Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Glad I got out of Dodge? Maybe, possibly. . .oh yea.

Even though I moved to Texas, I still receive the postings for the Indiana Teachers of Writing-National Writing Project group since I am an NWP Teacher Consultant. I went through the program back in '96 before I went for my first graduate degree. The group is mostly made of school teachers, so very often the conversation threads go down to local concerns of teachers, complaints about lack of support, etc. In other words, the not-so-little details that make a teacher's job that much more difficult. I usually scan the list, since now and then people will post a request for some teaching idea, help in designing a lesson, or other reference type request that I may find of interest. Or sometimes they post their lesson plan ideas, reading lists, and other good items I find useful. Thank goodness for listservs.

So, why my remark about getting out of Dodge? I left high school teaching in large measure to pursue higher education, but I also left because of an unsupportive administration and because I was tired of parental politics that placed teachers as enemies. I always tell people who ask me that I enjoyed teaching young people, when they actually let me teach. Students in their teens are great for the most part, in spite of the negative images in the media. Unfortunately, you can't say that about their parents more often than not. What prompted to vent my thoughts was a note one of the teachers posted to the listserv saying that his particular district was making cutbacks, including cuts that would affect him. He is a high school teacher, and the effect on him right away was to be moved to one of the district's middle schools. Now, to some reading this, it may not sound like such a terrible fate, at least he still has a job for one. But this teacher was sponsor for the senior class in his school, and he had other strong ties and involvements that would be broken. With regret, he posted that he was looking for a better position out of state. The fact that the state has seen fit to pretty much not fund public schools adequately I am sure has not made it easier for him. What moved me more were some of the replies he received from other teachers, mostly encouraging him to go ahead and take any good job that may come along. I found myself looking over those replies, and I could see myself giving him the same advice as well.

Even more moving was the statement from one of the ITW-NWP directors that things in her district were so dire fiscally that it was boiling down to a confrontation of parents vs. teachers. The district is facing a major deficit this year, which will double the next. The superintendent said that health care costs for teachers and staff went up, and that was a large chunk. So, what do the parents suggest right away? Have the teachers pay more and cut their salaries. And while other options are being considered, this seemed to me the usual thoughtlessness of parents and community. After all, God forbid anyone suggests raising property taxes a bit to pay for the salaries and benefits of the ones educating their children. Of course, other items like summer school and extracurricular, also on the cutting board, parents are loud about keeping, but hey, just cut those teacher salaries. And while you are at it, cut their funding for professional development and travel to conferences and continuing education, like doing the NWP. After all, what do they need that stuff for anyhow? And how did I find out all the details of my old stomping grounds? Lexis-Nexis, a wonderful tool for news coverage, even if the company itself got embroiled in one of those stolen identities scandals. All I had to do was set it to Indiana news sources, and voila, I got a nice overview of the mess they are in up there. And it is quite a mess in that district. But, as I mentioned, what irked me is the quick cavalier attitude parents have about their educators, seeing them as selfish or not working hard enough, so go ahead and cut their benefits and support. And from the news stories, seems the lack of support I was familiar with has not gotten any better. I am not saying things in my new home are better. I know Texas schools are not known for their radiance either, but it does sadden me to see a place I had high regard for be in such dire straits, in part due to legislative disregard, and in part due to mismanagement.

I don't regret having left for graduate school and then higher education. I enjoy my work very much now, but I have some good memories of my school teaching days. Doing the NWP was one of the best experiences for me professionally and personally. So to see once colleagues be in straits saddens me a little. But, it does make me glad I got out of Dodge while the getting out was still good. And to that teacher, man, if you can, get out as well. The pasture will be greener on the other side.

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