Silence is Acceptance

They say you never forget your first love.

For me, I’ll never forget my first teaching job interview.

It was in an austere Principal’s office, located in a small town in rural New York. I was currently completing my student teaching at a nearby small town. I had just received my MS in Physics Ed. degree and was a young pup, excited to get my chance in a real classroom with my own students.  I walked in, exchanged pleasantries, and sat down to the task at hand. The conversation went something like this:

Principal: “So, you have a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, with a minor in astronomy, and you decided that you wanted a career teaching physics?”

Me: “Yes sir, I have.”

Principal: “I have just one question for you then.” <big pause here> “Are you stupid?”

I sat there dumbfounded, as this school leader, supposedly a pillar in his education community, totally ripped me apart for choosing education as my life path. I tried making some pithy comments about how and why I wanted to be a teacher, but he would not be deterred from his goal of making me feel that I chosen poorly.

The thing was, it wasn’t the first time or even close to the last, that someone had tried to talk me off of what they thought was a ledge – a ledge on the 100th floor. But I was shocked that a leader in the field would talk like that.

I did not get offered the job – nor would I have taken it if offered.

That was 26 years ago. This job means more to me every year.  It meant a lot to me before I decided on becoming a teacher, and now I could not dream of a life that did not include teaching. I have survived more than the average teacher. About 5 years in, I was diagnosed with cancer and lost the roof of my mouth. I was back in the classroom weeks later, unable to speak more than grunts. Years later, I had my back broken by students (not mine,) I was back in the classroom a few months later in a backbrace and cane. I have taught inner city kids, rural and suburban. I have taught rich and poor. And I have taught almost all levels of ability.

One thing has always been the same – the kids.

If not for the look of pleasant surprise on their faces when they discover something new, this job would be just that, a job.

Seeing their eyes light up, when something they have been working on suddenly makes complete total sense, is the best feeling in the world.

For that look, that sparkle, that glow, I would teach for free.

It’s why I love being a teacher.

But, it is for that reason others don’t get us – the teachers of the world. It almost leads to a distrust.

“Why do they do they do what they do for such a low pay?”

“It must be for the summer vacations”

“It must be for those long weekends and holiday vacations”

“It must be because they get to work at 8 AM and leave school at 2 PM”

“They must really stink at whatever else they tried to do first, that they became a teacher instead.”

You know you have heard these things. Some of you who aren’t teachers may actually think them. If you do think them, I have one question back to you:

Why aren’t you a teacher then?

But that is something I will address in a later post. What I want to answer is why, for me, it is not about the money that keeps me teaching.

Money has never been the drive in my life. I want to feel satisfied I have done “THE RIGHT THING” with my life. I want to go to my deathbed knowing I did what I could and I made a difference. Don’t ask me what “THE RIGHT THING” is. I have no clue. I would probably direct you to Curly in City Slickers.  But money has become everything to people today. In today’s economy, money is the number one thing on people’s minds. And it is being used against teachers.

First: Teachers are terrified about speaking out for fear they will lose their jobs. They will not be able to support their families. As more and more teachers lose their jobs, this feeling has magnified, growing so much as to embolden those who want to sink their claws into education. And as ed leaders and politicians see that teachers won’t speak out against what is happening to the colleagues and them, they make bigger and bigger changes. Some of the changes may actually help, but without the involvement of those inside the classroom, these changes are just spurious.

Second: With the economy still gasping for air, carpetbaggers have decided to attack and destroy the few things that are financially a positive for teachers (e.g. our pension and tenure) and have been blasting on them.  However, I did not see the same leaders blasting us when they were getting better salaries and pensions during the good times. But with the public already suspicious of teachers, why not stoke up the anger to divert attention away from those who caused the economic down-slide? During the turmoil caused by those taking up stances against the teachers, we can slip in some much needed “reforms” that will help everyone, including lining the pockets of the reformers.

Third: Teacher’s Unions. I personally feel that unions have had their day in the Sun and if not on their way out, they are being given their hat and coat.  But, that has no bearing on the blatant union breaking movements we have been seeing across the country. Let’s face it, the ONLY reason a business wants to break a union is to lower costs and that means, at minimum, a lower salary.  If you want no unions in schools, make it a free market system for teachers. Let districts recruit teachers the same way businesses lure good employees.  Schools already do this with principals and such, I have seen it happen.  But when I left a district for another, my new district was accused of recruiting and I had a scathing letter written to me by the NEW superintendent at my old school district. A free, open market sounds intriguing to me. Maybe not the right answer, but it is an answer.

Because of these things, teachers are terrified to speak out. I don’t blame them. And tenure will not save a teacher who speaks out in public if the administration wants to make a point.  But I will tell them years from now when they are complaining about how bad things are, that they had a chance to speak out…

But they were silent.

I tell my students, “Silence is Acceptance”

And right now the silence is deafening.


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