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Public School Teachers: Are We an Endangered Species?

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The scariest moment in my daily routine comes each day shortly after 5 a.m., when I stride, razor in hand, toward the bathroom mirror and take a close look at the rapidly aging face before me.

After my daily scream and a therapeutic chug-a-lugging of Pepto-Bismol, I take another look at that face. And though it's not much to look at, I see the face of a classroom teacher ready to spend another day teaching writing skills to eighth-graders in the Joplin, Mo. public school district.

I see the face of someone who has spent the last dozen years making sure the children and the taxpayers always get their money's worth.

I hope I am looking at the face of someone who can serve as a positive role model for children who sometimes have no one to look up to once they leave school for the day.

One thing I do not see is a lazy, incompetent pervert, stealing taxpayer dollars and operating a private playground to prey on children. That is the brand Missouri's Republican-controlled legislature continues to put on us in its unprecedented attack on public education in general and public school teachers in particular.

In a recent HuffPost blog, I wrote about a bill, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington (a former public school teacher) that would eliminate teacher tenure, prevent school boards from using years of experience or advanced degrees when considering a teacher's salary and divide each school into four tiers when it comes to a pay schedule -- with the ones in the top 25 percent receiving 60 percent more than those in the second tier, and so on down the line. The pay, of course, would be primarily based on standardized test scores.

Thankfully, it appears this bill will not be passed, but there is still one day left for the 2011 Missouri State Legislature and this bill; and another that would eliminate tenure, but not implement the pay plan, may still pass.

Another bill, also sponsored by Sen. Cunningham, passed the House today and is on its way to Gov. Jay Nixon for his signature. In this bill, the senator, who is expected to announce a bid for Congress next week, made it appear as if Missouri public schools are a cesspool of pervert teachers being passed around from one district to another, molesting hundreds of children.

The bill adds stringent requirements for school districts looking to hire teachers (unnecessary requirements since Missouri has had a strong protection system in place for nearly two decades) and requires more training so teachers can spot those who are preying on students. Most irritating of all to me and other teachers who have worked to teach students the responsible use of social networking, teachers will no longer be allowed to communicate with students or former students through Facebook or other social networking sites.

This bill, I might add, was passed with the backing of the Missouri National Education Association, which was only concerned that teachers charged with crimes involving students be afforded due process.

It is time to deliver a message to the Jane Cunninghams, Michelle Rhees, Chris Christies and Scott Walkers who have made a parlor game of smearing hard-working classroom teachers.

We have spent far too much time allowing these opportunistic vultures to trash our reputations. It is time that those who support public education stop rolling over and allowing these bullies to kick sand in our faces.

When the biggest problems facing education today are elements outside of the classroom, why are our elected officials spending so much time slapping around the people who often provide the only hope of educational salvation to the children whom we supposedly do not want to see left behind?

Why are people who claim they are representing the best interests of our children doing so much to damage those who provide the foundation for this country (and who often are paying out of their own pockets for the supplies of these children who are supposedly the only concern of our legislators)?

Where is the champion who is going to stand up for teachers before American public schools go the way of the Edsel?

Until elected officials begin showing courage and resisting the siren song of the billionaires who want to privatize education and rip the heart and soul out of this one constant in the American fabric, the people who have worked long hours for low pay in this most noble profession are going to continue to pay the price.

Until then, I will continue my morning ritual, and after I greet that image in the mirror with a primal scream, I will take a second look.

Mine may not be the face of a movie star, but when I look in the mirror I still see someone who takes pride in being a classroom teacher, and takes solace in the realization that my fellow teachers and I, unlike those who have sold their souls to the twin demons of reform and accountability, are making a positive difference in the lives of children.