Monday, April 22, 2019
On May 8th teachers across Oregon will step out of our classrooms and take to the streets to raise our voices in unity to protest the proposed state budget. Current recommendations coming out of Salem will leave Oregon schools underfunded by a whopping 100 million dollars. Closer to home, this means that my own school district will be losing two millions dollars. In human cost, that's twenty educators.
Later this week the superhero film AVENGERS: ENDGAME will come out, putting to bed the current cycle of Marvel films which started over a decade ago when Tony Stark announced to the world, "I am Iron Man." ENDGAME will, presumably, solve the problem set into motion at the end of INFINITY WAR in which (spoilers for the two of you who haven't seen it, but it's on Netflix so come on), big bad Thanos collects all the Infinity Stones on his Infinity Gauntlet and snaps his fingers, effectively wiping out 50% of the population of the universe. (Side note: Did he kill half of all the universe's puppies? What a bastard.)
I don't know why the Oregon legislature saw AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and thought, "That Thanos guy has a point though."
This is not a new development. Teachers have slowly been asked to do more with less for as long as I've been a teacher. That's one of the reasons people in education circles who advocate "The best teachers do what needs to be done with a smile" are doing more damage to the profession than they are helping it. Ours is not to suffer. Ours is not to be martyrs. Ours is not to roll over and simply make do. It makes us easy targets. I've worked in a state (Hawaii) where we were inches from striking over a contract dispute, and the narrative quickly turns to, "Look at these teachers. If they loved their kids they'd do this for free. So greedy and lazy." Do you know what hurts our case when we try to argue against that? People in education circles saying, "Teaching is a passion and a calling, not a career." No, it's a job first. A job that's hard and a job that deserves to be treated with the same respect as lawyers and doctors. Let us also not pretend that a major part of the reason teachers get pushed around so much is that it is a traditionally female-heavy profession in the teaching ranks, but male-dominated in administrative ones, and the lawmakers, I feel safe in saying, have always been men. And if there's one thing the last few years have loved driving more super clearly, it's that men in power think they can push women around without consequence. This makes teachers an easy group for them to want to pick on. But not an easy group to actually pick on because I work with some smart, hard, badass women who won't put up with that kind of nonsense. Captain Marvel is about to shine that golden glove up real nice and shove it somewhere that'll make Thanos regret where he placed the Stones.
(I want to note here that I'm not gonna chase the Avengers metaphor too much deeper because I can't stand it when teachers call themselves superheroes either. It's not a super power, we're not heroes. The kids don't need saving. They need teaching and support. That's very different. So I'm good calling the Oregon Legislature Thanos, the baddie who murdered half the universe and thought he did good by doing it, but I'm not Doctor Strange...even though my chosen handle kinda resembles that. *makes wizard fingers*)
On May 8th all the teachers in my district, and teachers across my state, will line the streets and rally in city centers, doing our best to raise awareness for our plight. But it's important to me that people understand where we're coming from. Maybe someone might be thinking, "Twenty teachers? That's not that much." I'll illustrate it thusly- There are two fifth grade classes at my school. Except there's really four fifth grades classes at my school, and only two teachers to teach them. One of the fifth grade classes at my school has 39 students. The other has 40.
I'm not making these numbers up. If I were making them up I'd look at them and think, "Nah, that's ridiculous and no one would believe it. It's not even good hyperbole." 39 and 40 fifth graders. And that's just one grade level in just one school. Both of those teachers are amazing and they're doing work that is just mind-boggling, but they're both honestly doing the work of two teachers. I don't care how great you are, you can't be the best teacher the world with 40 eleven year olds in you room. In contrast, I've got 31 kids right now (maybe 32, there's a weird attendance thing happening right now). Now, in a normal person's mind, 31 fourth graders is a lot of fourth graders. My room is full up. But I've had upwards of 37 kids in a class before, so my personal scale is all screwed up. I'm no longer able to look at a class of 31 and think, "That's too many kids." And that's part of the problem. I've been trained not to notice how screwed up my own situation is. Could be worse, could be 40.
And if the Oregon Legislature snaps their fingers and makes 100 million dollars disappear, could be worse isn't the worst of it. Imagine, as Heather Marshall and Elion King on twitter suggested I do, that half the staff at my school vanished in a "Mr. Stark, I don't feel so good" puff of ash. If they can cut 100 million dollars, what's to stop them from cutting more? We're not quibbling over money at that point, because the willingness to do it, the willingness to look at education and think, "They've got more than enough" *snap* is already there. And when we complain they say, "But look at the wonderful work you've been doing with you kids! You've been doing so good and we're so proud of you. Less is more, after all, so here's less money and more kids." Less Music and PE. Less technology. Less aides. Less support. More expectations. More to lift.
My district, and many other districts across the state, are supportive of the Day of Action. They know. The beef is not with them because at some point we must look past the ends of our noses to the balled-up fist closing in for another shot. I'll be walking out with my fellow teachers, and I'll stand together with them every single time I'm called to. Because that's how we act for the kids. Doing this? This is for my students. They deserve the best, and by cutting 100 million dollars my state is saying they don't.
It's not too late to stop this snap. The Oregon Legislature can still hear what we have to say and see what they're going to do to the world of education. They can grab their own Time Stones and look into the future and see that teachers aren't going to stop coming at them until we are treated like the job demands we should be. Not because we're superheroes or called to it or being the best, but because you do not come for us and our kids and expect us to not come for you.
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.