Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

May 4th -May 8th is a Teacher Appreciation Week, wee dedicated to teachers and school staff to "appreciate all the hard work we do and the difference we make in the lives of our students." 

What a way to backhand a "token" of appreciation by proposing a 7% cut of teachers' and staff's meager hard-earned coins! 

Here in Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education showed their immense appreciation for the work we do by rejecting the basic tenets of our proposed contract, and suggested  a whopping  7% take home pay cut.

In recent conversations with other educators and activists, the level of regard the teaching profession receives by society, as well as policy makers has come into question. The consensus is, we are devalued. There would hardly be any argument when I say that teachers are the most underpaid, and overworked professionals, (after mothers of course and tied with nurses). Many will say the short amount of time and preparation it takes to become a teacher of record, or even gain the credibility to stand in front of students and educate them, is minimal, and appalling compared to the work that is asked of us. Yet, with an ever evolving and demanding demographic of poor public school attending students,  the expectations and responsibilities of the classroom teacher are growing and exacerbating.

Let's get one thing clear, this offer by the Chicago Board of Education is egregious, and downright insulting. For all beginning teachers, between 1-3 years, this translates to roughly $3,500 salary deduction. That is worth a full two week check and then some. No we are not in it for the money, but legions of teachers are not getting paid nearly as much as the value of the services we provide. The proposed pay cut implies a direct rejection of our professionalism, our value, and vitality of the role of a teacher in the community as well as the life of a child.

To my reader, think back on your elementary years. Next to your parents, who made the most memorable impact in your life? Most often, it was a teacher. Yesterday, I sent a page long text to my 6th grade, with whom I have formed a friendship with over the years. In this text I thanked her for teaching "East is where the sun rises, west is where the sun sets" among other things. It helped that she was still present throughout middle school. And she is still there now, serving as the assistant principal. Teachers are professional landmarks, or at least that is how most of us remember them as. They bridge the gap between home, community, and school. They can serve as your best character witness, aside from immediate family members. Additionally, they should be taken as trusted sources of wisdom for students to tap into throughout particular phases in life, and in my case, over years.

I juxtapose my experience with teachers, with those around me, and even the type of educator I have become. I can honestly say it is difficult for me to zone in on each and every one of my students, in the midst of all that is asked of me. And my students need more from me than I needed from mine. With the increasing pressures from standardized testing, and other superfluous responsibilities per school administration and school districts, teachers similar to ours from the past are far and few between: they are overwhelmed, and pushed out. While forming a true friendship with a former teachers may be rare, it should not be impossible. Today, most teachers burn out within 3-5 years of being a teacher of record. Inadequate pay, insufficient preparation to deal with a demanding set of children, and being forced to gamble between educating for mastery and the LOVE of learning, imparting life skills versus standardized testing objectives, are all reasons why schools are seen and understood as a revolving door.

When I came into the teaching profession, I had a cape on. Now that thing is ragged, torn, and has all but burst into flames. I surely had no idea that I would encounter what has befallen me within the past years. I am certain this is a result of not only my lofty expectations, but how hard they make it for us to do our job, and do it well, and frankly, love what we do. And when I say they, I am referring to appointed and elected board members, policy makers on every level. While all the standardized responsibilities are constructed in an effort to raise accountability, we cannot skirt their underlying impact on teachers arduous road to achieve the coveted "Rockstar" status.

As true veteran teachers can attest to, it takes time, and much reflection to become a Rockstar. However, today's teacher is becoming ever more transient, and school boards and policy makers, ought to bear most of the blame for it. You give a recent college grad 6 weeks to a school year worth of training, pinch their pay, then threaten to cut it, (thus keeping costs low), provide inadequate services to neighborhood schools, close 50 neighborhood schools, incite near panic within schools during testing season, (which is most often all year long), expectedly you force young passionate individuals to scurry toward the next thing.

While this week is intended to celebrate all that we do, I cannot accept it as a genuine jubilation, where my professionalism and presence is valued. But rather, appreciation that my stay was not long and confirmation I am replaceable.

- The Jaded Educator

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