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California Teacher Tells it Like it IS!

May 29, 2011

My hat is off to Angela Beeley, she is a teacher at Alta Loma High School currently teaching 10th grade and she is National Board Certified. It is not her qualifications that I admire, although they are nice to see, it is her letter which was published in the April 28th edition of Education Week (reproduced below) – my comments will appear in parentheses.

By Angela Beeley
I am a public school teacher and a member of a union. Contrary to popular political rhetoric at play in Wisconsin and elsewhere, I amnot, however, a leech on society, nor am I a lazy incompetent who shows up to collect a paycheck, not caring whether my students learn. I am a teacher and, in the words of Howard Beale in the film “Network”: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”  
(I too get angry at all the teacher bashing and being made to feel like I am overpaid when for someone with my years of schooling I am paid far less than someone with commensurate schooling in the private sector).
I am an English teacher who wakes up in the middle of the night, puzzling over how to engage 37 students in my third-period in an upcoming lesson. I am a teacher who gives up part of almost every evening and weekend to grade the never-ending deluge of papers. I am a teacher whose job performance is judged on scores from a test that counts for nothing for the students and their parents. I am a teacher of children who have been coldly molested, beaten, ignored, neglected, left hungry, and might not know where they are going to sleep that night. I am a teacher who cries at the end of every school year because, as they leave me, I am reminded of the basic goodness of the students I teach.
(Angela, I have a tip for you.  It is called Xanax, and it works wonders for those nights when your mind is like the proverbial hamster on the treadmill and you can’t sleep.  Teachers have many nights like this worrying about lessons, worrying about if their kids are learning, worrying about all the paperwork involved with day to day activities, worrying about contacting parents as often as necessary.  The workload in teaching is tremendous.  When Angela says “I am a teacher whose job performance is judged on scores from a test that counts for nothing for the students…“I empathize with her.  When I taught in middle school it was very apparent that some kids did not care one iota about the standardized tests being given.  In elementary school it is different, students are more impressionable and more willing to try hard, but I understand and recognize her sentiment).

I am also a mother, a mother who shops for her family’s clothes, including her own, at Target. I have a coupon file that embarrasses my older daughter. I drive a 10-year-old car that my parents helped me purchase. We coexist with termites eating away at the foundation of our house because we don’t have the thousands of dollars it would take to rid ourselves of them. My husband and I aren’t wearing Prada sunglasses or jetting to St. Tropez on this outrageous salary my union has negotiated for me.

(This one is so true and amusing, if it weren’t so sad and treacherous.  There are entities out there, mostly right-wing think tanks who have the world believing that teachers are all rich and retiring like kings and queens.  I know a lot of teachers, and I don’t know ONE rich teacher.  Maybe there are some, but I personally don’t know any.  I also don’t know any teachers who will be retiring to their yacht in Cabo San Lucas anytime soon.  The main goal I see for veteran teachers is to make it to age 65 so that they can get on Medicare and have health insurance.  But, as we know from Paul Ryan’s plan in Congress, people are trying to take that away too).

This misdirected anger at unions and public employees is a sad, cynical manipulation. Are there waste and hypocrisy in unions and public administration? Of course there are! Please name for me one sector of society that doesn’t have these problems. These are human failings, not union failings. And can states spend money they don’t have? No, they can’t and shouldn’t, and hard times call for sacrifice from all in both the public and private sectors. We must contribute, but we must never give up the right of the American worker to bargain collectively.

The outcry against unions and collective bargaining is a complete red herring. The unspoken message is: Let’s make the average American forget that Wall Street crooks set up our economy for a meltdown and that, not only are they not in jail, they made money on the deal. Let’s make them forget that the richest 400 people in the United States make more than the entire bottom half of all earners. Let’s hide the fact that CEOs today make several hundred times what their employees make, rather than the 20 to 30 times more they used to earn. Let’s snicker as the workers rip each other’s throats out, scrabbling for the privilege of going to the doctor when they’re sick.

(Spot-on accurate commenting about misdirected anger towards unions when this country was financially pillaged by the powerful banking industry which literally owns both houses of Congress.  I don’t remember any teachers writing and then selling in mass quantities the Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO’s) which brought down the banking industry to such a degree that “we the people” had to bail them out to the tune of 700 million dollars.  Teachers, last time I checked, weren’t behind that fiasco, so we shouldn’t now be a scapegoat for it).

I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, a master’s degree from the Claremont Graduate University, and I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I am a professional. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask to make a salary commensurate with my education, to be able to take my daughters to the doctor, and to retire with a small measure of security after choosing to devote my life to educating America’s children.

(Preach it Angela.  I have a bachelor’s from University of Washington, Seattle (Summa), a Masters from Washington State University, my special education credential from Chapman University and a whole host of other “required” courses that I have taken for my profession and I am paid less than others with my educational background.  Don’t even mention pension and doctors, that we even have to go there is a stunning revelation.  Many people don’t understand that we contribute 8% to our pension and we also contribute to our health benefits, but we are NOT entitled to collect social security benefits. So, when we retire our only income stream is via our pension).

I love my students, but who on earth does the public—which is accepting these political shenanigans—think will choose to become a teacher now? No one in his or her right mind would go into this profession. After seeing teachers beaten up in the media for our society’s failings and being portrayed by our elected officials as lazy fat cats when we are working our butts off to having to “teach” to a test, no student with two brain cells to rub together is going to want to become a teacher. I would challenge anyone—including Wisconsin’s governor—who thinks that teaching requires little effort, no summer break, or no decent salary to spend a year in the classroom. Get in there, Governor Walker. You wouldn’t last a week.

(I think Angela will be proven correct here and many good people who would have become teachers will not go this route now and I understand why.  They see teachers constantly vilified in the right wing press, a good example is in today’s San Diego Union Tribune Editorial.  Teachers have to be strong and keep getting the message out that we work hard and take care of kids who really need taking care of nowadays and we do it with competence, patience and professionalism).

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2 Comments
  1. Linked to your blog through Rachel Levy. I like your points. Keep up the good work.
    I too have a blog you might like–check out my website: http://www.carolsteele.net. Or visit Inspired Teacher on Facebook.

  2. Thanks Carol, I like your site and will visit…

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