step I got that year meant we were able to cover the summer gap, with the summer school work. The following year, my fourth year teaching in Oregon, the step was just barely enough that we could shift to 12 paychecks: and for the first time, I could pay my way with just my teacher’s salary. Mostly. We still couldn’t handle a large money emergency, and we still didn’t have any appreciable savings. Two people. No kids. No expensive habits. Hadn’t taken a vacation since Disneyland. We had a second car at this point: my wife’s parents gave her their GMC Jimmy when they bought a new car for themselves.

Right about then (2007-2008), the economy collapsed. Even though we had bought the cheapest house we could, and done a lot of improvements ourselves, we went underwater on our mortgage. Teachers started getting RIFfed (Reduction In Force, the eduspeak version of layoffs), and our health insurance costs started going up, and our salaries got frozen, step raises delayed or canceled. Somewhere around there, right around when we finished paying it off, my Chevy got broken and we couldn’t afford to repair it, so it sat in our driveway for a year while I walked to work. (That was by choice. I could have taken my wife’s car, or had her drive me, but I liked the walk. The point is that I couldn’t afford to pay for a house and two cars. Eight, nine, ten years as a professional teacher. And Oregon teacher salaries are pretty good, taken as a whole.) So in 2010, I again took a second job, as a union negotiator for the contract talks we had with our district. That might have been the toughest job for the least compensation I’ve ever had; I got a one-time stipend of, I think, about $1400; in exchange, I stopped sleeping for the year and a half that I was the lead negotiator. Instead of sleep, I just hated everyone and everything. Especially myself.

Here’s the gist: by the time we moved away from Oregon, in 2014, I was earning $59,000 a year before taxes, though like everyone, our health care costs were going up every year. We sold our house in 2013 for a small profit, but only if you don’t count in the money we invested in it, or the time. We used much of that money to buy a new car – a two-year-old Kia Sportage with 25,000 miles – and a new mattress, and our first flat screen TV (Which we still have). And we moved to Arizona, where I took a job at a charter school in Tucson. That first year? My 14th as a teacher, who now had over 90 post-graduate credits, because I had to take more classes to renew my Oregon credential?

I made $36,000. Before taxes.

So now here I am, in my 18th year as a teacher. I am Highly Effective according to my last performance review, the top score you can earn. I have been one of the favorite teachers, if that matters (and since charter schools compete with public schools for students, and one of our selling points is to have students tell other students that they really like their __________ teacher, it does matter; I’ve had parents tell me the reason they came to or stayed with the school is because of the English department) every year; I was named Teacher of the Year in Oregon. This year I made about $45,000 before taxes. I only got it up that high because I teach AP (Extra work because there are more and longer essays), because I teach five different preps (Extra planning work to figure out what five different classes are going to do each day, and also tough to shift gears that many times during the day when I get four minutes in between classes), and because I teach more than a full schedule (I teach 29 periods per week instead of the usual 25) – basically, I’m teaching summer school during the year, now. And I can almost pay all of our bills. Almost. Still couldn’t handle a money emergency, nor save a lot. Won’t be buying another house any time soon. We are doing better because of my wife’s income. But shouldn’t I be able to pay for two people, no kids, no expensive habits? Isn’t that a reasonable expectation for a teacher’s salary? Especially a good teacher with almost twenty years of experience and two Master’s degrees worth of extra credits?

So here’s my question for the room. How much should a teacher make? I don’t mean a dollar figure, since that can reasonably be tied to cost of living depending on location; I mean, where should teachers fall on the scale? Are we middle class? Working class? Are we servants? Public sector workers? I’m sure you’ve seen the memes about teachers as babysitters (I have about 20 students at a time [Charter schools do have smaller class sizes, which is lovely] for seven hours a day; if parents pay babysitters $10 an hour or more, how much should I make? Sure, I’ll take $1400 a day.) or calculating all of the different tasks a teacher does during the day, or comparing teacher pay in the US to teacher pay in, say, Finland; but I’ve also seen people describing teachers as lazy and incompetent, as people who get summers off, as people who just hang out with kids all day, and therefore we are overpaid. Allow me to point out that part of the reason for low teacher pay is that teachers have always been willing to give up dollars in exchange for benefits: for good health coverage, for good retirement, for tenure, the system that makes it harder to get fired. (Not impossible: it is never impossible to get fired. Don’t believe anyone who says it is.) Allow me also to point out that, though it varies state by state, I currently have decent health coverage that is pretty expensive for me; no contribution to any retirement beyond social security; and no tenure. Those benefits are vanishing. And in exchange, we get – more work. And less pay.

You could argue that teachers know what they’re signing up for. You’d be sort of right, although – like most people, I would think – there were expectations I had that didn’t prove true, like the summers off and the tenure and such. But by now, I know what I’m signing up for. I could quit teaching, try to find something else; but I’d have to start at entry level. And also, I’m good at teaching: it seems like something I should stick with. And it seems like something I should be able to make a living doing, at least enough to pay for two people with no kids and no expensive habits. I could have turned down the job in Arizona, stayed in Oregon and made more. I could move away now and make more, especially if I moved to Massachusetts or New York, or back to California. But while that solves my problem, it doesn’t solve the whole problem: because there will still be more than a million students in Arizona, who need teachers. And if Arizona won’t pay those teachers enough, and the teachers all move away, then – what? What’s the plan? All the students follow the teachers to different states? They all get homeschooled, learn their math from Khan Academy?

I read an article this morning in the New York Times about how all public sector government jobs have been disappearing and losing pay; a couple of statements struck me. Both came from the same woman, Teresa Moore, a social worker in Oklahoma who investigates reports of abuse of both children and seniors. The first was this:

Ms. Moore’s friends and neighbors hold conflicting views of her taxpayer-funded job. “The minute they have someone in the nursing home they perceive to be mistreated, we’re the first people they come to,” she said. “They want us when they need us. And when they no longer need us again, they don’t want us.” Source, Emphasis added

The second was this:

Some are resentful that they are being asked to pay for benefits that they themselves struggle to afford.

I asked my brother, ‘How do you feel about this pay raise?’” Ms. Moore recalled. “He said: ‘I want you to have it. You deserve it. But we don’t feel like we should pay for it.’” Source

I think this is how this country sees teachers. People want teachers to care for children, and they want us to do a good job of educating them; for some people, that means a specific information set, and for others, it means a different set – but everyone wants us to do a good job. Unless, y’know, they don’t actually have kids and don’t need to think about education, in which case, they’d really like us to just go away. Or else they don’t want to pay for us personally, and they think only parents should pay for us. (This attitude, held by the many retirees who come to Arizona for the winter months – the so-called “Snowbirds” – is a large part of the reason why Arizona teachers are the worst paid in the nation.) Or, of course, they don’t know who should pay for us: so long as it isn’t them, personally. (This also may be where the Snowbirds land.) I’m sure there are some who are resentful of teachers making more money or having better benefits than they themselves have, but that’s an insupportable argument if it comes only from envy: you can argue that teachers should make less money if you have an argument why teachers are worth less money. For many people, that argument starts and stops with good benefits and summers off and “spending all day with children.”

None of which, I hope I’ve shown, are actually true. The benefits are gone; the summers off never existed; I haven’t talked about the lil angels we get to spend all day with, but I doubt most people believe that. Because of course they aren’t angels. You weren’t, were you? Neither was I.

People want us to do a good job, but they don’t want to pay us to do a good job. They want to pay us the bare minimum, and ask us to do the maximum – because it’s for the children. And while we should do the very best we can, for the sake of the children and for society, that doesn’t mean we should be paid the very least we can survive on at the same time. Because that isn’t for the children: that’s for the people who just don’t want to pay us. Who maybe think we deserve more money, but they don’t want to be the ones footing the bill.

The last month or so has shown us the new truth: teachers are done with this trade-off, our best for taxpayers’ least. There has been a long slow slide down, which has taken advantage of career teachers who don’t want to look for new jobs; and which has taken advantage of old benefit packages which have been traded for pay cuts (The time has run out on this one, since there isn’t any more pay to cut, and so those benefits have been cut, too); and which has taken advantage of teachers’ general sense of goodwill and public service to the community. A lot of us want to teach in the places we grew up, and places that pay less, like Arizona and Oklahoma and Kentucky and West Virginia, have surely taken advantage of that. One of the best teachers at my school, my department chair, is still there despite being overworked and underpaid and being treated generally shabbily, for all three of these reasons: she grew up here, she’s been a teacher here for 25 years, she’s willing to make a little less if her benefits would be a little better.

What does it say about us as a nation that we treat people like that so poorly? We liberals rant and rave about how President Trump makes us look bad: but we all let teaching get to where it is. All of us.

And then, of course, there is the biggest reason why teachers don’t make enough: we care. We usually want to do a good job. We usually care about children, and about education, and we are sympathetic to the needs of families. When I was running the union negotiations, the biggest hurdle we had to overcome wasn’t the district, or the parents: it was the other teachers. Many of them wanted to cut their own pay because that would have saved other teachers’ jobs. Many of them wanted to accept whatever was offered, just so long as they got to keep teaching; and whether or not they could afford to live on their salary didn’t matter: their students needed them. It’s the same reason why, when classroom supply budgets get cut, most teachers go right out and buy the supplies themselves, even though in many communities, the parents make more than the teachers. But we do it because the kids really need those supplies. If the kids don’t have those supplies, we can’t do that project, and that project is really effective – plus the kids love it. We’re nice people, and that makes us saps. It also makes us good at our jobs. But we only get paid like saps. And then they ask us to do a little more, to give a little more, to work a little harder. For the children.

It’s gone too far. Teachers are going on strike, even without a union to protect their jobs and pay them partial wages, as would have happened had my own negotiation broken down that far. (It didn’t. We took the deal the district offered us. We saved jobs, lost money, and kept teaching. Of course. But Oregon has farther to fall before it reaches where Arizona is now.) Despite all the reasons why we don’t want to, we’re walking out of our classrooms, walking out of our schools, walking out on our students and our careers. We’re no longer willing to do this for what America seems willing to pay us. Either we get paid more, or we stop doing this. I say, we need to get paid enough to pay for two people, with no kids and no expensive habits, to build up some savings and maybe buy a house. Not just because that would suit me, but because I think it’s reasonable based on the value of services rendered. I will endeavor to prove that in another blog, hopefully tomorrow.

We’re good at our jobs. Unless America doesn’t want us to do our jobs any more, then we say we need to be paid more. Starting right now.

And you know what? We’re right.

After all, we’re teachers.

Honoring America

Listen, listen – listen.

Listen to me, okay? I know: you’re pissed off. You have every right to be.

But listen.

I’m sure that, if you know me at all, I have pissed you off personally in the past. I tend to do that: I’m pissed off, too, and I lash out. I usually regret it, and I often try to take it back. But I can’t. Also can’t stop myself. Neither can you: we’re pissed off.

But listen, anyway. Because I’ve seen people, all kinds of people, with all kinds of views all over the political spectrum, saying that THOSE PEOPLE OVER THERE are trying to divide us. THOSE PEOPLE are trying to turn us against each other, trying to ruin what has taken generations to build: this country. This amazing, beautiful, irreplaceable country. We can’t let them divide us. Can’t let them ruin this country. Not even when they are we.

But listen. Really. Because I have to say this.

The military is not my country.

WAIT WAIT WAIT. The country wouldn’t exist without the military. I know it. The military, both past and present, veterans and casualties and current service members, are and have been a vital part of the creation and maintenance of this country. They protect us, they serve us, they are the reason we became and the reason we have been able to remain a sovereign nation.

But you know who else made it possible for this country to become and remain a sovereign nation?

Parents. And grandparents, and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and cousins and everyone else in the family who helps to raise us. Who teach us and guide us, protect us and encourage us. We would never survive without families. (There are people who do, and they are incredibly strong and impressive; but the majority of us couldn’t live like that. I couldn’t. I needed my family to survive, and I need them now to keep me going.) Our families are just as important to this country as is the military, because while the military has kept us a sovereign nation, our families gave us life, and made it possible for us to become who we are. Without our families we wouldn’t be here, so there wouldn’t be a sovereign nation for the military to defend, and there wouldn’t be citizens who would volunteer for our military. We need our families as much as we need the military: without either one, this country wouldn’t exist.

You can’t get mad at me for that, right? Being grateful to family as much as I am to the military? Saying that families are as vital to the country as is the military?

Okay, good. Because our families aren’t the only ones who give us life, who make us into genuine, complete people, people who can understand what a nation is, what it represents, what it can be and how we must strive to make it what it should be. You know who else is a vital part of that?

Doctors and nurses and medical professionals. Let’s face it: there’s at least one time in each of our lives when we would have died had it not been for the intervention and assistance of a medical professional. Even with the military to protect us, we still get sick, we still get hurt, disasters still strike; and we could not make it on our own. Our families often save us – but they are just as often the one who dared us, the one who held the ladder so we could climb on top of that thing we just jumped off. That’s when we need doctors, nurses, EMTs. Right? Without doctors we likely would have died, and without people there isn’t any country? Right?

Okay, and right along with that, you know what we need to survive? Food. I know this one’s a little more abstract, because we all can and do produce or obtain our own food without any help; I’ve grown tomatoes and basil, both, so if there was such a thing as a pasta plant, I’d have a mean plate of spaghetti right out of my backyard. But the point is, we don’t produce the vast majority of our own food, even if we grow food, because people who live on a working wheat farm tend to eat things other than wheat. For most of us, we couldn’t produce enough food to feed ourselves, let alone the entire nation. So we should recognize that the people who make the food: farmers, ranchers, fishers; and the people who move the food: pickers, processors, truckers (And all the variations of those things); and the people who bring the food and/or cook the food, restaurants, grocery stores, and the almighty pizza delivery people – the country wouldn’t run without them. You could live without a few of them, I suppose, but – even the military has to eat.

There wouldn’t be much of a country if we didn’t have any food.

And of course, we wouldn’t want to have food if we couldn’t have something to wash it down, and also to wash the food off, and our hands, and everything else we want to keep clean – and that means we need all of the people who provide our water. The workers, the managers, the hydrologists – oh, crap. I forgot about all the scientists. Wait: I’ll get to them in a second. Point is, we need the many, many people who gather the water, store the water, clean the water, transport the water, and then take away and handle the waste water; and of course, we definitely need plumbers. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for plumbers. Honestly, now: if we had the world’s strongest military – but not a single working toilet in the entire country – would that be enough? I think not. We need plumbers.

We need electricians, too. There are millions of people going without power tonight, all over the Gulf Coast and Florida, all over the island of Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean – millions of Americans – and they will stay without power for weeks. Months, in some areas. Think about that. Think about the fact that it’s September, and that even where I live in Tucson, it’s still in the 80’s and 90’s every day. I went a week without functioning air conditioning this summer, and it was hell – and eleven people died in a nursing home in Florida after Hurricane Irma killed their power and they didn’t have AC. I don’t mean to say that HVAC technicians are as important as the military, but I do think that the power companies, and the linemen and electricians who make it possible for us to have light and heat and communications, that power our factories and hospitals and, yes, our military bases: I think we could not survive as we do without them. If we had the world’s strongest military but we lived in the dark ages, I do not think we would feel the same way about our country.

And since we need all of these specialized workers, we need somebody to discover all they need to know, and then somebody to make sure that people know what each of us needs to know: and that means we need scientists and researchers, and teachers and librarians and authors. Now, I know a lot of people think that scientists get a lot of things wrong, and that they waste a lot of money; but the truth is that without scientists and researchers, we wouldn’t have the power or the water or the sanitation or the modern agriculture or the medical science or the military capability that we have. And of course, there are a lot of missteps and a tremendous amount of wasted effort and spent resources involved in science; but that is true of every single aspect of modern civilization. We may not like what they use up, but we certainly like their results – he said, typing the words into his laptop before posting them on the Internet for others to see at the touch of a button.

(Pausing to take a sip of clean, clear, refreshing water.)

As for teachers, I know that many people think we are incompetent and corrupt and generally terrible. And many of us are. We’ve all had bad teachers, we’ve all known bad teachers; I am sure that there are quite a few people out there who think that I am a bad teacher. But just like everything else in society, the problems and the complications don’t change the basic necessity: our world is complex, and somebody needs to help people get ready for it. Somebody needs to train our people in the work we need done, or else it wouldn’t get done. If there are people who don’t do it well, then we should try to help them get better or replace them – not throw out the entire system. Now I certainly include everyone outside of traditional school who helps people to learn and grow: homeschoolers, and tutors, and family members and friends who help explain how things work; religious leaders and technical/vocational teachers and master craftsmen, and those who help the new guy on the job figure out what to do and how to do it. You – we – are all teachers, and all of us are necessary. A country that can’t think is no country at all – not to mention all the people who have to know how to do what we need done. Including the military, who have some of the best teachers and trainers, to get people ready for some of the toughest and most important jobs, in the world. And I’ll bet – in fact, I know – that some of those trainers, and some of the people they train, are not very good at their jobs.

That, I think, is the other thing we have to remember about the military. It is just like our own families: some of our family members are, shall we say, less helpful than others. Some have less-admirable motivations. Some actually cause more trouble than they help us out of. The military is far too large and complex an organization – nearly a civilization unto itself – to think that every single member is just as good and valuable as every other one. If that were true, there wouldn’t be dishonorable discharges, and there wouldn’t be military police, military courts, and military prisons.

Right! We can’t forget them. We must have all of the people who protect our safety against things other than disease and enemy nations and ignorance: firefighters, and police, and all of the other parts of the criminal justice and public safety system: lawyers and judges and prison guards and parole officers and social workers and crossing guards. Just like the doctors, there is at least one time, I’d bet, for everyone when we needed someone in law enforcement, and/or public safety, to save our lives or our property.

There. Is that everybody? I could go on, of course: I didn’t even talk about mental health, or the inspectors and regulators who help to protect our safety by preventing crises from occurring, or those who provide shelter by building our homes; I didn’t talk about people who make roads, and build bridges, and run airports. I didn’t talk about the people who make our economic world possible, bankers and accountants and the stock market; nor the people who make it possible for us to have our regular-people jobs, employers and entrepreneurs and everyone who makes the money that makes the world go ’round. I think there’s even an argument for people who entertain us, because at some point, we all need to do more than live and protect our liberty: we need to pursue happiness. And, depending on how fine you focus this lens, that could even bring in – professional football players. Even those who take a knee during the National Anthem.

That’s my country. Yes: the military is a vital part of it. But it isn’t the only part of it. When someone stands up and puts their hand over their heart, faces the flag and salutes, and sings along or maintains a respectful silence, during the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance, they aren’t just honoring the military: they are honoring this country. All 330 million people, all 3.8 million square miles, all 240+ years of history. That’s what the flag and the anthem and the Pledge represent: they represent America.

And America is not the military.

So if you want to honor this country, this is what you do: you recognize that we don’t all have to agree. That we can even be opposed, and maybe even bitter enemies. All of that can be forgiven as long as we all have the best interests of the country at heart, and remember that the other side, too, has the best interests of the country at heart. Of course we disagree on what those interests are, and what will best serve them, whether it is a strong military or a strong social safety net; whether it is a government that represents and serves all of the people, or no government at all; whether it is equality or competition – or both. That is the point of open and honest debate, enshrined as one of the most vital of our individual rights in our First Amendment; because in talking about what we think, we figure out both what to do, and where we agree. The biggest reason for the current widening partisan divide is simply because we don’t speak to each other enough. And I’m sure that there are people, Americans on some level, who do not have the best interests of this country and its people at heart; and they should be prevented from doing harm. But they are easy to identify: because there is a world of difference between people who want to do good, but are doing it wrong, and people who want to do evil, and are doing it – right. For the rest of us, the vast, vast majority of us – and remember that that large group includes the people who are doing the wrong thing for the right reason – we have to remember that we all have the same goal. We all love our country. We all want what’s best for it, and we are all grateful to the people who have lived and died in service to this country, both in uniform and out, on the battlefield and in the cornfield, in the hospital and the school and the courthouse and everywhere in between where people live and strive to do what is right. However you choose to honor those people, that history, this country, whether it is by standing up and taking off your hat while you are watching sports on TV; or whether it is by offering your effort, your reputation, or your life in aid of the ideals this country stands for, I, for one, thank you. I will salute you as I salute and honor my country, our country: in the way that makes the most sense to me.

Even if you don’t like the way I do it.

 

(Postscript: Bob Costas agrees with me.)

Throw Back: Free Teach — I mean Speech

(From my former blog Pleading For Sanity. Originally published on this date in 2011. Enjoy.)

 Free Teach — I mean Speech.

Though I complain about it frequently, there are some things I really enjoy about my job. One of the most enjoyable aspects, fortunately, is my colleagues: they are bright, kind, funny,. considerate, and extraordinarily dedicated — generally far more than am I. The work can be hard to handle, but my fellow teachers almost always make it easier to go on to the next class, the next day, the next school year.

But then I looked online, and I found out that I work with some pretty awful people.

At least, if you listen to my students. And if you can decipher their spelling. (Honestly, as an English teacher, I think the harshest criticism here is the critics’ own inability to spell, punctuate, and capitalize. I’m trying to keep this anonymous, but I must note that of the 35 teachers rated on this one site, eight of the names were misspelled. One person’s first and last names were misspelled — and in another instance, the name “Chris” was rendered as “Crise.” Maybe it’s petty of me, but if you’re going to boo me, at least spell my name right.)

According to the website RateMyTeacher.com, I work with someone who “looks like a petafile.” I’m assuming that’s bad. I’m sure, for the most part, that these other comments are bad. They are copy-pasted verbatim, other than where I took out names and specifics to protect the innocent.

he talks way to much and he is really controling some times and if hes wrong allways look he gives you a glare

[HE] IS A COMPLETE **** AND SHOULD BE FIRED

he is a **** man **** and needs to be fired

he is a **** but he knows what hes talking about [Blogger’s note: Hey! A compliment!]

you are by far the WORST teacher i have ever been tought by. Do you even know, NOT one SINGLE STUDENT likes you!?

satan, should leave school

very rude, not helpful, and makes it over-all pretty scary to learn.

He is by far the worst teacher I have ever encountered. He doesn’t care about his students or his class. His lessons are unplanned, unoraganized and unclear. My advice stay away

You are a mess, the [classroom] is a mess, your teaching is a mess; You put [sub-group of student population] on a golden pedastal and you forget the rest of your students. I dont give a s**t about your problems, you whine constantly-

You need to get your s**t together.

Your alright sometimes. But personally I think your a fool. And I had one of your T.A’s tell me that you would talk s**t about the students behind their back. Also stop complaining. NO ONE likes that.

very easy but you are a disorganized mess

But none of that compares to the bile that students reserve for administrators. To wit:

he grabed my a** in the hall and told me not to tell anyone and then he took a picture of me and hung it on his wall? [Blogger’s Note: Why the question mark? Was this person not sure whether it was the wall or the ceiling?]

he touched me in inappropriate places 😦 now i am scard for life… [B.N.: So you can handle “inappropriate” but “scarred” (Scared?) is beyond you.]

That Stupid B**** Kicked Me in the Gut and Called me a F****** N*****! Racisty Piece of S***!

get a life you **** stop telling little girls and boys what to do oh i forgot it makes you happy you ****

he is a creeper that takes it in the **** [B.N.: I have to wonder about that extra star.]

no one loves him, pedo, should jump in a meat grinder, stabs puppies for pleasure, reincarnation of **** [B.N.: Again, four stars? Reincarnation of what, exactly? Stan?]

useless piece of crap

he is a peice of s**t

he like to get kids in trouble for no dam reason at all and he picks on colored people cuz he thinks hes all that powerful when he is NOT!!!!!!

he is a prick and thinks he is soo badass wen hes not… no one at this skool likes him

hes a dillweed, i can give him a popularity(2)becouse i like to make fun of that tool, and i do…. [B.N.: Please note that this comment came with a popularity rating of one.]

he is the biggest tool i have ever met

Wow. We’re pretty bad. And, of course, this is only what was posted online on one site; set against what is written in notes or on desks or bathroom walls, and what I overhear in conversation, it is nothing at all. And just imagine if I could look at a student’s personal blog or MySpace page or Facebook status. I have been told directly that my fellow teachers are vile subhuman scum (Though not in those words — there’s generally a lot more “sucks” and different versions of “asshole.”) more times than I can count; I’ve read essays expounding on the general incompetence of the staff, the administration, and everything to do with the school; what must these students say when they don’t think we’re listening, when they don’t believe there’s any chance the teachers will find out?

And yet, whatever the students may say, it doesn’t really matter. I know why students say they hate me, hate my class, why they think I’m a jerk or that I’m racist or that I never taught them anything: it’s because I’m a teacher, and they are teenagers. If I taught elementary school, they’d make up a poem about me that would most likely describe me as having poopy pants, and if I taught middle school, they’d — well, honestly, I don’t think middle school children do much other than flirt awkwardly and loathe themselves; they probably barely even notice their teachers.

But otherwise, this is all stuff that teachers need to brush off. Of course students hate us: we make them do homework. We make them show up on time and sit quietly. We give them failing grades. We are the establishment, we are the Man. On a personal level, there are, quite naturally, personality conflicts, as well as personality disorders, that create bad feelings — and, of course, not all teachers are very nice. To some extent, they should hate us; and even when it is unjustified, we have to remember that these are teenagers. Children, effectively, especially in this modern era of crystallized and socially acceptable immaturity, when grown men and women are admired and even feted for their childish antics and attitudes — Kanye West, for instance, or the cast of the Jersey Shore. Kids say things they don’t mean, and they say things they don’t really understand the implications of, and they try to do it in the worst, most offensive, most shocking way possible, in order to garner attention, in order to create a response, in order to prove their rebelliousness and independence and general badassery. As a teacher, I know this, and I don’t take their criticisms very seriously. Well, I do, because I am insecure and harshly self-critical, but I can usually talk myself out of it once I’m in a better mood.

But apparently, in this country, in this free, democratic country, that magnanimity and understanding only goes one way. Students are free to criticize teachers, even to accuse teachers online of sexual misdeeds of any stripe (I did not include the very worst comments about one of my coworkers, even though I’m sure the teacher in question would not be very hurt by the utterly absurd accusations, because some things simply should not be repeated, just for the sake of making a point.), anything they wish, because they are children. But should a teacher say anything negative about students, even non-specific comments made on a personal blog, then the wrath of the almighty descends. And by “almighty,” I mean the judgmental, Puritanical, tyrannical, almighty public opinion.

Natalie Munroe was suspended in Pennsylvania for calling her students “lazy, unmotivated whiners,” among other things. Another teacher (Also in Pennsylvania) was suspended for a picture that was posted online of her and a male stripper at a bachelorette party. She wasn’t naked, she wasn’t dancing, it wasn’t at school or during work hours — it was a private bachelorette party, she was in the frame when someone took a photo of the stripper, and this photo was posted online, by someone other than the teacher, who was then suspended. A teacher in England was suspended when another teacher complained about the Facebook comment: ‘By the way, (class) 8G1 are just as bad as 8G2.’ A middle school science teacher was suspended for this:

Hussain wrote on the social-networking site that it was a “hate crime” that students anonymously left a Bible on her desk, and she told how she “was able to shame her kids” over the incident. Her Facebook page included comments from friends about “ignorant southern rednecks,” and one commenter suggested Hussain retaliate by bringing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster to class with a swastika drawn on the NASCAR driver’s forehead.

It’s only a guess, but: want to bet those students thought (or knew) she was a Muslim — her name is Hussain, after all — and therefore either a terrorist or Hell-bound?

And another, for this:

The suspension occurred after a Charlotte television news station did a search on the social networking site for people who identified themselves as staff members of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The unidentified teacher, who teaches at Thomasboro Elementary School, which has 94 percent of its students in the free lunch program, wrote in her Facebook page, “I am teaching in the most ghetto school in Charlotte.”

Four other teachers in the district are also being disciplined for statements and photos posted to their Facebook pages.

Citation

What bothers me about this story — actually, about all of these stories — is how we react to the teachers. We think they have done something wrong. The Charlotte story goes on to quote an online comment that said this: “The teacher probably didn’t understand the privacy settings on her Facebook account. Information you post can be either publicly viewable or something that is just seen by your friends. She probably thought what she was posting was private, but left the default settings on to let everyone see your profile,” commented BluNews. “A lot of people unknowingly do this. That said, the teacher messed up and certainly diminished her ability to teach her kids. I’m not sure if firing her is the right thing to do, but she should be disciplined. Also, I doubt this is the last time we’ll hear about something like this. School systems should set policy on issues like this and warn teachers that negative postings about their jobs could lead to disciplinary actions.” (Emphasis added) Ibid.

When the story broke over the Pennsylvania teacher’s blog, a number of people pointed it out to me; one even brought me the clipping from the Oregonian. One of them sent me a link to the story in an e-mail and added the comment, “I wonder where the First Amendment comes down on this.” That gave me pause for a moment.

But then I realized. There’s no question where the First Amendment comes down on this. A teacher has the right to say whatever the hell he or she wants to, so long as it does not defame or slander, or violate privacy rights, or cause direct harm, as would a bomb threat or the classic crowded theater shout of “Fire!” No matter what you think of a teacher who says,

“I hear the trash company is hiring.”

“I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son.”

“Rude, beligerent [sic], argumentative f**k.”

“Just as bad as his sibling. Don’t you know how to raise kids?”

“Asked too many questions and took too long to ask them. The bell means it’s time to leave!”

“Nowhere near as good as her sibling. Are you sure they’re related?”

“Shy isn’t cute in 11th grade; it’s annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it.”

“Too smart for her own good and refuses to play the school ‘game’ such that she’ll never live up to her true potential here.”

“Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)”

[These are comments that Ms. Munroe wished were available for attaching to report cards. I should also note that she included in her blog the line, “I’m being a renegade right now, living on the edge and, um, blogging AT work. However, as I’m blogging about work stuff, I give myself a free pass of conscience.” Misuse of school resources might be part of the reason for her suspension, and I can’t really argue with that.]

no matter what you think of that person as a teacher, she has the right to say all of that and more. She is an American citizen, and she has the right to free speech. The criticisms I see, the justifications for trying to remove this woman’s right to speak her mind freely, often run along the lines of, “But what kind of teacher can she be if she thinks these terrible things about students?”

Allow me to respond to that with quotes, from students, lifted again from RateMyTeacher.com, about another teacher who posted similar general criticisms, and blogs laced with FAR more profanity than Ms. Munroe’s (But who fortunately was not suspended for it.).

He is a very kind teacher with an interesting spin on things that made English class quite enjoyable.

He doesn’t need this s**t to know he’s the **** best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

Great teacher. Always ready to help and is very considerate in his assinments

IS FREAKING AWESOME !!!! the coolest and best teacher in the school!

You are awesome as a teacher and you get the job done even when some of the students are being abnoxious and ignoring you completely.

great teacher one of my favorites

cool guy and good teacher

Best teacher in the world! 🙂

Great teacher! He’s really interesting and he cares about reading and english. He expects his students to be mature and that’s nice because most teachers even in high school treat us like little kids.

You see, my fellow Americans, that’s the point of freedom of speech. We are complicated, multi-dimensional creatures; no one thing we say, anywhere, ever, for any reason, can be presumed to sum up one’s entire person, or even to represent a definite and unalloyed aspect of that person — we teachers complain about our students, but there are also students we love, who make our day, who make classes better. Sometimes it’s the same student. It is unfair to assume that someone is fully represented by words she uses, especially when those words are taken out of context. It is thus unfair, unreasonable, and unjust to punish that person for those words — unless there is direct harm done or a specific law broken, as with slander, breach of confidentiality, and so forth. We have, and need, the right to express our opinions, to state our true feelings, even if those feelings hurt someone’s else’s feelings, even if our true feelings are mean, or profane, or politically incorrect in any way. There is no question what our right to free speech entails; we have the right to free speech. That’s it. Here, look at the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

No law abridging the freedom of speech. In any way. Which implies that no government institution should take action against an employee for exercising the right to free speech, as that employee’s freedom of speech is thus abridged. When you take that away, you take away the foundation of democracy. What’s next — should we ban peaceful protests asking for redress of grievances? You know, like people are saying about the pro-union demonstrations in Wisconsin right now? Anyone else feel like we’re on a slippery slope here?

The freedom of speech is essential to democracy, because it is essential to society, to individuals’ sanity and to the necessary goal of educating and informing all people. We must be able to speak our minds, and to tell what we think and what we know to anyone who will listen. That should include online speech, and it should include teachers. It is a sad thing when Americans question whether or not teachers, public employees entrusted with the edification of future citizens of our democracy, have the same rights as everyone else — including, of course, those future citizens themselves. And worse than sad, it is absolutely frightening in its implications. How much are we willing to lose in order to protect our children from — what, exactly? From being insulted in a place and a way that they would most likely never have seen, had this kerfuffle never happened? From hearing what someone actually thinks about them, which might even lead to a certain amount of shame — and then to self-improvement? From the tit for their tat? Who do we think we are helping?

What are we helping them to become?

I can’t believe that kid misspelled “assignments.” That one’s going on the next vocab list.