I’m a teacher. Some people think I’m a hero.
When others ask me what I do for a living, and I tell them, “I’m a teacher,” they get this glaze over their eyes, like the fate of the world lies in my hands.
Because in essence, it does.
I am one of those ones who looks at the future generation of America and think, “One day these kids will grow up and take over.” One day, I’ll talk to them over the phone to negotiate a better rate on my car insurance, I’ll ask one of them for a bank loan, heck one of them my even be in charge of my retirement account. And I, along with other teachers will help them get there.
So yeah, I’m something like a hero trying to save the future of America. But honestly, some days I feel like the scorn of the country.
In general, we’re not respected as professionals. Legislatures and side liners are quick to throw a blade in our general direction if students achieve anything less than a stellar performance on a standardized test. Education has gotten to the point where it’s less and less about the student and more about making someone else look good. I’ll have to admit, I’m a little guilty of this myself. I try not to be. I would like not to be. But the truth is, I like being employed and retaining a job that took six years and $30,000 in student loan debt to get.
In general, legislatures and side liners look at teacher unions like their the enemies of America. Not true.
As a professional teacher, my membership in my local union is the only thing that protects the slither of dignity I have while performing my job. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE teaching. I crave seeing the “light bulb” that pops off when some abstract concept clicks in a student’s head. I love attending meaningful professional developments that show me how to do my job better. I love being creative and thinking of innovative ways to make learning fun, as it should be. But it kills me when I know that I am hurting my students by bombarding them with tests. Nowadays, we no longer teach the child, we teach to the data, and regardless of what anyone says that bright-eyed, hopeful, and naturally inspired child is nothing but a number to anyone in education other than their teacher.
I’ve met teachers who have to negotiate for bathroom breaks, who have less than 10 minutes to eat lunch while monitoring their class while they eat, and whose only planning time during the day is taken up by miscellaneous meetings which forces them to spend hours at home grading papers and doing other work related tasks. Oh, and those summers that everyone outside of the profession that most people think make up for the nine month hardship? A lot of teachers use that time to attend professional development to get better at their jobs, make extra money working summer school or another job because teaching really doesn’t pay that much, or to make up for the lost time that they weren’t able to spend with their families during the year. These days, if a teacher isn’t careful, this job will drive them to a nervous breakdown. Trust me, I personally know of cases where this has happened. And, while I’m on the topic, how much is your sanity worth? 35, 40, maybe $45,000 a year if you’re lucky.
These heroes take it all in stride, knowing the risks, rolling with the punches, and tolerating the bs. Sure, to most people we’re saints, and they’re quick to put in a good word about teachers because it’s a job that most would pass up. But according to Representative Alan Seabaugh (LA), teachers don’t deserve a fair shake. In fact, he made it quite clear that he didn’t give a damn about teachers when he responded, “Hell no,” when asked if he would exclude teachers from a bill that would make it more difficult for them to pay union dues. The funny thing (but not really) is that he said it in a room full of teachers.
The truth is that I feel more like a hero now than I do in the classroom. I’m trying to save an institution that is the fabric of our nation. Public education as we knew it is fading fast. We are not producing life long learners, in some cases we reinforcing systemic failure and an unattainable, fast-fleeting American dream.