The first person I ever heard voice a hatred of teachers was Rush Limbaugh. It wasn't a specific teacher that he hated. That would have been understandable. He espoused a hatred of teachers in general. I was still pretty young, although too old to be a "traditional" college student, and working over forty hours a week as a dishwasher. I was also commuting almost four hours a day round trip to attend college. I had two young daughters and couldn't afford to move to the town my college was located in, and I wanted to be a teacher.
A little background is in order. I grew
up dirt poor. My father had been a lead miner and had never made it past seventh grade. He dropped out of school to support his grandmother, who raised him, and several members of his extended family. He worked as a butcher and then got a really good job in the mines. He worked there for about twenty-five years, until shortly after I was born. Then, the mines started closing. Companies were using less lead. After all, that whole lead is poison thing bothered some people. Without a high school diploma, my father found it impossible to find another job. I can remember him leaving the house to put in applications every single day except Sunday. However, a guy in his late 40s without a diploma didn't have much of a chance, especially in the economically disadvantaged area we lived in. So, we survived on what my mother made as a short-order cook--a little, very little, above the minimum wage.
We ate squirrel and wild rabbit and deer. If you have never eaten squirrel, don't. It tastes about like you would expect. Day after day, I watched my dad become more downtrodden, waiting by the phone for someone to call. He had a lot of skills. He was an excellent mechanic. He could run any piece of heavy machinery put in front of him, but so could some younger folks with a high school diploma. I didn't have any of these skills. I still can't put together a bookshelf. I could read and write well, however.
Still, it wasn't like I wanted to be a teacher from a young age. I wanted to be Ric Flair or Terry Funk. I didn't go to a great school. I didn't make great grades, and I wasn't considered to be on the "college track." A poor town usually has a poor school. I read the same books in my English classes from seventh grade to my senior year. It was all we had to choose from. I had some fantastic teachers though that noticed I had an affinity for English. My ninth grade English teacher and the school librarian started bringing me books to read from their personal libraries. I will always be thankful for the copy of Leaves of Grass our librarian put into my hands one day right before the final bell rang. It changed my life.
I finally got my shit together my senior year of high school. I knew by then that I probably wasn't cut out for anything outside of writing or literature, mostly because those were the things I liked. If you think this makes me a bad person, fine. If you want to throw out the argument that "teachers teach and others do" then okay.
I'm fine with that too. Someone has to do it. In any event, my grades went up and so did my interest in college. I went to a community college first because it was all I could afford. There, I had a string of wonderful professors. When you are working full time and going to school full time, you sometimes just want to quit. They kept encouraging me. One teacher in particular, Linda Johnston, went out of her way to make sure I kept at it. She taught me how to submit my writing for publication and kept on encouraging me through a string of rejections. This is when I started to think that being a teacher was for me. I had previously thought about going into editing, advertising or even law--all fields that English majors thrive in and places where they can make a lot more money than teachers.
At this point, however, education started to represent something for me that went beyond just having a job. My dad once told me that he would have liked to have been a veterinarian, but circumstances kept him from it. Circumstances should have stopped me as well. After all, I was poor, married young,
and had children. We lived on a lot of corn dogs in those early days. So you see, education wasn't just a way for me to get out of poverty. It was a way to help other people get out. Where I lived, working at Wal-Mart or in a factory was about all there was to do. A lot of the factory jobs were good ones. Nice pay, benefits, etc. I could have made a decent living--until they started to lay people off, of course.
Instead, I decided I wanted to help students in situations as bad or worse than mine had been. I wanted to let them know that getting an education was possible, even for the very poor. Sure, if your parents don't have a lot of money then you are going to have to work twice as hard. Well, I tell them, work twice as hard.
Obviously, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with these jobs. A lot of people I know working them are making more money than I will ever make. Good for them. I am saying that the choice should be there. College is not for everyone, nor should it be. I get a lot of students who think that they have to be in college when it is obvious they would be happier just about anywhere else. To them I say, go do what makes you happy. The choice and the ability to be able to go or not is what is important. I digress. Getting people who want to be in school the opportunity to do it is a different argument.
I admired my teachers. I looked up to them, and it never crossed my mind that people could dislike them as a whole. Then I heard Limbaugh. Any frequent reader of my column here knows that I'm about as liberal as a liberal can get. A lot of teachers are. I get it. Though the numbers aren't what Rush and Fox and Friends would like you to think. I have known a lot of very good, conservative teachers--Linda Johnston for example. What I haven't known, ever, as a student or an educator, is a teacher who tries to indoctrinate their students into their political point of view. I'm sure there are a few out there, but there really aren't that many.
In a lot of English classes, especially the ones that focus on argument, there is plenty of room for class discussion. I have never let my own political views come through. I don't tell them who I am voting for or what I think about the death penalty or legalizing weed or anything else. I want them to be able to think critically and for themselves. So we'll read articles from both points of view, and my students will come to and write about their own conclusions.
Rush sees it differently. He writes, "[teachers] are left-wing activists, active members of unions who are oriented first by a political agenda, second by their own well-being, and your kids come last. Can we just get that out in the open?"
He goes on to say, "The whole educational system has been co-opted by people who have found an easy way to a good living, and they realize it and they don't want to give it up without a fight. It's always about the money, particularly from people on the left who claim they are motivated by everything but money. They're motivated by good intentions, by their big hearts. They're inspired and motivated by their desire for good works. It's always about the money -- and as easy money as they can get."
I'm here to tell you that I'm not sure how easy or good the money is. I guess there might be some private schools or schools in rich neighborhoods where teachers are really cashing in, but that's not the norm. The average teacher salary in Missouri, depending on district, runs around $30,000 to 45,000 a year. The average of all districts is right at $42,000.
I'll admit, this is nothing to sneeze at. It's certainly better than the average salary of a dishwasher (which is what I did from the time I was 15 until I graduated at about 30--late, I know, but there were times I had to take off to work and just save money). Yes, most of us get insurance. I pay close to seven hundred dollars a month for mine. I'm fine with that. I'm also fine with paying more taxes so that everyone can have some sort of health insurance. Of course, that's a different debate.
What about summer's off?
You might ask, don't you all get a three month long vacation every year? That is mostly a myth. Many of us teach at least a few classes in the summer. Some of us don't. During the school year, however, we are all working more than forty hours a week. Especially grade school and high school teachers. They not only have classes all day, they have a ton of after-school activities they have to attend, stuff to grade, lesson plans to make, etc. So if this is an easy, get rich scheme, then we went wrong somewhere.
We aren't saints. I love my job for many reasons and there is certainly some selfishness in that. It's not like I'm doing a job I hate just to help the kids. I'm doing a job I love and hopefully helping as many students as I can along the way. All of us have had difficult teachers. Perhaps they were
tough graders or perhaps they were just plain assholes. It happens in every field. That's no reason, however, to throw a blanket over all of them like this anonymous internet poster:
You need to understand teachers never develop inter-personal skills. They go to Primary School,
High-school, University (maybe) then to teachers
college nd right back into school. They
rarely ever have a long term job where they learn how to get along with people in the world.
Their entire experience is academia. Their friends are usually always other teachers because
they can't relate to anyone else. They treat everyone around them as if they are children because,
again they can't relate to anything else, and yet teachers alway believe they are correct in
everything they do. They are never wrong.
They should be pitied really...
One of my professors offered to pay for me GRE because she had heard I was having trouble coming up with the hundred bucks it cost at the time. I didn't take her money, but will always remember and appreciate the gesture. It didn't seem to me to come from someone who had trouble with socialization.
The root of the problem, I think, comes from a bad economy. When people are struggling, which a lot of people are, it's easy to look at someone who has any sort of steady job with some envy and some anger. I've been there. I've been angrier than Chuck D about what it is like to be poor in this country. People look at teachers and think that we cannot be fired for anything short of throwing a drunken orgy on the Dean's front lawn.
If only. What most folks think tenure means is not what it means anymore. Perhaps it once did. That's up for debate. These days, it's a lot more complicated. First of all, more and more schools, colleges, and universities are slowly getting rid of it. At the college level, we have a lot of adjuncts. Many of them teach almost a full load for not much over minimum wage. They don't get any sort of insurance or benefits. A lot of full time professors aren't being offered tenure anymore. It's going the way of the dinosaur. Most teachers work 3-6+ years before they are even eligible for it. Then it only means, basically, that you can't be fired without a reason. That reason can be as simple as we no longer have the money. That's it. Just like every other worker in America, we'd like to be told why we are being let go. It does come with a pile of new job and service responsibilities, sometimes, not always, a small raise and not much else.
It's not just teachers any more either. There are folks out there attacking fire fighters and police officers as well. Next it will be the postal service, mental health workers and any "service" job that
seems steady. Again, I get it. A lot of Americans are out of work and would kill for any job that they knew they'd still have in a year. I'm with them. I do have a good job, and I wish all of these folks did too. Attacking the people who work them isn't the way to go about it. Instead, let's try attacking the system. Let's send a message to our government to start working together. Not everything has to be politicized. Fox news and MSNBC make a lot of money trying to convince us that we are two separate species--Conservative and Liberal. That no matter the issue, we cannot possibly agree or want the same things. This is, frankly, bullshit. I can't believe that there aren't certain things we all want--less unemployment, for people not to go hungry, for people to be able to get help when they are sick, the right to a quality education, etc. However, as long as the people in power are of the idea that party affiliation and votes matter more than actually doing something, we are in trouble. Republicans and Democrats aren't football teams that we just blindly root for. These people are in charge of making important decisions that will change our lives for better or worse. That is, they should be. They don't seem to make a lot of decisions at all these days. The only people benefiting from this blind hatred liberals and conservatives seem to have for each other are politicians and the media. They are all cashing in on it.
I want to be clear that I'm not just ragging on conservatives either. This mess is a two (or more) way street. Plus, when it comes to education a lot of conservatives are standing up to their far right brothers and sisters. Take a look at this article from the Dallas Observer for example:
There are also a lot of liberals on the "hate teachers" bandwagon. Sorry you got that "C" in math.
I know there are some problems with our educational system. Teachers know this better than anyone. A lot of students, like I did, are going into debt they'll never be able to pay off only to find out that there aren't a lot of jobs out there even for folks with a college degree. Poor people get, in general, a worse education that people with more money. What do we do about it? That's complicated. That's a discussion worth having. A discussion not worth having is the idea that we are out there trying to brainwash your kids. I'm too busy trying to teach them how to put a subject and a verb in the same sentence for that. In fact, the first thing I want for
your kids is for them to be able to write well enough to do a resume or cover letter when they apply for a job.
After that, I want them to learn how to pick apart an argument critically so that when they watch Fox News or MSNBC they can detect the bullshit that is being shoved down their throats on a constant basis. Most of my students don't want to be writers. In fact, they want to have as little to do with it as possible. That's fine with me as long as they can do these two things by the time they leave my class.
Those that do want to be writers, well I have a class or two for that as well.