Dear Michigan Public School Teachers,
It is July. The finish line has been crossed. And most of you did not sprint over it, hands waving in victory. You were a sweaty mess – staggering, stumbling, gasping, and limping toward the final bell. You were sunburned and blistered from track and field, track and fun, herding your class(es) to the local ice cream stand, and your seventy-twelfth field trip to Greenfield Village or Sleeping Bear Dunes or Mackinac Island. You entered so many test scores into the computer that your eyes are just starting to uncross. The cramp in your right hand from writing *Your child was a delight to have in class* on report card after report card and in your left hand from crossing your fingers while writing this is finally easing. You printed awards, signed awards, handed out awards, and smiled at cameras and cell phones with your arm wrapped around the backs of children who have yet to discover deodorant and others who bathe in cologne or perfume.
The school year started out fine. Your classroom design, stolen from Pinterest, was bright and cheerful and unmarred by the August perspiration you donated free of charge day after endless day to make it look so. You scraped up Scholastic points and raided garage sales to replace books that currently reside under the beds of the previous year’s students. The desks or tables were straight and even. You painted and wrestled with contact paper and cut out letters and laminated and your head was filled with brilliant ideas from the classes you took and books and articles you pondered and highlighted over the summer.
You attended back to school PD, except it’s now called PL and no one knows why the change but don’t forget to turn in your log to the office. You and your colleagues decided to spend the first day of PL playing a drinking game with the word *rigor* but by an hour and a half in you had so many tallies that a drink per mention would land you in a coma and definitely not in any shape for *PL Day 2 – Disaggregated Data: Which Subgroup Does Your Grade Level Suck at Educating?* You changed the drinking term to *authentic assessment* and at the end of the day there were zero tallies because that’s sooo 2007 and you went to bed having consumed water – which is good because you were dehydrated since the library hosting PL was 102 degrees.
At that point you still liked the members of your PLC but that ended somewhere between the thirteenth and fourteenth GOP debate and you personally think the words immigration, terrorism, climate change, gun control, Trump, and Clinton should be banned from the lounge because you want peace. Not even world peace. Just lounge peace. And that could happen if those words are eliminated from discussion, the person who jams the copier fixes it, and colleagues quit posting cryptic messages on Facebook that leave you scratching your head wondering who is speaking to whom and which side you are on.
There were times in the year that you smiled. So very many times. You eye-roll smirked at the state mandated viewing of *Slips, Trips, and Falls* in which you are instructed to call a custodian every time you need a poster hung on the wall because he will be delighted to assist you. There were good smiles too. Creating unique voices during read aloud time is as funny to you as it is to the giggling criss-cross-applesauced children you’re entertaining. You smiled when Tasha finally passed her nines times test and when Quinton grasped the difference between a noun and a verb. You ran a victory lap in your head when Lola had a capital letter and ending punctuation on most of the sentences in her writing piece. You laughed out loud when you saw that Jordan had answered *Yes* to the question *Is 74 even or odd?* and laughed even harder when you saw that under the yes was a half erased *No,* meaning he had pondered the question a really long time. You tried really hard not to smile on Career Day when one of your littles raised their hand and told the visiting police officer that her mom had handcuffs like that but hers were red and glittery. In fact you nearly choked to death trying not to ROFL.
There were times in the year that you cried. So very many times. Teary eyes reading journal entries about dead dogs, dead grandmas, and deadbeat dads. Tears dabbed with tissues in the bathroom after being reamed out by a parent who doesn’t understand that his precious snowflake sometimes isn’t. Way too many of you ugly cried – curled in a ball in bed at home over the news that a student or colleague’s life ended too soon. Then digging deep for strength, you returned to the school to wrap your arms of comfort around sobbing teenagers. And then those last-day-of-school tears and lumpy throat as they walked out the door and you knew you could never possibly love a group of kids more. At least until exactly this time next year.
There were times in the year that you were tired. So very many times. Not the wow-I-got-so-much-done good kind of tired. You were and are tired tired. Not from the kids. Or the administrators. Or the lessons. Or the parents. That stuff is easy peasy comparatively. Mostly you are tired of being a pawn in political debates and decision making.
You’re tired because the political party of *local control* really does enjoy controlling the locals (despite overwhelming resistance from the provincials via voter initiative) and chances are you suffered under an EFM, an EM, a PLA, an SRO, an EAA, an EAS, or an LMNOP. You spent your year scrutinized by your principal who now has to do planned and impromptu walk throughs, observations, follow up conversations, and annual evaluations of everyone in the building and according to the courts – because they know – that still leaves her with enough time to contact an exterminator, figure out why the copy paper wasn’t delivered, and deal with Johnny flipping off the lunchroom and calling you the b-word. You were also observed by a team of suited strangers with expressionless faces – from the distant land of Lansing – who criticized your learning target and called the depth of knowledge of your assignments lacking but somehow failed to recognize that your ceiling is cracked and caving in, the drinking fountain water is orange, and the federally funded mobile computer lab in your classroom is pristine because your building doesn’t have wifi so it isn’t actually usable.
You’re tired of the GLCEs versus CCS polka or tango or salsa you’ve been dancing for several years now. You spent every spare moment of four years of your life crosswalking the standards. Nodding thoughtfully and respectfully (i.e. erupted into furious debate and hurled personal insults about *yo mama* while factioning into pro and anti-cursive coalitions) at committee meetings. Figuring out which lesson plans you could salvage and easily convert and which ones needed to be passed to a different grade level. Listing materials you would need to teach the new standards, knowing that the requisition request would be returned with a laughing emoji. You hurriedly retrieved your thrown away units when the legislature said it knew more than MDE and cancelled Common Core. But wait for it… nope it’s back… it’s gone… no one knows… Then threw your hands up in despair when the MDE site essentially said just teach both, we don’t know what the heck the Governor is doing either and he just stole your SRO unconstitutionally. Hold on… Never mind… the legislature is switching everything to Massachusetts’s pre CCS curriculum because… because… Massachusetts and Michigan both start with M??
You’re tired of those who are not us but claim to be. You know who you are and we all know it too – you teacher that sits and stares at your computer all day while the kids run wild. You teacher who shows way too many movies and ridicules students and leaves the minute the buses do and never contributes anything productive to school culture. Or worse, you teacher who makes the headlines for having affairs with your students or watching porn on your school computer or physically assaulting a child – you are not us. We do not claim you. We do not like you. You administrators from the east who pilfered your teachers’ supply order money by pocketing vendor bribes – we detest you. You do not deserve the title of educator and you do not have our support. You are the reason the press vilifies us, the internet trolls delight in us, and why public perception of us is negative. It is at least partially your fault that teacher tenure has disappeared, due process eliminated, and bargaining rights slashed. We all pay the price for the legislature attempting to solve the problem of you and it makes us despise you.
It is partially the fault of the few and far between bad teachers, but mostly the fault of your elected officials. After yesterday’s announcement that despite five courts finding the teacher tax to be unconstitutional due to the quite obvious fact that it is *arbitrary and capricious* you wonder why Governor Snyder can’t channel his inner Elsa and LET IT GO already! Even Attorney General Schuette – not generally known as friend of teachers – thinks the governor has lost his mind on this one. You won and part of you feels vindicated. But you mostly just want your money back. Now. If not sooner.
Speaking of the Governor – which teacher from his childhood so completely warped his view of you? So much that he feels the need to attack. Attack again. And then attack some more. You sighed and wrote a check for your union dues – since Governor Snyder had so much free time that he sided against the Michigan Association of School Boards, the majority of school administrators, and the Michigan population at large (who didn’t care) and signed a bill stating that you can have donations to the crippled and orphaned widows of neglected elephants without tusks fund directly withdrawn from your paycheck, but not your professional association fees.
(Photo courtesy of MLive.com)
But then Right to Work. The debacle in Lansing of being locked out of the House owned by you made you so mad you wrote out that professional association fee check with an extra flourish and an angry pen. The list goes on and your eyes get wider each time you read the news. The state might retain any third grader who cannot read. As judged by which test exactly? The MEAP? The M-STEP? Or the not yet decided assessment apparently created in Massachusetts? Until when? Until said third grader is sporting a mustache and driving himself to school? The state might not pay teachers for days they already worked. One teacher calling in sick can be considered as the entire district going on strike and penalties applied. Swinging from the extreme of the NCLB mandate disallowing teachers to instruct in the area of their minor – to allowing non-college graduates and even non-high school diploma earners to teach. Teach. Like teach students. Impart wisdom to the nation’s youth. Minus any kind of degree. Then you saw the new graphic emblem on the website of MDE and thought – well that pretty much sums it up.
What brave new completely freaking insane world is this?
Part of the fault certainly must be placed on the myth that teachers are priceless. That teaching is the most important job. The shining jewel of all altruistic careers. Therefore it doesn’t really matter how teachers are treated or paid. Teachers went into it to change lives after all. This is the rationale of the educator exemption from the new federal overtime law. Teachers could never be paid for overtime because… well because… you are such amazing people. You love your job so much that we could never put a price on that.
You, teacher, need to disavow this myth. You do have a price and you are not so arrogant as to claim your worth is immeasurable. You know that the doctors and nurses and all the support staff of the hospital down the road do work equal in value to yours. Society could not function minus their efforts. And they should be treated and compensated accordingly. The courthouse across town is filled with lawyers and clerks and public defenders all of whom are ensuring that justice prevails. Society could not function minus their efforts. And they should be treated and compensated accordingly. The farmers who grow your nutrition and the truckers who deliver it – pretty important people. Firemen and police. Gas station owners and clerks and electric company employees and the people who make sure water is clean (or are supposed to) and those who handle the flow of money through the banking system. The construction worker who paves roads on which buses deliver children to their place of learning is just is vital to society as you educator introducing fourth graders to long division. All of humanity is or should be working altruistically for the betterment of society and it does you no favors to place yourself on a pedestal looking down in scorn upon other laborers as being less than. You are a professional who has studied long and hard and has experience and knows your trade and you deserve to be paid and treated accordingly.
It is time for you to say this has gone far enough. You want your school district to be controlled by the community that knows it best and has elected officials to oversee it. You want to be treated with respect and fairness when it comes to compensation and to have the right to negotiate work conditions and salary with your employer without interference from Lansing bureaucrats who know nothing about your district and its priorities. You want your years of training and experience to count when pedagogical decisions are made for your students. Not the opinions of the fine people of Massachusetts. For the love of Bloom, Piaget, and Vygotsky can the testing and data collection of every pencil move, keyboard stroke, and eye blink of each student stop? Just stop. Let appropriate assessment guide appropriate instruction the way it has effectively done for as long as there have been educators, athletic coaches, and music instructors. You need to have the freedom – and time – to actually teach.
And you will teach. Despite it all you will teach – because I know you. You are right now in a college classroom frantically highlighting and jotting notes and are wild with ideas you can’t wait to implement. Your nightstand is overflowing with professional books and articles that you will devour by September. You have enlisted your whole neighborhood’s help saving enough Gatorade bottles for that super cool Word Work center you’re creating. You know the location of every garage sale this week, have budgeted $15 for rainy day recess games but will likely shell out $40, and are praying someone is getting rid of graphic novels appropriate for sixth graders. There’s a box where you throw all your empty paper towel spools because the music teacher needs 124 of them for 2nd grade rain sticks. You have a baggie of Box Tops and are crossing your fingers that enough will come in to fund a Buddy Bench for the playground. There’s a half painted bookshelf in your garage that your spouse better have finished by the time you get home from class because you can’t wait to start labeling its shelves by genre.
Because you are a Michigan Public School Teacher. And you are amazing.
Another Michigan Public School Teacher