Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's A Teacher Thing

Teaching is a political act. My good friend the card-carrying communist (literally) told me this when we first signed up for this gig here in Oakland. If anyone would know, it's this guy. If you look up "the sixties" in an encyclopedia, you're probably going to see at least one picture with him in it. He dodged the draft. He protested the war. He roused a lot of rabble. When I realized that I was becoming part of a union when I became a teacher, I was woefully under-informed. I had spent a large chunk of my professional life prior to this on the management part of that equation. Being a union member wasn't easy for me, since I tended to see things from "the other side." Needless to say, this lead to a few lengthy discussions about my loyalty to the union. I am happy when collective bargaining brings me higher salaries or better health care, but I am firm in my commitment to the Groucho Marx axiom: "I would never be a member of any club that would have me as a member."
Fast forward nine years, and here we are on the brink of a "work action." I had taken the job to help kids, not myself. I was committed to keeping my classroom of low-performing students in a low-performing school open the week before standardized testing (the measure of all things educational) was slated to begin. What good will one day do? What possible difference could it make? I'm not sure, but I haven't missed a day in two years with the fervent hope that one day really would make a difference.
All of that drama culminated this afternoon as I was dismissing my students. I told them that there would be a strike tomorrow, but I was coming to teach. More than half the class told me that they would be there too, to learn - to prepare for "The Test." The bell rang, and they left. Only moments after my room was free of kids did the cry come out from the office that there was an urgent communication from the State Adiminstrator, Doctor Randolph Ward. "In response to the planned strike, on Wednesday afternoon, the school district declared a 'state of emergency' and asked students to stay home from school because it believes that school service workers will also be honoring Thursday's strike, and the district wants to protect the safety of its students." I went back to the office, got my class list, and started calling parents. I told them that Doctor Ward had asked that they keep their children at home tomorrow. None of them protested. Most of them sighed and said, "Oh well."
Now I'm stuck without kids to teach. My little moral high ground was usurped by the State Adminstrator. I won't be crossing any picket lines tomorrow. I'm headed up to my son's school where I will help kids write letters to Doctor Ward, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, and Governor Schwarzenegger, and President Pinhead. I'll be working with kids. I will be teaching.

1 comment:

Robin said...

I've been really frustrated lately with The System here in Lawyerworld too. It must help at least a little when your job involves something you can justify caring about. I suppose most jobs suck when you get down to it - I envy you for having found a way to make it meaningful anyway.