That is the question that was on a lot of teachers’ hearts and minds this past week in Arizona. And the vast majority of them decided to do it….
Honestly, this post has been on my heart for awhile. Ever since I heard about the teachers in West Virginia and in Oklahoma and their strikes. I never really imagined it would affect me so directly though, as it has now that teachers are striking here in Arizona. Being that I am a teacher myself, and a parent of a student affected by this walkout, I am well within my right to comment on this “walkout” and I reserve the right to my own opinion on the matter. Just because I am not in favor of a walkout does not mean I am not in favor of teachers getting a raise or that I am ignorant of the fact that we need one. I also understand that education is “poorly funded” by the State, and that we need more funds to help us do what we do. However, the government does not allocate those funds for what is needed. They just give the schools the money, and those in power in the districts decide where the money goes from there. That is where I believe the real problem lies. If you just throw more money at a problem, it doesn’t mean the problem is automatically fixed. And since we can’t seem to use the money that we are given very wisely- the government and those who dole out funding don’t see fit to give us even more. I totally understand where our leaders are coming from there.
When I started my teaching career 11 years ago, I signed a contract for $33,000 a year. This last teaching job I took, I signed my contract for $35,000. Different school, this time a charter not a district. Doesn’t matter. The fact that the difference in pay in 11 years is only $2k is pretty freaking sad. But here’s the thing. I had a choice. I could have decided it wasn’t worth the effort to be a teacher for so little pay and could have decided to do something else with my time and my life. Because, as an American, I have that choice. I did not have to sign a contract to give a year of my life to teaching students who I did not even know yet for so “little compensation”. I could have walked away and found a job elsewhere. Maybe not with better pay, but with less stress or with less meaning, for sure. See, to me, teaching is not a job. It is my life. It is what I feel I was meant to do in this world. Should I be compensated better for it? Maybe. But that isn’t really my concern. I leave that in God’s hands. He is my Provider, not the government. Not my job.
For awhile, when I was decided on leaving BASIS (whole other story there), I seriously contemplated leaving the field of education and teaching altogether. But the more I thought of myself in a cubicle doing some mundane office job, or even back in the childcare setting, changing diapers and doing very routine, very physically demanding work (cleaning, lifting, bending, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc.) I decided that I could not fathom doing any other job and that I would continue working as a teacher. Why? Because it is my life’s calling. I would not feel right or that I was doing what I was created for if I was doing any other job. And so, in the same way, I would not feel right walking out on my students and marching on the State Capitol demanding they give education more funding when the real people that should be held responsible for this are the districts and the administrations of schools. In my school’s defense, it’s a small charter school and they probably really can’t afford to pay me more. But they make it easier for me to make more money for myself by allowing me the use of my classroom for tutoring students outside of school hours and holding a Reading Club once a week. (Honestly, I could have two meetings a week and have even more kids – but I choose not to. There’s that pesky word again. Choice.) I have to convince parents to sign their kids up – but if I do, I can ask whatever compensation I want from them and can keep all of it. I think this is a very fair way to treat the problem of needing more money. I also had no problem asking to be given my compensation during the school year only (thereby getting more money in my checks from August to May) and then working a second job during the summer. It is what I have accepted as the norm for a teaching life. It allows me the freedom and flexibility to be a single mom. I could potentially have Emma come with me to my school if I wanted. (She attends a public school at this point, but with every passing day I seriously question whether I am doing the right thing in allowing her to remain there. Again, a topic for another post.)
Teaching has been called the “noblest profession” precisely because people are not paid a whole lot to do it, but those who are willing to do it in spite of the insignificant monetary reward, are doing so willingly and without coercion. I was not forced to sign my contract for $35k. I signed it willingly and it goes against my sense of integrity to violate my contract (and thereby my conscience) to walk out on my students and leave my job post to strike for more funds. Even if I were to cloak it in the disguise of “I am marching for my students” I would not feel right about it, because I would know deep down, that the end does not justify the means. If you can’t go about something the right way for a just cause, then you should find a different, and better, way to do it.
Also, another thing I’d like to add here. I am not a very materialistic person, by American standards anyway. We live in a country that is chock full of opportunities that people in other, poorer countries (even the one right below us) can only fantasize about being a reality. I honestly feel that if we made the teaching profession one that were to make a more “decent, livable” wage, it might attract the wrong sort of people to the profession. Hear me out here. If we made it so that teachers could make 50, 60, 70 thousand dollars a year…. maybe people would be getting into it JUST for the money. As it stands, no one really becomes a teacher because they want the paycheck. And that ensures that they are in it for the kids, and because they want to help others. It is just the nature of people in general that if there’s a way to make money, and it seems like an “easy” way to do it (which a lot of people view teaching as “easy” even though it is anything but) they will be flocking to it. I fear that a lot of people would try to get into education for the wrong reasons if it were paid better. As it stands, teachers have to really love children and want to sacrifice their lives to be a teacher. And to me, that makes it a lot more likely that we have good, quality teachers in the profession. I know it sounds odd, and maybe even a little backwards to think that way, but that is honestly how I think and feel about it. Call me crazy (and many people have – especially lately) but I LOVE teaching, and I won’t do anything that I feel is dishonest or morally incorrect in order to change it, even if it would be “for the better”.