Where Were You?
It hasn’t been easy being a teacher. In my 15 years working in Los Angeles public schools I have encountered scenes of heartbreak and devastation that would break a saner person.
Maybe I’m not sane. I’ve always thought that you have to be just a little “off” to be successful in the hard to staff schools like those in which I’ve worked. You have to be able not to blink in the face of questionable management, politically bankrupt school boards, and parents and students who sometimes hone in on you as the enemy for trying to hold them accountable.
But my 15 years as a teacher pale in comparison the 30, 35, or even 40 years some of my colleagues have worked to serve students and their communities. I cannot fathom how they must feel, getting ready to retire during a time when their contributions, efforts and sacrifices as educators are being devalued and besmirched by the media, corporate vultures, and politicians. At a time when we should be honoring the service they have provided to children, loud voices are painting them in broad strokes as an ineffective, malignant force that should be replaced with younger, “idealistic” robo-teachers who can “turn schools around.”
Which leads me to wonder: loud voices, where were you?
You, the corporate vulture, who all of a sudden realized that “fixing schools” is a good
way to earn social cachet while at the same time filling your pocket with the vast earnings potential of the privatization of the school system. Where were you? Where were you when the teachers had to take home lab equipment daily for fear of evening or weekend vandalism break-ins that were so regular and predictable you could set your watch to them? When our students couldn’t play on the field because of shots fired in the neighborhood? Why didn’t you come fix my school then?
You, the philanthropist, where were you? Where were you when my students came to school hungry and angry? When mold and asbestos was infesting our campus? When my students lacked textbooks and computers? When 100 teachers had to share two LCD projectors? When teachers had to pay out of their pockets for snacks for children, supplies for the classroom, and sometimes even paint jobs for their old, decrepit rooms?
photo from imageshack.com
You, the politician, where were you? Where were you when our school was plagued with drive-by’s that resulted in frequent lock-downs and drop and cover commands? Not drills; but actual crises and emergencies? When California’s education spending kept getting cut, cut, and cut, until the moment we became 47th in per pupil spending?
Photo from solidaridad.blogspost.com
You, the school board, where were you? Where were you when blatantly incompetent administrators were praised and promoted to positions in the district in spite of the well-known fact that some preyed on young, new, female teachers, were stealing from schools, or were making bare minimum efforts to actually perform work? When they hired their relatives and friends, and gave vast power to unqualified cronies? When teachers and administrators who were truly doing a good job and fighting against these ills were fired, harassed or transferred for speaking out?
You, the intrepid newspaper reporter, where were you? Why did you fail to report the neglect and abandonment afforded to South Central schools in the 80’s and 90’s and 00’s? You weren’t with us, the teachers. We banded together when the L.A. Riots occurred in 1992, and our students’ communities were burned down and destabilized. We were there for the rise of gangs who preyed on our innocent students who were robbed or assaulted on the way home from school. We were there when the child came to school like a zombie the day after his brother, mother, or father died. We were there when they were IN school the day they received the news and collapsed to the floor in grief.
Where were you? The silence was deafening.
Now, everyone says they know what is wrong with schools and how they should be fixed. But I must ask why now? What is happening today that wasn’t happening 10, 15, 20 years ago? Financial opportunities? A chance to usher in the voucher system under a new guise? A time to destroy the strength of unions and replace veteran teachers with cheap labor? All of the above?
Arenas photo from Getty images
Or perhaps it’s something deeper than that. At a time when corporate greed rises to unfathomable levels of egregiousness, when celebrities and athletes live like they know no bounds, when politicians feel they can preach one way and act another, perhaps the symbolic figure of a teacher is a nagging, uncomfortable reminder of what it means to be employed in an honorable profession. Maybe they hear the voices of their second grade teacher telling them it’s not okay to steal, to say unkind words to their neighbor, or to tell lies. Or the middle school teacher who tells them that not putting forth their best effort is unacceptable. Or the high school teacher who encourages students to be true to themselves and follow their dreams.
photo from Time magazine
Maybe, when people spread demeaning propaganda and people fall for it, the Ben Austins, the Jason Songs, the Michelle Rhees are disturbed that the teachers don’t. They get frustrated that we point out the fallacies in their logic; that we know how to connect the dots and make predictions. In short, that we are the critical thinkers, and they want us to stop, to silence us before we continue passing this skill onto the children.
But this noble profession will not stop. We will not go quietly into the night. We will continue speaking the truth, we will continue challenging the false information spread by these loud voices. We will continue serving our students, and we will have the parents behind us because no one knows more than they who truly has the best interest of their child in mind. They know we were there for them when the others weren’t. The loud voices should consider whether they really want to take on this fight. Because the small percentage of vocal teachers seen at union rallies are a pittance compared to the massive numbers of our colleagues around this nation that will unite and fight to keep education free from those who would distort it to fulfill their own interests. We will fight for the right of the public to know the truth about what is being said about teachers and schools, and who stands to benefit the most from the privatization of public schools. And we will win the fight.