March 1, 2012 by readlisaread
A little over a year ago I wrote about my contemplations on the Middle School Dance. Tonight, as I dragged my weary carcass home from chaperoning yet another one, I had occasion to reflect once again. There is another dance happening right now, and this dance is also a familiar one. This is the dance I do with my employer every few years when the teachers’ contract is up. We ask for the moon, they offer less than what we have right now, we threaten, they bluster, and we meet somewhere in the middle.
I like to joke, sort of (although, let’s face it, it’s probably that type of defense mechanism humour) that with me being a teacher and The Husband being a logger, no matter where we go, someone there hates at least one of us. I know why people hate teachers. The majority of adults walking around in Canada have spent 10 to 12 years in school, minimum. And, over the course of their school career, they undoubtedly had a teacher whose style or personality did not mesh with theirs. And hey, it’s only been in my short lifetime that we stopped actually using corporal punishment to discipline kids. We have also stopped a lot of other archaic methods of delivering instruction and have employed more research-based strategies to improve our craft, and kids’ experiences.
So I understand why people who had a bad experience in school hate teachers, I really do. But I don’t understand how we are going to improve the current state of affairs if we don’t find a way to end the animosity. In the 20 years I have been a teacher, I have been treated poorly by administration, parents, the press and random strangers on the street. I have been vilified in print, on TV and in movies. But I’m not even a punchline. No one tells “Why don’t sharks eat teachers?” jokes. Ms. Crabapple is the only famous teacher on TV since Mr. Kotter, and she’s boinking the Principal (that’s how I know it’s a cartoon– that would never happen in real life *shudder*).
Every contract that has been negotiated since I became a teacher has had concessions in it. People don’t realize it, they think that we ask for–and get– a pile of money on top of the pile of money we already have. There seems to be this idea out there that if we REALLY loved our jobs, we wouldn’t care about the money, we would do it for free. Every time we ask for an increase, eyes narrow and lips purse and once more we are the villain. The concessions have come in the form of poorer working and learning conditions. So. What is given with the left hand distracts us while the right hand takes away something else of equal or greater value. Eventually, teachers took a stand and said NO MORE concessions. The government then simply created new laws to take more away, and legislate a situation where we couldn’t even take action in the form of a strike.
If what has happened to BC teachers happened in a mideast or south american country, there would be outrage at the corruption and dictatorial nature of the government, heads would shake and tongues would cluck.
I was walking a young girl out of the dance tonight. It happened she had to leave a half hour or so early. I looked out the door and asked her to point out her car. “Oh,” she said, “He said he was going to pull up at the side of the building–it’s easier.” I can’t see that side of the building from where I stood, so I walked her out. We chatted a little as we strolled along the sidewalk, a frosty February night. We had to wait a few minutes for her ride to arrive, and I was just starting to wish I had taken the time to get my coat when her dad arrived and off she went into the night. Another parent met me as I headed back inside and made a pointed comment about my having to escort kids from the building, and wasn’t that a lousy part of the job. Instantly, even though this is a well educated and involved parent speaking, her first instinct was to assume something negative had happened, and I was Enforcing The Law. I looked at her and explained that the school didn’t necessarily have a policy, but I sure did, and it was that I wasn’t about to let a 14 year old girl stand outside in the dark on the side of the road waiting to be collected. She looked a bit surprised and said “Oh! I never even thought of that… I just assumed something bad had happened”. “No,” I replied, “I was just trying to stop something bad from happening.
And that, my friends, is why I don’t just quit my job and go do something else.