We Are All Responsible For Public Education

(This is my response to some people in a Facebook thread who think their tax dollars shouldn’t be used to provide others with a public education)

My wife teaches in the BISD (Boise Independent School District). I’ve met hundreds of teachers. I’ve met maybe two out of hundreds that probably shouldn’t have been teaching kids (go figure, both were male coaches).

There aren’t many professions that work harder as a whole than teachers. When you take away from the public education system, you hurt teachers (boo hoo, right?). Teachers have this dreaded word they use, you might have heard it used in other instances, and that word is “attrition.”

Attrition in education is when the public school system continually gets underfunded, or talking heads on cable news shout as loud as they can how terrible teachers are, how rich they are, how lazy they are, how ineffective they are.

Attrition is when new teachers that went to college, passed all of the tests (and they aren’t easy, don’t ever let anyone tell you becoming a teacher is ‘easy’) and started their career in the public education system, KNOWING they were going to make very little money for the first ten years, and even after ten, they’d never be making these ridiculous numbers shouted by talking heads like “$100,000 a year! to work for nine months!”.

Attrition is when these new teachers begin to realize, some in their second year, some their fourth, each teacher is different, that as much as they love their career, it is no longer economically viable, nor is it a career that holds the prestige that it used to, and in a lot of cases, the politics at all levels, from the Statehouse down to the local county commissioners, is so negative that it makes these new teachers begin to dread having to deal with it on a daily basis.

Attrition is when our best and brightest decide they’d rather use their History or Math or whatever degree working in Silicon Valley, or maybe taking a management position with a major grocery chain, and they resign before their sixth year.

These teachers, my spouse included, work more hours in nine months than you do in a whole year. If you think teaching is a job that starts at 9AM and ends at 3PM… It doesn’t. She doesn’t get to leave school at 3PM on Friday and forget about her job until 9AM Monday.

Scratch that. She CAN, but she’s a real teacher who cares about her students. I can honestly say that this is the overwhelming majority of teachers I’ve ever met.

Why do we not talk about the teachers who put in hours like 6AM to 6PM+? The ones running National Honors Society, the ones staying late to tutor kids, administer makeup tests, attend school functions like Debate, or just show up to the school play/dance/sports game to let parents and especially the kids know that she loves her job enough to give up her own time for them when she’s not actually contractually obligated beyond a certain number of hours per day?

Instead of saying that because one teacher is bad or did something bad, all teachers must be bad, we talk about how education is the cornerstone of this nation? How about we discuss the fact that our nation’s Founding Fathers were very much for a public education system, knowing it would help America become strong enough to stand on its own, and to help our nation continue to be competitive with other nations in all areas?

Did we get to be the ‘greatest nation on Earth’ because we said ‘to hell with my tax dollars going to lazy, ineffective teachers and poor families!’? Isn’t every single citizen, regardless of age, marital status, race, income, or any other factor responsible for doing their part and continue to provide American children with the best possible education we can? Or should we continue to decline in the ranks of things like Math, Science, Healthcare, and so on across the board?

Is it not the responsibility of every single citizen of this country to make sure your child gets the same quality of public education as a rich person’s child? A poverty-stricken family’s child? Has America become such a selfish ‘me me me’ country that we no longer consider the ‘public good’ and can only see ‘what can you do for me?’

“But I earned it!” you say, but did you really? Didn’t you go through the public school system? Sure a few of you went through private school, good for you, but the majority of this country learned how to read and write and add and subtract and dissect a frog or an earthworm all on the taxpayer’s dime. You would have never been eligible to go to college that YOU or YOUR PARENTS paid for without the public school system getting you ready for it.

My wife, indeed every single teacher I’ve ever known sans two that truly should not have been teaching, eats, sleeps, breathes, and lives with your children five days per week, 8-12 hours per day. She’s a child’s surrogate parent sometimes more than the actual parents. She has to not only deal with making sure the subject she teaches sticks in their minds so they can pass standardized tests, she has to try and instill a sense of curiosity, and the ability to actually learn, not just memorize. She has to deal with their non-education problems (girls and boys in the midst of puberty… you can imagine some of the things that come up).

Just the teaching part alone is hard. If you think it is easy, you’ve never been responsible for up to 160 young minds from vastly different backgrounds and family makeups and have had to worry about whether or not you were doing well enough at it that it would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Add in administrators pulling you one way, lawmakers pulling you another, parents hovering around the periphery ready to pounce on the slightest infraction and label you a ‘bad teacher’, and then ice it with one of those rare teachers who do awful things like have sexual relations with a student or tie them up and put duct tape on their mouths, you know, those teachers that make the entire profession look clownish and evil (a very bad combination).

Would you want to work in an environment where the only persons who truly appreciate what you do are your coworkers? Chefs know they are good cooks. They need diners to tell them this, not other chefs.

But you know what the most amazing (and probably the most important) thing is? My wife doesn’t complain about it. Once or twice a year she’ll unload everything on me about the pressure and the stress and the feeling of being the scapegoat for issues that are entirely out of her control. 363 other days of the year, she wakes up at 5AM, goes to work, gets home at 4-10PM depending on what she has to do after the final bell rings, minus the summer and holiday breaks.

She doesn’t write letters to the editors of newspapers about how tough her job is and how little she gets paid. She doesn’t go on Facebook or Twitter and complain about how she went five years without a raise. Even got a Master’s Degree in Education Technology to make sure her students would have a teacher that understands technology as well as they do and uses it to implement new, more effective ways of teaching with the shrinking resources she has available.

She doesn’t gossip and complain to her friends or neighbors about how much it hurts to constantly hear how her profession is full of nothing but lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt and ethically inept leeches who are only interested in collecting a paycheck provided by your hard-earned money that got filched by the taxman.

A lot of people seem to believe this nonsense about “those who can, do. those who can’t, teach.”

This is one of the most backward statements I’ve ever heard. Those who can do it better than anyone else, they teach. Those who can’t, they struggle or give up and move on to something else. You may think teaching is easy, but you probably don’t realize how hard it actually is to teach someone something. Sure, you taught a friend how to use a nailgun or how to play a guitar, but can you teach 160 students over the span of five classes of one hour each, five days a week, to remember all of the important events between the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction? Could you teach them Algebra II? The different strata of rock in the planet’s crust and what time period they came from?

Remember, knowing a subject well doesn’t mean you can effectively teach the concepts and information of those subjects to others. What do you do when 6 of the 20 kids in a single classroom don’t understand something? What do you do if one of those 6 that doesn’t understand isn’t a native English speaker (and for the haters, let’s stress that these non-native types are here legally, because all of the kids my wife has that aren’t naturalized Americans are here as legal citizens or on temp visas etc, in one way or another)?

What do you do if two of those six kids who don’t understand have autism, or ADHD, or maybe their parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce that involves a lot of booze, screaming, and glasses being broken on a nightly basis? What if one of these students is LGBT and is being bullied/harassed by other kids?

There are a lot of things I don’t understand in life, but one thing I do understand even though I am not one, is a what a teacher is. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that teachers and schools are properly supported, not just financially, but supported by acknowledging that their jobs are one of the hardest there is, and that these teachers would never work at a job that paid so little for so much of their time with all of the negative backlash if they didn’t truly love what they did.

My wife doesn’t want to do anything else. She loves her job. All of the teachers I know love their job. I’m sure there are plenty of teachers who do not like their job. I’m just saying, all of the ones I know love their job and wouldn’t do anything else.

They all just wish everyone would recognize that because of them, your kid(s) get an education that will help them achieve the goals they set for themselves. Just like you did.

They don’t want a ribbon, a trophy, the key to the city.

They’d like to be paid a wage that reflects just how important their job is, and they’d like it if you didn’t cry about it too much just because you think your tax dollars shouldn’t go to making sure society’s children get a proper education.

PS: Those three months out of the year that teachers don’t work? Like I already said, teachers put in more hours in nine months than almost all of you reading this will put in at your job in an entire year.

But those three months… they spend that time either working a summer job to make ends meet, or they continue to educate themselves to be better at their profession so your children will benefit, or they just decompress so they can be recharged and begin the cycle all over again when school starts up in August.

If you don’t believe anything that I’ve written, befriend a teacher. Or go teach and see if it is as easy as you think. The first wall you’ll run into is just getting all the proper certs and tests and degrees for your subject matter taken care of before you can ever step foot into a classroom as a full-time, salaried teacher.

In the meantime, support your local and state school districts. The biggest crime we can commit as a society is to deny ALL children the best education that we as a modern, technologically advanced, fairly wealthy country, can provide.

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