Slice of Life 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday, July 30, 2013: Blame the Teachers

Slice of Life
Yesterday I went from being an interested observer to an active participant in the Moral Monday protests that have been held every week in Raleigh, North Carolina for the past 13 weeks. I have watched these protests grow and have admired the people who attend weekly and those who willingly are arrested to show their support of various causes.

Yesterday’s rally had a special focus: Public Education. In case you hadn’t heard, North Carolina has set a record for passing a number of devastating cuts to public education, as well as other backwards-thinking voter suppression laws, attacks on women’s rights, and cuts to the poor and unemployed, just to name a few.

Our legislators voted for a budget that gave no teacher raises (after six years of flat salaries), took away tenure, and did away with supplemental pay for Master’s or advanced degrees. There wasn’t any money in the budget to raise our pay (currently 48th in the nation and some say dead last after this budget passed), but they did have $10 million to give to parents for school vouchers, and $3 million for Teach for America. Huh? How does this help us?

Some of you may be asking where was our union or representatives while all of this was going down? We don’t have one. North Carolina is a “right to work” state and for public employees unions are illegal. We do have a local NEA affiliate, NCAE, but it is completely voluntary and has no real “power.” They are supposed to be looking out for our best interests, but up until AFTER the budget passed, they were oddly quiet on these most pressing teacher concerns. When asked why they were so slow to respond, a NCAE representative said they trusted the integrity of our legislators to support us and do the right thing. Really? After months of reports about all of these proposed drastic cuts? None of this was a secret. They were quite open about their intentions to destroy our public schools and trash teachers in the process. Now it is too late to change anything. Governor McCrory signed the budget as expected.

The public vitriol is at its peak. News coverage of the Moral Monday event drew over 800 comments on one local news webpage. As usual, most of the comments were anti-teacher, anti-public schools.

Soon I must head back to the classroom. I have never been so discouraged and demoralized as I have been these past few weeks, and my usual enthusiasm and excitement to start planning and brainstorming new ideas for the coming year just isn’t there. Frankly, this is not too surprising to me as I tend to get quite fired up about this stuff. What’s scary to me, though, is that even my most optimistic, always upbeat teacher friend admitted to me at the rally that “for the first time in 29 years of teaching, I am not looking forward to going back.” Whoa! This from a dear friend and colleague who never lets the political circus get to her. This speaks volumes. If she doesn’t want to go back, how must the rest of the 100,000 North Carolina teachers feel?

It is human nature to want to blame someone or something for our troubles, so why not blame teachers, right? This is one of the underlying beliefs of the opposition. Teachers are the reason our test scores are not at the top of the nation. If we would just do our jobs, then we would get the respect we desire (they say).

I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with the opposition.

Teachers do have to take the blame for some of our problems, but not for the reasons our opponents claim. Let me explain.

I believe that one of the reasons why these overzealous, anti-public education politicians got away with this budget slashing is that while they were wheeling and dealing behind the scenes to get their agenda passed, teachers were too busy teaching to pay too much attention. Contrary to public opinion, most teachers do not work a 40-hour (or less) workweek. Sure, some of us are info-maniacs and keep up with the news and political game-playing going on around town. But, most of us informed or not, are way too busy doing our jobs to be activists, even though we may believe wholeheartedly in the cause. Most teachers are averse to doing things that take time away from the classroom and/or what’s best for their students. While we might want to take action or get involved, we simply feel we don’t have the time.

Another contributing factor is that most teachers are entirely too passive when it comes to standing up for themselves or the profession. Even though we may totally support the cause, teachers have been conditioned to be passive observers and to rarely, if ever, speak up. Don’t believe me? Attend a faculty meeting and you’ll see what I mean. Sure, there is reason to be careful. Principals can make life miserable for you if you are one to make waves. But, that’s why we have tenure, right? Shouldn’t that protect us?
Well, tenure is a thing of the past here, too. Instead they are going to offer “merit pay” to the top 25% performers (using ONE end of grade test as your judge), in the amount of $500. This amounts to around $20 per month after taxes. Tenure in exchange for $20 per month? Sure! That sounds fair! Without tenure, teachers will be more fearful than ever to speak up about injustice.

Teachers must accept responsibility for their own fate. We must make it a priority to get involved in the fight for public education. We are the ones who only too clearly understand what is at stake here for our students, our schools, our profession, and even our country. Our country was built upon the ideal of a free and public education for ALL. We must fight to keep it that way.

Those of us who protested at the rally yesterday woke up this morning wondering what should be our next steps in this fight. I’m not sure, but I do know that I must continue to find a way to be engaged in this cause.

If you are a teacher reading this and you are lucky enough to work in a state that values you and your profession, supports students and schools, and makes education a priority, then count yourself lucky. But please be ever vigilant to this insidious political agenda that is infiltrating schools in states across the nation. Pay attention. Your state could be next. If it can happen in North Carolina, it can happen anywhere, and the legislators who passed this budget will be only too happy to encourage like-minded representatives from other states to try and pull a NC budget in their own states.

Teachers, the time is now to speak up and have our voices heard.

No more waiting for Superman.

moral monday 7-29-13