Leaders are unfairly targeting our teachers
It really isn’t fair that our teachers are being targeted and made scapegoats by the powers that be in New York. Anyone who has a child knows just how important our teachers are. No single group is more important. Our treatment of our teachers is getting more disgraceful by the day. Teachers rank right up there with our most important societal assets. If we drive down the morale of our teachers we may lose the best and brightest of them. We certainly don’t want to do that.
The fact is that our teachers are often underpaid and under respected. Because the budget cutters are hard at work and the country and state have turned wildly conservative, it is open season on our teachers. Let one teacher do something really stupid and it becomes fodder for the anti-teacher tabloid press. Let a jerky union official take people to lunch, spend too much money and give the restaurant folk a hard time and suddenly it’s more important than what is going on in Egypt. Let one foolish teacher enter into an illicit love affair of any kind, particularly on school grounds, and the story races around the world. Not surprisingly, only the bad apples make the news while the good work of almost a hundred percent of our teachers will go basically unnoticed and unappreciated.
Of course, the rare screw ups are not representative of the good people who give their all to their profession. We should really stop to think about all those teachers who are committed to helping their students. Think about all the teachers who spend their own money to buy supplies that the schools cannot afford. Think about how many papers they have to bring home with them every day and mark into the night. Think about the Herculean task of teaching an unmotivated child whose parents just don’t get involved in their kids’ education and, worse, who take their personal frustrations and anger out on the child’s teachers. Then you add to all of that the sinking feeling a teacher must have every time some conservative loudmouth on the radio goes after the profession as being “soft” or “easy” or “overpaid,” and you get a pretty good idea about how teachers are treated in this country. Things are getting worse. Schools are closing and the days of 35 kids in a classroom are returning.
I don’t think Andrew Cuomo intends to target the teachers who taught him and his children. In fact, we have been treated to one story after another by the older Governor Cuomo about his debt to his own teachers. There are some people who are just plain jealous of teachers. If you gave them a say in whether teachers should even receive a pension or health care, you would get a loud negative volley of vitriol. But Governor Cuomo and some of the legislative leaders are, indeed, scapegoating our teachers. They may not mean to, but these are smart people and when they call for decreases in health care costs, salaries and pensions, they are going down a very dangerous road. We need to put a stop to this but our politicians are basking in their newfound conservatism and since political survival is the name of the game, teachers are now targets.
Let every one of us whose life was changed by a good teacher see this vicious onslaught for what it is — a diversion to keep us from acknowledging the debt we owe to the central characters in our lives. If we allow this misinformation to continue, we risk nothing less than the diminution of the society. We simply can’t afford that.
Are teachers capable of improving their circumstances? Yes, of course. We all know that there are some people who don’t belong in a classroom. It is time for our great teachers to reach out to those running our schools and join them in an effort to kick out the burn-outs and malingerers. Change the tenure rules so that only colleagues who deserve protection get it. If those things are not done it is likely that the vicious attacks will continue. This is a good time for teachers to become true partners, rather than adversaries, of administrators and school boards. If the so-called stake holders put their heads together now, the whole educational profession would gain renewed status. Most of all, we simply have to stop the attacks on our teachers, our most important resource.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/22/11