Monday, October 22, 2007

Report From the Line. Part 3

Today I found myself back on the picket line for the start of a brand new week. I volunteered to go to the alternate site where I went last Tuesday. It was just too boring and discouraging at my assigned site. I'd much rather engage the passing traffic, regardless of the prevailing reaction of the community. There are still more encouraging displays than otherwise. A lot of people will honk as they pass and give us the thumbs up. The negative feedback is also intensifying, and more people are screaming out of their windows as they pass. As the days pass, and people feel more and more inconvenienced, I expect it to get worse. But for now it is OK. The only time I get upset is when someone yells "Get a real job!" That's one we have heard repeatedly from a "gentleman" in a BMW. It's almost as if he needs a replacement for his missing illegal immigrant maid.

It doesn't take a lot of work to find the folks that are truly against us. All I have to do is Google the strike, I can find message boards with frustrated people railing against teachers. I'm not sure where the angry sentiment comes from, but I can certainly speculate. There are a whole lot of folks out there that believe that they are self-made, and therefore resent whenever they perceive others as being "given" what they don't deserve. These are the people that were apparently self-taught. They will go to any lengths to ensure that they don't spend a single dime on the public welfare. Many of them still believe that everybody has an equal chance at getting rich, and that poor people deserve their lot in life. It's the prevailing mythology in the United States- the lore of self-reliance and the "free market". The cream rises to the top. At least that's the way they see it.

Others are products of private schools and would like to see public education disbanded. They fail to see that whatever remnants of a middle class are left in this society are still around primarily because of public schools. We teachers give many kids their only chance in life. That's a sad reality, but the truth nonetheless. Yet most people never make this connection. Many in the community I teach in moved there specifically to avoid the problems of the less fortunate. They pay less taxes and escape the social concerns of the city. Why should they be concerned about others? That defeats the purpose of leaving in the first place. And then these same people have the nerve to call teachers selfish for valuing their own labor. It smacks of hypocrisy and extreme self-interest to me. However when the schools attract others to the district, you will never hear them complain about the increase in their property values.

Critics of the teacher unions want to compare us to employees in the private sector. They say that workers rarely get annual raises or decent health plans. Teacher salaries are printed in the newspaper to be used as fodder for their arguments. But somehow we never find out how much these critics make, or what the perks of their jobs are. We never hear what they do. I think it should be incumbent upon them to explain the services that they provide to society. If we are going to compare teachers to middle management in (for example) financial corporations, then we should all be honest and forthcoming. How do we all benefit from the work that they do? How important are they to the functioning and future of our community? Are they indispensable? Would we be worse off if they disappeared? It seems that values have been turned backwards when we suggest that striking teachers should "Get a real job!"

Another popular idea concerns how easy teachers have it. They work a seven-and-a-half hour day with prep periods! They have summers off! Of course the requirements of the job extend past 40 hours per week. Certainly teachers must continue a process of lifelong education that encroaches upon their vacation. Don't forget that the teacher contract is 187 days long, and that's exactly what they are paid for.

In order to illustrate just how easy teachers have it- let's continue our comparison to the private sector. Picture a manager that is directly responsible for 120-150 people. He/she must spend 40 minutes each and every workday in the supervision of their training... in face-to-face interaction with each and every one of them. Add in such factors as a general reluctance to be managed, and a lack of socialization and maturity. Clearly some of the manager's charges are developmentally and/or emotionally disabled. These are people with the most basic of skills that will be expected (without exception) to achieve at a proficient level. None of them can be fired or transferred elsewhere. The manager is personally accountable for the security and well-being of everyone at all times. Aside from the training and supervision, the manager is wholly responsible for the evaluation and reporting of each individual's progress. And there are twice as many people who consider themselves to be the manager's "employers", who watch their every move... just waiting for them to slip up and do something to offend them. What do you think such a corporate manager would demand in compensation?



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