Many years ago, I traveled to Albany to hand in paperwork at the state education department. This was back in the day, when the offices were in the same building as the New York State Museum. With such important paperwork, I felt that it was better to hand it off to a person; it also expedited the time it took to get filed.
This was, in fact, my first time there, and a gentleman came out to greet me. He was a grumpy, cranky man. In all probability, he was sitting behind a desk for too many years with too big a caseload and no appreciation. As I handed him my paperwork, he noticed something amiss. He explained what I needed to do and I promptly rectified it. As I handed him back my paperwork, he proclaimed, "Teachers are the stupidest people out there." Being that I wanted him on my side and to do what I needed of him, I agreed with him.
Which brings me to 2011. I was having a conversation with a teacher last week, inquiring if she has read me on HuffPost. The teacher told me that she sometimes does, but feels I am too political.
I started to explain that with the seismic shift going on, she does need to keep up with the political stuff. If she won't read it here on HuffPost, then she needs to read about it in newspapers, other education blogs, etc. "What is happening out there can happen to you," I told her. The answer I received from her was, "What do you mean?"
What do I mean? I explained that someone, anyone, with an agenda and zero smarts can come in to our school one day and close it down, put in a charter school, or do whatever they feel. I explained to her that in an instant, she -- through no fault of her own -- could become an ATR (Absent Teacher Reserve).
"Oh, no way, it won't happen. I'm too good of a teacher." I explained that while that's nice, in the long run it means squat. I pointed out to her that she has almost 15 years in the system and is approaching 40 years of age. That her salary is reaching the upper echelons of the scale and that those three factors alone will hinder her if, God forbid, she was to be put into ATR status.
"Well, anyway, I know a lot of people. I can go out and get a position with them, at their schools," she explained to me. At that point, I gave up trying to explain the realities of what is out there. Yes, it sure does help to know someone. But if the "someone" you know doesn't have a position, or the money to create a position, what good is it to know that person?
It all begins at the school level. Yes, we can kvetch and whine all we want about the United Federation of Teachers, but why should the UFT fight when there are teachers who won't fight back and instead just lay down like lambs?
Apathy and ignorance of what is going on with education today will ultimately be our undoing. I understand that a teacher has a zillion things going on at once and it is difficult to add more things to worry about. But without knowledge, without caring, without being proactive, we are just allowing the reformers, the billionaires, the hedge fund managers and, yes, our unions -- including mine, the United Federation of Teachers -- to walk all over us, take us for granted and be able to claim that they don't hear us.
The time has come for us to start standing up for our rights -- not just for us as educators and professionals, but more importantly, for our students. We are there on the frontlines every day and see what is happening.
We need to rise up, to start fighting back. We need to demand that our leaders in the teachers unions stop acquiescing to politicians and uneducated leaders! We must stop being reactive and start being proactive. Our message is what is right. Our message is what is good. But our message can only be strong if we all fight together as one. Every teacher must think as one across this great country of ours. We as a country, as educators, as parents need a Howard Beale moment!
I will not surrender one iota for what I believe is right for the students, for education and for all of my teaching brethren. I would rather go down fighting than surrender to those who are destroying the education of America's youth.
Any teacher out there can be the next one to be screwed. Apathy and ignorance are what is fueling the beasts. It is time to start starving the beast. It is time to look out and around and stop having our eyes wide shut.
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