Oklahoma teachers protest for salary, student resources

“What Teachers Make” — National Poetry Month 2018

by Gabriel Valdez

We’re all happy to share Facebook posts, retweet, or upvote on Reddit when there’s an inspirational story about someone’s life being changed by a teacher. We obviously believe in the idea that teachers save lives and shape futures. We believe in the idea that teachers help get kids out of dangerous cycles of violence. We believe the power of teaching can help students overcome systems stacked against those kids.

We just don’t believe in paying those teachers. Why not?

It’s almost as if we want to believe in the exceptionalism of teachers as a way to confirm our own sense of exceptionalism, our ability to better the lives of others, our ability to turn around and help the lives of others when they need it…only to fail in doing so when the time comes, when those whose stories we use to reinforce our sense of exceptionalism turn around and ask for help – for their students and themselves.

We’ve already used teachers to make ourselves feel like we’re culturally capable of helping, which is very convenient when we turn around and we culturally refuse to help.

They only work three-quarters of the year? Sure, and during those three-quarters of the year, they’re working 60+ hours a week without overtime. They’re at school before students arrive and they don’t leave until after students leave. That’s already 9-10 hours a day. Then they go home, lesson plan, grade papers, read essays, grade tests, communicate with parents. That’s easily 12 hours a weekday during the school year, as well as time during the weekends. And then they may work summer schools, tutoring, they may run camps and programs for which they’re also paid meagerly.

All the while, those teachers and their families have the same needs that you and your family do, with less time, less money, less job stability than most.

This doesn’t even begin to address the sorry amount we spend on children. We’ve got a federal government trying to eliminate school lunch programs for hungry children as teachers in various states protest in the streets for salary increases, yes, but also for increased spending on students.

It’s ridiculous of us to ignore them, to flock to the next story of a teacher changing someone’s life and then ignore teachers when they tell us what they need to change someone’s life.

Either we believe it or we don’t. Right now it’s more like we believe it enough to make ourselves feel good, but not enough to do anything about it. That’s not good enough.

We believe teachers save lives and change futures, and we do something to allow them to do even more of that. Or we lie when we say it, and stand on their work as a prop for comforting our conscience.

Here’s “What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali.

The feature image of the Oklahoma teacher protests is from a USA Today story on nationwide teacher protests here.

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