Dis-Interest Group

I understand why politicians want to see labor as the cause of most of our societal and economic problems. It takes the focus off the banks, the corporations, the military-industrial complex. But public school teachers? I guess they really are sort of greedy and grabby — not to mention rich. Especially those greedy-grabby public school special ed teachers. My younger brother is one of them, and boy, is he raking it in. Talk about take, take, take.

The above is from author Anne Lamont’s Op-Ed in the LA Times this AM.   I read it over breakfast and began to ruminate over my last day before school starts.  It is Labor Day.  A cough that Kate can’t shake is keeping us close to home.  With school starting for me this week, we are missing out on a chance for her to see her godmother, who is my cousin, and, by extension, her godmother’s new baby, i.e. my new 3rd cousin. But family tree aside, It’s just as well.  Today’s Op-Ed is a reminder that some of my family members, who are confirmed, or borderline, dittoheads, actually don’t like what I do for a living, even if they would never say it to my face. I mean, c’mon, aren’t I, and my wife, to blame for the budget mess?

My colleague at school, while we both working to get our rooms ready last week, caught me as I walking back up the ramp to what I call my “FEMA” portable, and out of the blue, she was musing about why she ever decided to listen to the screaming and recall California Governor Grey Davis.  I withheld serious fire, but I did point out to her that my wife and I did predict what ultimately transpired to California, under Schwarzengger, even while in-laws had accused us of not knowing what we are talking about at the time. Nevertheless, the resultant mess has never been laid upon the feet of those most responsible, instead, I still hear, especially with the union-busting that took place in Wisconsin earlier in the year, that I belong to an interest group.  That politicians who are “concerned” about what I do for a living, are more concerned with figuring out ways to get me fired (and that fact, sadly, thanks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, means it is coming from both sides of the political aisle) rather than to recognize that if I work for an interest group, it’s not necessarily for the adults in the the room with me, it’s for the kids who will file into my room on Thursday morning.  Unfortunately for these kids, they aren’t the ones who get to decide what will ultimately happen to them.  As little of a voice I might have, they have none.

Tomorrow morning, I head into school for what promises to be a morning of “fellowship”, even though I know, that in a several instances, it will quickly devolve into the sort of canned comments that reinforce the misconceptions about why most of us became teachers in the first place.  All I can do is roll my eyes.  I didn’t become a teacher to have summers off.  I wish the school year was longer and there were more hours in the school day.  I wish that if standardized tests are to be used to grade teachers, that they ultimately figure into student grades as well.  And I wish that any number of my colleagues would stop voting against their own self-interest when they support candidates that seek to undermine not just these colleagues’ teaching careers, but also the home lives of their young charges, for whom school is just a myriad of circumstances that needs to be dealt with on a daily basis.   But in discussing the year-end results, these children get reduced to bar graphs of red and green, small pie graphs, and indistinct numbers, all of which serve to de-personalize the experience I felt trying to get them ready for those high stakes tests in the first place.  It was that struggle, far more than the end result the test results purport to represent that made last year’s class memorable.  But aside from a class photo I snapped shortly before school ended, those figures on a spreadsheet are what remains.

We will likely spend time looking at those figures.  At my school, in the neighborhood where I teach, there’s an obvious reason why a particular subgroup struggled on the recent state testing.  Sure enough, strategies will likely be suggested to ameliorate the circumstances over the coming months of the school year.  Rather than trying to focus upon raising that subgroup’s test scores, it would make more sense to follow Stephen Krashen’s advice that he offers.  Even better, such a strategy would help to eliminate the existence of that subgroup in the first place.

But most of all, I wish that when teachers get demonized as an “interest group”, I would ask if those doing the demonization, most of whom have an expertise about school that extends to only the fact that they once attended school, are willing to step up and do my job if I, or my friends amongst the staff that I will enjoy seeing tomorrow, weren’t around.

I didn’t think so.

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