The school year has just begun and I am already swimming under familiar waters – grading, club sponsorship, BTSA mentoring, and, yes, SRVEA obligations. As ever, I find myself prioritizing … and until November my SRVEA obligations – obligations to my colleagues, my students, and myself – are unexpectedly at the top of my “To Do” List. Why? Because my profession is under siege. Nationally. At the state level. Locally. So, it’s time for me to step up.
No, I did not become a teacher in order to be a political activist. I became a teacher in order to do whatever was required to give all kids the educations they need to be informed, positive forces in the world. I expected to flex as their needs changed.
Well, as it turns out, they need me to be political. I am taking a deep breath and – once again – jumping into unknown waters.
For me the horrifying possibilities that lie ahead if I do nothing are illustrated by what has happened in Wisconsin and Chicago. What has happened in those two locations exemplifies the national trend to demonize teachers in order to strip public education of its most outspoken proponents. Teaching is a spectacularly demanding profession. (15 years ago, I read a research report that noted that only an air traffic controller makes as many decisions per minute as a teacher. I wonder how many more decisions we make now!) Yet there is a national movement to reduce what we do to mere numbers – the language of business, not education – and only numbers. Test scores dominate our national dialogue. Not learning, test scores. What is the difference? Ask employers and university professors. They are complaining that even as scores are going up, the ability of young adults to think is declining. Every teacher I know understands their frustration. That’s why the teachers in Madison and Chicago are fighting HARD to oppose even more stringent efforts by non-educators to control us. Defending education is political … and intensely personal.
In California the passage or rejection of two propositions require us to step outside of our hyper-busy classrooms and personal lives and plant ourselves at phone banks. We need to strap on our hiking boots and walk precincts. These options sure beat walking a picket line … or working in classes with 40 to 45 students and no control over the curriculum which we deliver to them.
Which political races interest me most? The presidential race, the school board election, the bond issue, and the state propositions. All will impact how I will be permitted to continue my professional life.
Which issues make me the most anxious? Propositions 30 and 32.
Proposition 30 asks Californians to pony up for government services … and education. If we want to have adequately funded schools, we have to help make that happen. And not just because we are teachers – but because we are citizens. We have a state economy to sustain and children in our neighborhoods to nurture. Let’s not forget the lessons of our high school government classes – democracy is participatory; it carries responsibilities as well as freedoms. Let’s take care of one another – and then the children will get what they need. In the long run, I believe we will all get what we need through these long-term investments.
Proposition 32 is wildly manipulative. It proposes stripping corporations and unions of their abilities to use employee or member contributions for political purposes. Sounds even-handed, right? WRONG! Corporations don’t use employee contributions to exercise political clout; they use their profits! ONLY unions use employee contributions. As it is, corporations outspend unions 15:1. Do we really want the only organizations that represent our rights and interests, CTA and SRVEA, to be silenced? For me the answer is an outraged “No!” I will do all in my power to educate the electorate about this blatant power grab.
As I write, I am thinking of several new teachers at the high school where I teach, Monte Vista. I am so impressed by their knowledge, work ethic, and idealism. And I ache as I watch them go through the rite of passage known as “first year teaching.” When I witness the personal and professional “dues” they are paying to find their ways into this complex profession I so love, I find myself recommitting to political actions – in their names. If we can provide them with humane working conditions and decent salaries and benefits, thousands of students will benefit. If we can’t, I won’t blame them for being among the thousands of young teachers who flee our profession every year.
After 27 years in a classroom, I find myself, as ever, thinking about what is best for the “young people” in my school. The only difference is this: now that term includes not only my students, but my new colleagues who are just now learning how to embrace their chosen profession.
The only way I know how to help provide them all with all they need is to do what I do best – teach. But now, I have to teach my fellow citizens. After 27 years, I look forward to the opportunity.
Please join me.
Kimberley Gilles – September 16, 2012