I’ve spent a large part of my life working in and with urban school systems in Milwaukee and around the country and I have always had, and continue to have, unbridled respect for teachers.
They’ve got a hard, important job that frequently goes unrewarded in comparison to the immensity of their work.
They are a favorite target for the right-wing zealots of this world. They don’t get paid enough. They don’t get enough time to plan and work collegially.
Hardly anybody says thank you to teachers, as we send our most precious resource, our children, to their rooms for a big chunk of the day.
I know teachers who make incredible sacrifices for the children they teach. They buy supplies out of their own pocket. They take work home and work on the kitchen table to make sure papers are corrected and the learning process continues unabated.
Often I find myself growing weary of the incredible criticism of teachers.
They are lazy. They only work nine months a year. They are only concerned about their own salaries and benefits, which are out of this world. We’d be a lot better off if we just graded teachers and got rid of the bad ones, the teachers whose kids don’t score well on standardized tests.
These are the kind of thing you hear all the time if you listen to the Rush Limbaughs and Mark Bellings of this world. If you listen to Scott Walker and pay attention to what he does, you will find yourself crazed by outlandish criticism of teachers.
Having established my bona fides in teacher love, I’ve got to wonder what happened to a symbolic act that would have done wonders for the reputation of teachers.
The union leadership proposed that teachers give up 2.6 percent of their salary in order to help reduce class size, one of the most important criteria for effective education.
The proposal was turned down overwhelmingly.
What teachers were saying was that they think they’ve made enough sacrifices and they aren’t willing to give up anything more.
On one hand I think they are right. Why in the world would we ask teachers, who are getting beaten up every day, to give up even a little bit of their hard-won pay and benefits and working conditions.
On the other hand, the teachers had a giant opportunity to give a huge middle finger to their critics and send a message to the rest of the community. I have no doubt that teachers care about their students. They really don’t need to prove anything, at least to me.
But to those rabid critics who have no sense of reason, this was a chance to take one plank of their argument away from them. This was a chance for the union to say to Scott Walker that even with all the crap he’s thrown at them and their schools, they are willing to give up a little more to help improve the education of their children.
The actual impact of this vote, either yea or nay, would not have had a major impact one way or another. Given the way that school systems, including Milwaukee’s, can’t keep track of all their money, this pittance may well have ended up in the wind.
But the symbolism of the act would have been immense. It would have been a giant “Shut Up” to the manic fire breathers who love to bash teachers.