Shannon home and back into the swing after a great trip to El Capitan State Beach where she and 60 of her closest friends (well…56) spent four days and three nights away from home discovering the wild and themselves and each other and learning to be independent. That wasn’t the stated goal, of course. But that’s what happened…
We’re hard-wired for this. It’s a shame that politics has become what it has. It’s a shame we fight about education–and I say that as someone who is the most liberal person in very conservative rooms and the most conservative person in very liberal rooms when it comes to education. I’m not liberal in that I think the government should be involved–but apparently, I’ve been told my conservative friends, that my belief in whole-child education, my disdain for quantitative and standardized tests, my abhorrence of No Child Left Behind (I’m in good conservative company there by the way–George Will doesn’t like it either) and–this one absolutely floors me and lends credence to my theory that education is, in fact, not easily defined politically–my belief that, especially in the high school years, kids need to be allowed to fail, allowed to accept the consequences of their actions and allowed not to learn if that is their choice–is too left leaning. Wow-now that’s a run-on sentence.
I have this utopian vision in my head of schools as temples, if you will. They are places where both teacher and student alike want to be there, share in the art and the craft of learning together and provide each other with challenges, ideas, research and work in concert to learn for the purpose of learning.
I believe in education. I even believe in higher education as the college experience I had was very much the experience above. I swear to you, I didn’t become a teacher because of my high school experience. That was lackluster and mostly forgettable. I became a teacher because of my college experience. I probably should have gotten a Ph.D. and gone to teach there, but I don’t really want to do that. I’ve been back to college many times–and even in the small, private college I attended, political correctness is everywhere.
No-I’m in the right place. And I’m sorry that the public face of what I do is the teacher’s union. This is an angry group of people, for the most part. If you’ll allow me to point out–I don’t think I know one teacher who would say that the union positively speaks for them. Yes, we have to pay dues (it’s a closed shop. That’s dumb. But there it is) and involve ourselves in collective bargaining. Part of me is thankful for that. But the fact is, the public perception is that we teachers are an entitled bunch who sit on our asses and take taxpayers’ money, demanding it in fact, while reading the newspaper and handing out tests.
Let me assure you-that’s not the case. I make about 77K a year as a teacher. Yes-the work schedule I have puts me at 180 work days a year. I get a lot of time off. It’s actually one of the reasons I became a teacher. I can agree with you if you say that the school year needs to be longer. But, as a tax payer, you’ll have to pay for that. Teaching isn’t really easy. I don’t get paid for the time I’m not at work. My salary is predicated on the time I do work. If I am to work 200 or more days a year (and let’s be honest, I do sort of anyway by grading papers at 11 PM and writing lesson plans on Sundays and going to events with kids in the evening, etc), then I’ll need to be compensated for that. Not demanding–just saying that I’ve got a specialized skill, a couple of graduate degrees and to be frank, I’m not going to work harder for less if I can avoid it. Makes sense….who would?
This is not a manifesto. I am perfectly aware what teachers unions have wrought. It’s a serious and real problem that is growing. I don’t think it can go on this way forever. But I do this work every day. I’m in the classroom and I still love it very much. I get paid by a school district, “sipping at the government trough” if you will to do what I do. That’s not in question. But I love teaching. I love working with kids and I love reading and writing. My whole career is predicated on teaching students about it-and doing a lot of it myself. It’s who I am.
I’m also a libertarian-minded soul. I’m a Libertarian by registration. I will indeed put my money where my mouth is: or, perhaps, take it away. If society decides to stop paying me for what I do, I’ll find another way to make a living. I have obligations to my family and I have a need to work and a desire to contribute. Thank God I can do that by doing what I do. I’m not going to picket or strike or yell at people or convince anyone to vote any particular way. I’m going to live my life as a teacher and a writer and I’m going to do that as long as I feel the remuneration for it is worth it to me. I’m also going to, in my small way, continue to advocate for small revolutions in education–whether it’s convincing kids that learning is as natural as breathing or helping kids to master skills that will help them become better people–or just more marketable people–I’m going to do it.
In the profession I’ve chosen, there are a lot of people who think like I do–and a lot who don’t. I imagine that’s true in your careers, too. Because education is a government function (and I agree it should not be, by the way), it is always going to be political and difficult. But I can’t change that by myself.
What I can do–is be a good teacher. And that’s all I really care about anyway.