Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shaking Those Moody Blues

Why can’t I concentrate? Why can’t I write brilliant, passionate prose?

The sad fact is that I’m too busy worrying about my day job.

Ah, the joys of being a young teacher. My school district finds itself in a bit of a levy bind… which means, if the taxpayers aren’t feeling generous in a few weeks, I can kiss my job goodbye. It’s a little thing we like to call “reduction in force,” (RIF) and in my neck of the woods it’s done entirely by seniority. Merit doesn’t matter. It’s a slap in the face to realize that I’ve been working my butt off for nothing. The disillusioned tenure jockey who hates children and flunks a third of his class? Totally safe from budget cuts… and he already makes $10,000 a year more than I do. But I’m young and idealistic, so I’m toast.

I know that every cloud has a silver lining. Truly, I do. I think if I lose my teaching job I won't wear myself out looking for another one. I’ll substitute, I’ll ponder my graduate school options (hello, history PhD program!), and I’ll write. It might actually end up being better for my long-term ambitions.

So what's the problem? I guess I’m just generally depressed, because many people in my community have been responding with such vitriol to the whole levy discussion.

Yeah, I’m a bleeding-heart teacher type. I’d gladly open my meager pocket book so that we can keep things like librarians and art in our schools (call me crazy, but I think librarians are important). At the same time, I can appreciate any reasoned and respectful viewpoint, even if it’s different from my own. Some people planning to vote no have articulated valid reasons for their choice. That’s great; that’s democracy.

But unfortunately, reactionary cruelty seems to be our general modus operandi… at least when it comes to online discussion. This is typical of many of the bloggers in my community (here responding to the prediction that the levy will pass): “how can it be the NO voters r in the minority? Gosh must be teachers counting the votes wrong? Folks will vote yes when Johnny can read and add! There is a very OLD saying out there, people whom can do people whom can't teach, seems nothing has change this last 20 years!”

I could focus on the misquoting of the old adage, which is actually, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach." Or I could focus on the irony of someone failing to use proper grammar while they bemoan “Johnny’s” inability to read and add correctly. I could also ask how cutting funding and mocking teachers is going to enable (or inspire) anyone in the education system to do a better job than they’re doing right now. Call me crazy, but I’m not motivated by punishment and derision.

Still, I’m not going to focus on any of those things. I’m just going to ask: why do some people think that it’s okay to abandon common courtesy when they’re commenting online? And why do teachers get so much flak? I know there are lousy teachers out there (see tenure jockey, above). But there are lousy people in every profession. That’s no reason to sneer at a whole group!

I just want to say to some of these bloggers, “I respect that your vote may render me unemployed. But please do me the same courtesy. Respect that, while I have my job, I’m honestly doing the best I can to teach your child. I am a highly capable person and I chose this profession. Let me have some dignity.”

Am I alone in thinking we could use a little online etiquette? And just how do I get my mind off things I can’t control? Let me know what you think!


Sam said...

AAAARGH! Teachers are one of the most-maligned professions in this country. Because we work with The Children, and because we do it at either taxpayer or parent expense, absolutely everyone -- whether parent or not -- feels justified in having an opinion about how we should do our jobs, whether we're doing our jobs, and what should happen to us if we don't do our jobs the way they say we should. Besides politician, I can't think of another career that has to put up with this much misinformed backseat driving.

And the union thing is another rant. Having never been in a union, I will freely admit that I'm on the outside here. But it seems to me that unions work best for less individualized jobs that don't require advanced degrees or strong personalities: cashier, factory worker, etc. Teaching is highly individualized, and as such it's totally unreasonable to base staffing decisions on nothing but seniority, as the unions require. It hamstrings principals, discourages good people from going into teaching (and school administration, for that matter), and ultimately does a great disservice to our kids. Unions have done some wonderful things for this country, but I think teachers' unions need some serious re-working.

Ok, rants over (for now). To answer your actual question, I'd just stop reading the local blogs. I did in fact stop reading my local equivalent, because the numbnuts like Johnny there were pissing me off so much. But first? I think you should post exactly what you wrote -- "Let me have my dignity" -- in response to these folks.

Good luck, babe!

Sam said...

(I'm afraid I might piss people off with that comment. It's something I'd love to talk about more, with respect on both sides, so please post if you disagree with me!)

(I didn't mean, by the way, that taxpayers shouldn't get to have an opinion about how schools are run. But they -- we; I'm a taxpayer too, of course -- shouldn't have the final say. It would concern me if taxpayers without medical training got to say, "I don't think my local state-funded hospital saved enough lives this year. Let's withdraw funding!")

Jaime said...

I'm quite a union fan, myself (they prevent teachers from getting fired for being gay, or because the new principal wants to hire their church choir director, or because they gave the school board's kid an F) but it is incredibly frustrating to know you may lose your job to someone far less qualified. I can lose my job because of cuts in elementary- if the elementary band teacher's job is cut and he wants my job, despite hating middle school and choir, he can have it.
Our levy is because our mayor is an idiot and spending $200 million on the new HS. The amount the schools fall short to pay for teachers? 12 million.
Luckily, my principal has some discretion over who gets cut, and music is safe- this year, anyway. Less luckily, my friend Ann has now gotten screwed twice- RIFed last year at our old school, and now here in our new one as well. (Worst of all, her job was restored in our former district- after she accepted this new one.)
On the plus side, Katie: when we get seniority, (and get it we will,) we will never lose our jobs because the Koreans started buildingbicycles/watches/widgets. Teachers may be expendable (in the shortsighted term), but we are NOT replaceable.
I'm with Sam- write that letter! Then turn off the news, go get a picket sign, and start knocking on doors. -J

Sam said...

they prevent teachers from getting fired for being gay, or because the new principal wants to hire their church choir director, or because they gave the school board's kid an F

Yeah, but laws prevent that, too. At least in theory they do. It's entirely possible that unions provide a necessary safety net when non-discrimination laws or "you can't fire me without a reason" laws (uh, I'm sure there's a more concise name for that) fail -- I don't have enough data to say. But it's not necessarily the case.

Jaime said...

Actually, laws aren't particularly effective at stopping that stuff. They are intended largely as a deterrent- and occasionally, somebody brings a case and makes a big hullabaloo to remind folks of that. But bringing a case takes years and years, and lots ofmoney- when a teacher does bring suit, it's almost always because they're being supported by their union. And in thevast majority of cases when they don't have to file suit, it's because of union support and mediation as well.
In a small school like yours, Ican see how a union would be less necessary- the pressure of the community, which includes the teachers, is small, and everyone knows everyone personally, is far more effective. But in my district, which includes 21 schools, nobody cares what's happening to one teacher in one school- or even necessarily to all the teachers in one school.
Our middle schools will be getting a new schedule next year- the same for all 4 schools. It's been decreed by the superintendent, and the principals have been lockedin a room somewhere far away, figuring it out. Nobody seems to care about the inputofthe teachers or students at all, and the only thing keeping them from adding an hour to the school day or making usteach an extra class or something is our union contract and negotiating team.

All that said, unions can and do support terrible teachers, oppose innovation, and block principals. I have serious issues with howthe nationalunions have positioned teachers s a profession- I think they've seriously compromised our ability to impact national education policy. But their benefits are enormous to me personally, and outweigh the downsides.

Sam said...

Thanks, Jaime -- that makes it clearer how the whole thing works, and what the up and down sides are. I was probably basing my opinion more on my school than I thought I was.

I suppose I wish that unions could leverage collective bargaining for things like reasonable work days and prep time, without supporting seniority and mediocrity over creativity and innovation. Do you think that's possible, or are they mutually exclusive?

Alyssa Goodnight said...

That sounds truly awful--I really hope it works out, because this country (and the world) definitely need dedicated, enthusastic teachers! Not to mention a heavy helping of courtesy training...