Today is the first day of school but there is a cloud hanging over my head. In six days we are set to go on strike. The situation in Chicago has gone from bad to worse. Everyone blames everyone for the failure of our low income students. The board of education is making unreasonable demands, the union is forced to make equally unreasonable demands in return. The news presents biased and over simplified information. The public has more venom for teachers than I have ever seen. I feel that I have to defend my profession at every turn. It’s all anyone wants to talk about.
What I want is to be with my students. I want to be treated like the professional that I am. I want quality working conditions, because those are also my students’ learning conditions. I want people who have never set foot in a classroom to stop telling me what will make a difference for my students. Instead of the lawmakers focusing on a general union busting policy so that they can cut costs, I want them to realize where they money they give is already going, high stakes testing and prep materials for those tests. I want anyone associated with these products to be a teacher for a year, just one year, and have to use the crap they are selling. Tell me it makes a difference then. Tell me your common core workbook is better than a literature rich environment. I want these high paid suits in government to stop pretending that they really care about poor children other than keeping incarceration rates down, because I don’t buy it.
The last thing I want is to walk a picket line. I suspect most teachers agree with me, but we will do it, because we’ve been forced to. Amid insults that we are the selfish ones, people forget that we are the only ones that show up for these kids day after day. Say what you want about unions protecting “bad” teachers, they protect the good ones too.
The saddest thing is the lasting damage this will leave. What I call the culture of No. When teachers stop saying yes and start saying no. No to volunteering their time, no to teaching after school clubs, no to anything and everything because at some point they don’t feel like they can give anymore. When people ask you to do more for less the reaction of most will be “no.” Once you start saying no, it’s hard to stop. What our students really need is a culture of Yes. Yes from the teachers, administration, board, and politicians. Yes from their parents and society. How will we get from No to Yes?