There were tears in the hall again today. No, I don’t mean a child was crying. It was a teacher.
Many teachers have been laid off from their positions for next year. It is a hard time in the year already. It’s the time when we teachers have to say good-bye to the kids we’ve come to know and love, and for some of us, it’s time to say good-bye to the profession that we have extensively trained to do, and one that we feel is meaningful and important.
Unlike the business world, our customers have not disappeared. They need us more than ever. Many more kids take home food for the weekends. Many more kids come to school with learning delays and unstable situations at home. Our schools need to ramp up, but instead we are under attack.
I hear all the talk about how we need to change the system. Meanwhile, the funding is held hostage—no one wants to pay for the children. It’s funny, because in houses across the country and world, kids bring in no income and yet families will go to great sacrifices for their children. But as a society, we can’t seem to do that for the education of our children. We teachers generate no money and yet we “feed” children. We feed them knowledge, feed their self-esteem, and in doing so, we feed society. Yet, society is starving us.
We’ve all heard the talk about how teachers’ unions protect bad teachers. This talk is generating the lowest morale in the profession since I started 20 years ago. It is true there are downtrodden teachers with no time for self-reflection, and there are teachers with outdated practices, but there are very few truly poor teachers. The very idea that a bad teacher could invoke such ire speaks to the very importance of teachers. No one ever talks about the bad mail carrier or the bad fry cook. Ironically, we’ve refused to adequately fund our future based on the very idea that there are a few bad teachers, thus ensuring that there will be more ineffective teachers.
There’s a lot of talk about bills in the Oregon legislature that can transform education in Oregon—bills about mandating Oregon history lessons, appointing the state superintendent, requiring full day Kindergarten and a myriad of other ideas. These are merely icing on a crumbling cake. I admire their attempts, and some of the ideas I would jump on—but not now. With the current anti-tax mindset in this country, times are going to be very tough on educators across the country for years to come. We will be in survival mode only. We will have little time, energy and certainly no money for trying new strategies. Some feel that this crisis will force change, but I think it will only generate a bunker mentality. The increase in our teaching load will mean many extra hours planning differentiated lessons, grading, and merely trying to manage more kids in a class.
How do I know? I started teaching in California about 15 years after the implementation of Prop 13, a property tax cap similar to Oregon’s Measure 5. It is approximately 20 years after Measure 5, and I see the shrinking funding dooming the public schools in this state just as it dismantled a stellar system in California.
Teaching in California, I had 36 kids in my 5th grade. I had no prep period. I did yard duty at recess. We had no music program and no PE teacher. It was bare bones. I saw quality educators who worried about results and who pushed themselves hard to be great educators leave the profession. I predict that it will happen here. Increases in class sizes combined with the stress of making sure that every kid makes benchmark will be too much for truly dedicated teachers.
Any legislative or reform talk that does not first address a means in which to adequately fund education is a waste of breath. Put the kids and teachers first, and then we can truly work together to provide quality education for every child in Oregon.