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This is a post from my blog that I wrote back in 2018 when the “Red for Ed” frenzy, to increase Arizona’s education funding, was happening.
I’m an educator with a different perspective from what you probably see in the media regarding Red for Ed protests. I worked in public schools for 12 years, as an afterschool provider, teacher, administrator and more. I’ve taught in three states and don’t claim to be an expert in everything education, but I have my experiences, and don’t agree with what’s happening. Let me explain.
1. We chose to be teachers and knew it didn’t pay much. Most of us don’t pick this field for the money, but we are accountable for our choices. You can easily research pay scales, benefits, etc. for districts and states. We do our searching, make our choice and sign the contract. I had a professor spend an entire class explaining how he supported his family on a meager teacher’s salary, with sacrifices, but he made it work, and encouraged us to really ponder this before moving on in the program.
But, some argue, the hours, all the hours and little pay don’t balance out. I know the hours dedicated teachers put into their jobs, I’ve been there. We do what’s expected, then more because we care. I cried when I got my first paycheck, after deductions, it wasn’t much more than what I made in college. In time though, I came to appreciate the other benefits of my job, like healthcare, retirement plan, and days off.
Yes, days off. I enjoyed the flexibility of choosing to relax, travel, catch up on work, or find ways to earn extra money. Teachers are nine, maybe ten-month employees. I know they take work home, often go in on weekends and holidays, and prep during the summer, but ask your friends in the private sector, I’m sure they don’t get the time off you do. Also, I’ve seen the breakdown of teacher salaries into $/hour. It’s low, but we’re not alone. My husband is active-duty infantry in the army; you want to compare little pay per hour spent at the job? It’s no contest, he wins. Or rather–he loses.
2. Have you done your due diligence? Outdated supplies and grotesque conditions in schools are understandably frustrating and should be fixed. But are administrators always making the right decisions? I worked at a high school of 1,100 students with a principal and three assistant principals — three! Their combined salaries were almost $500,000. In another district, schools hadn’t seen updates in years, but administrators were able to get brand new tablets. Is this the wisest use of district funds?
According to the Auditor General Report in Arizona, “…between fiscal years 2004 and 2016, the percentage of resources spent on instruction declined…. At the same time, the percentages spent on administration, plant operations, food service, transportation, student support, and instruction support have all increased.” In this chart, you see Arizona falls below the national average for dollars going towards instruction, yet they spend the same or more in other areas. Why isn’t the money going directly to the classroom? Can every person who is protesting say, with 100-percent assurance, that their district uses every dollar wisely and there’s nothing that can be done better?
But my administrators are wonderful, they’re not the bad guys! Them — the legislature! They’re the bad guys!
This isn’t a good guy, bad guy thing. It’s about honestly assessing if any improvements can be made. So before marching off to the capital, try scrutinizing your district’s budget reports. Sure it’s not as exciting — and doesn’t make for good selfies — but give it a go.
3. Demands on teachers increase every year. This — I wholeheartedly agree with — 100 percent! New federal and state requirements, district policies, the work keeps piling up and never stops. But why? My mentor teacher said something that’s always stuck. She said when she was younger, schools were responsible to teach reading, writing, math, science, and social studies–go figure? Now add in character education, health, hygiene, sex ed, food programs, psychological services, the list never ends; for decades schools have implemented programs to fill the gaps from home and they are overstretched. Schools are failing because parents are failing. Why are we not having this conversation? Of course, quality teaching is important to student learning, but so is quality parenting. As one veteran teacher remarked, “They don’t make parents like they used to.” And that is the truth.
Teachers and schools are not miracle workers. What can they do about the student who can barely read, but falls asleep in class every day because he’s up till 10 playing video games? Or the 5th-grade boy who cusses, gets in the face and verbally threatens his teacher, and when dad gets to school, all blame goes to the 5’3″ woman. Or the girl caught blatantly cheating on a test, but still gets her birthday bash that weekend. Or the boy suspended for drawing violent pictures about teachers from school, and his mom takes him to Disneyland the next week. (Yes, you read that correctly.) This is just a smidgen in my slew of personal stories; ask anyone who’s worked with kids, they have their own. What has happened in our culture?! Let’s start that conversation! As educators, we are some of the leading experts on how a child’s home life impacts their success at school, why are we so mum about it?
Because it’s out of our control, we might offend people, there’s no easy solution.
True, true, and true, but what’s the alternative? You put all your frustration on a small group of people — point finger, blame, dehumanize, yell, and hate. Such is the pattern in our society these days.
4. Make realistic requests.
Have you read the demands of the Oklahoma Education Association? The state boosted the average teacher pay 16 percent by proposing the state’s first tax increase in 28 years. This would bump the average OK teacher salary to $51,376, slightly higher than the state’s median household income of $50,943. But this didn’t meet all their demands, so on strike they went. For nine days. What were the demands? Included in the expensive list was a cost of living increase for retirees — sooo more money for people who don’t work with kids anymore, and a $5,000 raise for school-support staff. I know it sounds nice but giving people money, just because, is not realistic. Is bus driving now a highly skilled, highly trained job? As wonderful as the crossing guard is, does she impact student achievement? Giving employees money as a thank you for being great is a privilege the private sector has, not the public sector, whose pay is funded by taxpayers.
When I taught in Washington, there was an initiative on the state ballot, and more on local ballots, to decrease class sizes. Also, that year districts were picketing and striking for more funding, specifically higher pay. Taxpayers heard, “make my job easier and pay me more money.” Pick one! In a teacher’s lounge discussion about this, one staff member snickered, “We really just want to get paid more.” And you know, I’m ok with that! Who doesn’t?! But when you are at the mercy of the taxpayers, be reasonable and realistic. I know the protesting states have seen funding cuts, years without raises, and more. Most people wouldn’t argue with some change, but be careful what you ask for, or rather what you demand. Talk to your friends in the private sector, how often have they dealt with years of stagnant pay, pay cuts, and layoffs? Can they demand a 20 percent raise and walk out of the job if they don’t get it?
5. You’re either with us or against us in the fight to fund education.
Really? So either I completely agree with your movement or I hate teachers and kids? What if I am a teacher, what if I have kids, in the public schools? Why do things have to be so polarized? This is neither fair or realistic as life is not so black and white. I know many people who appreciate teachers and don’t’ like to see schools struggle but they simply don’t want to get taxed more. They’re struggling too, your parents, the voters, they want to keep money in their paychecks like you want to see more. Both are fair. I know small business owners who, between the recession, Obamacare, and minimum wage spikes, are strapped. You can’t nickel-and-dime people because you think you have the moral high ground.
Then tax the big corporations! Remember things are not just black and white. Take my home state, Arizona. Many businesses have been relocating to AZ because of low corporate taxes, especially from their highly taxed neighbor to the West. Businesses bring jobs, growth, and money, do you want that to leave? And the “us against you” mentality isn’t reserved only for the public. In Washington, I heard stories of past strikes where teachers, who had the nerve to show up to work, had rocks thrown at their cars. Speaking of strikes…
6. A strike will hurt the people you claim to love. It’s difficult to make-up curriculum missed from an assembly let alone days of striking. Kids will lose out on learning, period. And their parents? They are left scrambling to find a place to send them. You care so much, what about a parent who has to miss work and lose pay to watch their kid? In Arizona, there was talk of graduation dates being pushed back due to the strike. Think about the implications and how this makes you look. I respect other tactics, but I don’t agree with going on strike. In the words of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
[…a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.
7. Playing the martyr. I had a professor warn us not to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge because of the negative cesspool that sucks you in like a poison. He was right; many teachers have a “woe is me” attitude. I know disrespectful students, crazy parents, and piled-up demands can suck the soul out of you … just suck it right out! But all the complaining, coupled with the chip on some’s shoulder that what they do is so important, and soo unappreciated, and they are sooo superior to their peers, who (gasp) work only for the money, irks me. I didn’t go into teaching for the praise of my peers or accolades from society; if you did, you chose the wrong profession. When I was a teacher I knew what I did mattered and that it made a difference, I knew it was unappreciated and hard, but I had my reasons for choosing it; I didn’t need a bumper sticker or t-shirt telling the world that I cared about kids and therefore was amazing for all my sacrificing. Plenty of people sacrifice for their jobs and many jobs help our communities; we’re not the only ones.
Once I was waiting for a staff meeting to start, it was the usual gripe session: unruly kids, apathetic parents, late nights for conferences, data reports, etc. Don’t get me wrong … I was right there with them. This job is taxing. But as I looked around at our library, humble but nice, the pleasant view out the windows, the tasty pot luck my wonderful principal organized, my thoughts turned to my husband. Weeks away in the hot desert for job training with almost no communication, where he slept on the ground, ate MREs, and used a wet wipe for a bath, I thought to myself, Gosh, we are such whiners. Can’t we just look at the positive, be grateful for what we have, and do our jobs. And maybe try to find joy in it.
“But I have done my job!” shouts the menopausal teacher as she bangs her fists on the desk. “I’m done looking for the positive, it’s time to show my wrath!” She’s met with a roar of applauds, cheers, likes, and shares.
Ooo-kay, you’re entitled to your feelings. So am I. Can we please stop with the self-righteous indignation? Maybe it’s just me, but when people go fishing for sympathy — or scream for it in my face — I just get annoyed.
“But it’s justified because teachers have the most important job in society!”
Parents do. And they’re failing.
8. Money isn’t a magical fix. Yes, increased funds and higher teacher pay can make some difference, but it will not solve everything. Here are two articles that say increased spending improves student achievement.
In my ever, ever humble opinion, it’s not the answer. Families are. Education is already the number one expenditure in most states. In 2015, New York ranked first in per-pupil spending ($19,818), Utah ranked last ($6,555), yet Utah’s students consistently outperformed New York’s.
I lived in western Washington where they just love to vote themselves into higher taxes. I think they confuse taxation with charity; they’re not the same thing. The result was a very expensive place to live with average schools. The teachers I worked with were dedicated, the district had program after program to help students, yet they ran across the same problems I’ve seen elsewhere. We can give our hearts and souls to our students and make some impact, but what happens in the walls of their own homes (or doesn’t happen) has the greatest impact.
In conclusion: I understand the frustration. However, I would like to see more personal research and less bandwagon jumping, more facts and responsible spending by all, and mostly, let’s start the conversation — the campaign — to advocate for stronger families. I’ll wear those shirts every day. “Stronger families, stronger schools, stronger communities.” Or, “Where have all the fathers gone?” Or, “That device will never replace you as their parent.”
If we truly care about kids, we need to advocate for what most matters to them: safe, stable, caring, responsible families. That is the bedrock of a society.