I was eating a lukewarm dinner tonight. It was a great dinner. I was just 45
minutes late and my wife and daughter had eaten. They know they won’t be able to
figure out when I may get home as I try to wrap things up at school to make sure
I’m prepped for the next day. I even try to tell them and myself when I leave in
the morning that, “I shouldn’t be as late today as I was yesterday,” but they
know better. They go ahead and eat. Sometimes I get lucky and my timing works
out to eat a hot meal with them. Most times not.
As I sat there eating, the news was on in the background. I heard a political leader in
my state talk about a piece of legislation he thinks is vital for our future. This is a state which ranks at the bottom of spending on public education. In his comments he stated that educational leaders in my state are liars. I won’t call him out even though he calls out my profession, but when I first heard it, I didn’t flinch. I didn’t blink. I didn’t move. It didn’t faze me or even register. I guess I’m numb and have become conditioned to being the scapegoat for a politician looking to blame someone for all of the problems we face as a society.
Poverty? Teachers don’t prepare students for the workforce. Poor voter turnout?
Teachers don’t teach patriotism, civics or American values. Uninformed
electorate? Teachers don’t teach critical thinking. Drugs, violence or crime?
Teachers are too permissive. Illiteracy? Teachers just pass kids they don’t care
about through the system to get a paycheck. They don’t work very much or very
hard anyway. Immorality (whatever that means to you)? Teachers try to corrupt
our youth because they are some kind of “ist” whether it’s communist or atheist
or fascist or racist or fill in the blank.
I have no idea who these teachers are that are the target for each political
firefight. It’s not the ones I work with who take their kids home with them in
their minds and hearts. It’s not the teachers that I know who give clothes,
food, books, classroom supplies and other material items their students need
just to have basic needs met. It’s not the ones I know who pray for their students’ safety and security. It’s not the ones I know who are heartbroken and moved to tears
because they know the literal crap that some of their students have to go
through on a daily basis – sometimes because adults in their lives don’t want to
be inconvenienced or accountable. Sometimes it has nothing to do with anything
other than life dealt them a lousy hand to play. What child should have to watch
a parent battle cancer or lose a job and a home or die from a drunk driver or
lose a friend to suicide? Where’s the fairness of that? How do you teach about
compound and complex sentence structures to a student who fled their home
because of war, terrorism, famine, bankruptcy, abuse or any of the multitudes of
real life scenarios they live? How is the Pythagorean Theorem applicable to a
student facing sexual abuse or exploitation? How do you talk about a future
scholarship or career with a student who just got evicted from his apartment?
Any politician or critic who has the answer to that question can come sit in my
office tomorrow. I’ll give up my chair and sit back and watch them work some
magic. I won’t be resentful. I’ll be thrilled. All I want is for that student to
have hope and success anyway.
So I guess I should be angry. I guess I should be indignant. I guess I should
get militant. I’m not going to criticize anyone’s decision to respond that way.
I just know I’m not there today. I’m going back to school tomorrow. I’m
going to give it my best shot. I’m going to do it despite the critics and the
politicians. I’m going to do it despite the lip service that elected officials
pay each election year when they talk about the importance of
education. I’m going to do it despite the fact that a realistic funding solution
has been discussed year in and year out with no action. I honestly don’t think
it will happen this year either. It’s not okay. I don’t condone it. I just know
that’s not a fight I can win tomorrow. I’m going to walk in my door and help the
student in the chair across from me. I’m going to support the teachers in the
classrooms around me because they are putting their lack of money where other
peoples’ mouth is. That’s all I can do. I don’t do it for the politicians who
call me names. You can evaluate your own motives for your rhetoric and your
pontificating. I know why I do what I do and I can look myself in the mirror
each day knowing what I do is important. I do it for the kids. And I respect the
other educators who do that too. We do it for them!