Monday, June 13, 2011

Open for Business


The great oral historian and humanitarian, Studs Terkel, once concluded, "Your work is your identity." Of course this nugget of wisdom came from his wonderful collection called Working where all kinds of people talk about what they do for a living. No surprise here, if you put your life into a career, an occupation, an avocation, it often becomes who you are.
When I stopped being a full-time teacher I naturally wondered how my identity would be impacted. "Who will I be when I am no longer "Mr. Greene." Truth is, I will always be Mr. Greene. This was recently evidenced by a brief meeting with a former student last week who seemed more comfortable not making the leap to informality. That's fine with me. Funny thing is though I introduced myself to her partner as Bruce. We left it at that.
Because my identity as a teacher is constant, I can't help reacting the way I do to the current attack on teachers and the institution of the public school. Last week my local newspaper ran an editorial accusing teachers of desiring the "status quo." The politics behind that ridiculous statement was simple. The governor and some large corporate and political interests are trying to ram through more "official " assessments, so when the teacher's union and other educators balk, we get accused of being in the way of progress. That's the way arguments are framed these days.
OK, I get that. Only thing is, it's not true. Why would any teacher in their right mind want to defend the status quo? Pretty neat tactic, isn't it? Just more proof that those who know the least about educating a human being, think they have viable arguments about school reform to offer. No, no, no. They are only interested in a good front, numerical data, profits from testing and assessment materials, and promoting a view of education that is hopelessly inadequate for a life that is changing so fast that it's impossible to keep up with the latest technology even if you had the resources to do so.
To this mess I will add another ugly player. Up here in Oregon we are treated to the rants of people who teacher bash about the Public Employees Retirement System. To hear them talk you'd think this huge teat was being sucked dry by a bunch of undeserving, 3 month vacationing, ineffective, whining, pseudo professionals. They really (I mean REALLY) resent the fact that teachers can put half their life into a profession and end up with a living wage when they retire.
This rage is so misdirected that it borders on the ludicrous, but no body's laughing. It's painful. True I am a retired California teacher living in Oregon. True, the California State Teacher's Retirement Association is in much better shape. What's not true is that it hurts just as much to hear teachers maligned no matter where they teach.
Of all the pain connected with being a veteran teacher, I've come to believe that this is the most hurtful. We can get over the physical pain from assault to illness, from the mental stress in the form of headaches, all manner of psycho-somatic diseases, and weight gain or poor diet. We can endure all those bad days. The student (s) who know how to get on that last nerve, and how to stomp on it. We get past the days when we uttered, "for this I went to college." We know how resilient students can be and we find that it's contagious. It's these public bullies who channel all their frustration and anger onto the teacher that turns the knife.
I've encountered them from time to time. They lurk on message boards, in editorial chat rooms, and sometimes pontificate in coffee shops. I try to invite them into a classroom. Urge them to experience a day in the life, but they'll have none of it. We both know that would put them out of business.

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