My friends, in real life and on Facebook, know that I am a huge supporter of public education. I am a product of public schools, and so are my children. Public education is the backbone of democracy — but we all know there is a privatization movement trying to undermine it.Presumably, that's why Common Dreams picked up the essay, and the current assessment mania isn't something that separates Democrats from Republicans.
I became an activist after Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican compatriots took over the Michigan government and declared war on teachers. I am part of a group called Save Michigan’s Public Schools, which put on a rally for public education two years ago at the Capitol steps that drew over 1,000 people from all over the state with just three weeks’ notice and during summer break. I have testified in front of the Michigan House Education Committee against lifting the cap on charter schools, and also against the Common Core State Standards. I attended both conferences of the Network for Public Education to meet with other activists and bring back ideas to my compadres in Michigan. I have been fighting for public education for five years now, and will continue to do so.
I have been forced to comply with mandates — from the Republicans at the state level and the Democrats at the national level — that are NOT in the best interest of kids. I am tired of having to perform what I consider to be educational malpractice, in the name of “accountability.” The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that is ignored, you get a situation that is beyond ridiculous.The barnyard metaphor I've always liked is "the calves don't put on weight faster if you weigh them more often." And management fads are the stuff of Dilbert strips and policy wonks alike.
Sometimes I feel like I live in a Kafka novel. This is No. 1 on my district’s list of how to close the achievement gap and increase learning: Making sure that all teachers have their learning goals posted every day in the form of an “I Can” statement. I don’t know how we ever got to be successful adults when we had no “I Can” statements on the wall.That's the kind of silly thinking that has turned course outlines into something resembling Conditions of Carriage. Irrespective of field or political affiliation, it's something a lot of teachers and professors roll their eyes at.
But then we get into territory where market tests are at work.
In addition, due to a chronic, purposeful underfunding of public schools here in Michigan, my take-home pay has been frozen or decreased for the past five years, and I don’t see the situation getting any better in the near future. No, I did not go into teaching for the money, but I also did not go into teaching to barely scrape by, either. As a 10-year teacher in my district, I would be making 16 percent less than a 10-year teacher was when I was hired in 2006.Some of that is the implosion of the blue social model in Michigan. Some of that may be a hold-over of the days of the Old Industrial State, in which all the Michigan public schools had to do was produce a reasonably sober work force for the car companies. We're either in neglect of the implications of tax incidence territory, or in the world of the state as fiction by which each lives at the expense of everyone else. And I could throw a "check your privilege" at what follows.
Plus I now have to pay for medical benefits, and 3 percent of my pay is taken out to fund current retiree health care, which has been found unconstitutional for all state employees except teachers. And I’m being asked to contribute more to my pension. Financial decisions were made based on anticipated future income that never materialized for me and for thousands and thousands of other public school teachers.
The thought of ANY teacher having to take a second job to support him/herself at ANY point in his/her career is disgusting, yet that’s what I was contemplating doing. At 53, with a master’s degree and 12 years of experience.My younger sister let the University of Wisconsin know that warning early childhood education majors of the crappy salaries would be helpful, and after a few years of buying the construction paper and school glue out of her own pocket, found a more lucrative career repossessing tractors. This happened about the same time Ms Keiles was finishing business school.
My grandfather, with a master's degree and way more than 12 years of experience, supplemented his Milwaukee Public Schools salary -- as vice principal or assistant principal, no less, on the appliance floor at the North Avenue Sears. That despite being Coach K before Coach K.
Oh, and at the age of 53, the last of the Sewer Socialists, Frank Zeidler, was mayor of Milwaukee, the city's municipal bonds had a triple-A rating, and his son had established a career and fathered an outspoken oldest kid.
Ms Keiles discovers there are limits to what people, even people who are Committed To The Cause, will tolerate.
If I were poorly compensated but didn’t have to comply with asinine mandates and a lack of respect, that would be one thing. And if I were continuing my way up the pay scale but had to deal with asinine mandates, that would be one thing. But having to comply with asinine mandates AND watching my income, in the form of real dollars, decline every year? When I have the choice to teach where I will be better compensated and all educational decisions will be made by experienced educators? And I will be treated with respect? Bring it on.In competitive markets, workers compete for jobs and employers compete for workers. Thus human capital gets to hire employers that hold forth better working conditions.
So as of today, I have officially resigned from my district, effective August 31st, which is when I will start my new job as a middle school math teacher at an independent school. I am looking forward to being treated like a professional, instead of a child, and I’m pretty sure I will never hear the words, “We can’t afford to give you a raise,” or worse (as in the past two years), “You’re going to have to take a pay cut.” I am looking forward to not having to spend hundreds and hundreds of my own money on classroom supplies. And the free lunch, catered by a local upscale market, will be pretty sweet, too.But the people who run the government schools have yet to learn the logic of compensating differentials. In Illinois, it has long been the case that the better school districts have better working condition and pay packets -- and much more parental involvement, and it doesn't surprise me that the high-end independent schools roll the same way. But until the folks who run the government schools buy into the idea that one of the purposes of the common school is to inculcate the habits of the upper middle class, the diet of budget cuts, unfunded mandates, and tests will continue.