I came late to the profession having worked 10 years in private industry prior to moving from Los Angeles to western New York. It took me 15 years of teaching high school to reach my old Los Angeles pay scale. Needless to say I was speechless (a good thing too) when a troublesome young man screamed at me that I was only “teaching for the money.” Well, yes. I had to admit, I needed to pay my bills – at least for the recently acquired masters degree. Below, I offer my anecdotal research on the subject of scorn for unions and teaching.
Yes, there are some things that need to be changed in the way the union does its business but losing collective bargaining rights is not one of them. Teachers are, for the most part, a passive lot. The old plea of “just let me close my door and teach” are valid. And many administrators have ignored that plea at their own peril. I’m not saying every teacher is excellent – excellence takes time and it is the excellent administrator who sees to it that the teacher is equipped well enough to close that door and teach. This means an administrator needs to be steeped in curriculum. A junior administrator, in an effort to intimidate, came into my classroom one morning and silently took notes. It happened only once. My making him a part of our lesson may have had something to do with his decision not to return. Had I been an unprotected young teacher I’m sure I would have been intimidated knowing that this potential bully (famous for his abuse of the language and the thought process in general) had power over my future. I thank the union for that protection.
One reason we teachers are scorned is that we have no nomenclature behind which to hide. Scientists, lawyers and doctors have the language of their professions to keep a disgruntled public at bay. We teachers are encouraged to use plain-speak so as not to offend our clientele, and I agree. Throwing around terms specific to the abstract theory of education is intimidating and off-putting and does very little to further the aim of educating our young. So, with our plainspoken approach we give the illusion that education is easy because… well, everyone has been to school – right?
We are considered babysitters because that is what is expected of us. One snow day, school was cancelled due to extreme cold – five degrees with a wind-chill factor of negative 15. I was halfway to school when the announcement came over the radio. I stopped to get a cup of coffee. Standing in line I was treated to the displeasure of a woman in front of me buying milk, “These teachers don’t know what a hassle it is for the parents when there’s a snow day and we’re left with a house full of kids.” As a parent and taxpayer, she had a right to her grief. As a parent and taxpayer, I too, had a right to mine. I sipped my coffee in my car before deciding to do what most babysitters do not do – go to my room, close the door and grade the 45 essays on my desk.
After 22 years of teaching all students from ‘at risk’ to honors, I retired (reaching a pay grade of $58,000) with reduced benefits. Teaching three more years would have netted me full benefits and a future without a part-time job as a community college adjunct. But three years was much too long to continue in a building where questions were considered threats, professionalism was mocked and classroom teachers were not supported by administrators or even trusted to have a phone on their desks. As for the public and those politicians who view education as that “soft unprotected target,” scorn us if you like but, if you can read and comprehend what I say here, don’t forget to thank a teacher.