May I Please See?
Teachers can be a stubborn lot.
To be fair, in this profession, we kinda have to be. Trying to steer 34 teenagers at a time into meaningful learning while trapped in a concrete box an hour at a time against their will requires, well… a certain amount of stubbornness. Sometimes it works, other times – not so much.
But you try again the next hour. You come back the next day and adjust. Refusing to give in is a job requirement.
You get tired of cautious price-checking as you shop for groceries, or putting on your best face while you limit how many back-to-school clothes can come from Target before going back to the... usual places. Your friends don’t mean any harm when they share their vacation stories or invite you to that restaurant they chose to ‘accommodate your budget,’ but - SERIOUSLY? They don’t even have a kids’ menu there!
It takes stubbornness to love your chosen path anyway. To decide it matters on those many days you DON’T have motivational breakthrough with little Bobo and his tearful thanks for all you do.
If you stay in this profession long, you start to notice that every year or two the BIG-FIXIT-PLAN-THAT-WILL-SAVE-US-ALL comes to your district and dominates every faculty meeting and required PD day. Touting examples from schools nothing like yours in communities your kids will never live in, we slap this year’s program on top of the past dozen we’ll now ignore but never acknowledge enough to remove.
It takes a rather bullheaded individual to learn how to either surf those waves or let them wash over you without pulling you under. It takes a stubborn soul to resist bitterness towards those genuinely trying to help or apathy towards legitimate personal and professional improvement.
So, yeah – we’re a difficult bunch.
It’s a given in Oklahoma that nothing done at the capital is intended to help your kids do or learn anything meaningful. We don’t all burden ourselves with trying to keep up with the jumble of agendas, vendettas, naïve intentions, or other factors in play. Some of us follow a few bills and could name several ‘good’ and ‘bad’ legis up there, while others choose to tune it out and simply do our best – knowing that sophistry and power always have and always will seek to undercut and disparage us. Our kids are just collateral damage in battles that have little to do with education, ‘standards,’ or preparation for a rich, meaningful life.
Before I even read the paper or the latest press releases from OKC, I’ve assumed the position - defensive, cynical, and a bit pissed off. Because I know people I care about are about to take it again – hard and without dinner.
It’s become my new normal. I don’t blame others for trying not to get wrapped up in it – although it’s like pretending you don’t have cancer, or that your spouse isn’t fooling around when it’s obvious to everyone else. Ignoring it rarely fixes it; “optimism” is a poor substitute for responsibility.
So yeah - showing up every day and trying to make a difference takes some stubbornness. Working the political process takes a healthy dose of mule-headed optimism. Pretending we can win – professionally, politically, personally – it all takes some pretty iffy grit.
In short, teachers are a pain in the ass. Big surprise.
But I’m going into 2016 with an open mind. It’s a new year, a new legislative session, and a new round of draconian budget cuts. Why not new ideologies and understandings as well? Maybe I’m wrong about some things. Maybe we’re ALL wrong about any NUMBER of contentious issues.
I’m ready and willing to learn. Eyes open. Please… show me. I know you think you’ve said it all before, explained it all already – but so have we. Let’s try just once more? For the children?
May I please see examples of students who were ‘trapped’ in failing schools, unable to pursue other options on their own, but received vouchers and flourished? Kids who weren’t going to private schools already? It would be great to have a few anecdotal examples for that ‘personal’ connection, and then maybe some numbers on how that’s worked out in similar states or communities to our own.
If it’s not too much trouble.
Oh, and bonus points for actual low-income students of color. Your rhetoric constantly hints they’re the primary beneficiaries, but you never quite come out and actually say so...
While we’re on school choice, may I please see some examples of public schools who are so very thankful for the implementation of vouchers? I know we’ve been pretty up in arms about our funds being cut as state and federal requirements continue to grow, but the rhetoric from the right is that public schools will benefit greatly from fewer students and less money, because… percentage-numbers-choice, and America-freedom-eagle-truth.
I’m ready to sincerely consider your examples, and their stories. Seriously.
Of course it’s not just taking away resources that improves schools – it’s public shaming. We’ve been fighting one another for years now over this annual A-F state report card thing. I’ll admit this – teachers do get touchy about accountability. We don’t like it when you accuse our kids of being stupid, and we don’t like it when you suggest we’re lazy and incompetent.
It becomes a bit of a vicious cycle – you keep cutting and regulating us out of the ability to do anything useful, and when we have trouble accomplishing all we’re trying to, you feel like the few resources you funnel our way are being wasted.
But both the OKSDE website and the annual rhetoric from our State Legislature is clear – schools landing on the low end of that A-F list will receive increased support – training – mentoring – guidance – resources – from the state, yes? There’s a reference to using ‘spurs’ on us I’m not crazy about, but other than that…
It’s not to shame anyone, or to further stereotype the most marginalized, vulnerable, and disenfranchised segments of our state’s population – it’s to identify need, and inform parents who can’t otherwise possibly figure out if their child is going to a good school or not.
I’m ready to focus more on the ways the state tries to meet the needs of underperformers, but I’ve been too caught up in my own frustration to pay attention to that part. May I please have some examples of schools you’ve turned around through careful diagnoses and tough love? Some stats fitting their stories into a larger state context would be helpful as well, thanks.
Finally – and I appreciate your patience, I know I’m putting a lot on your plate here – could you explain this ‘trickle down’ thing in the state economy again? I’ve been a bit close-minded in my recent frustration, and I’m having trouble with the details.
As oil prices fall, earthquakes increase, and the national economy recovers, we fight against federal dollars because Obama-gay-terror-federalism, and Hitler-slavery, right? (And you thought I didn't listen!) You keep cutting taxes on the top sliver of wealthiest citizens and businesses in Oklahoma because we cannot tax ourselves into prosperity - so if we eliminate state revenue altogether… we’re rich?
That's where I’m confused.
I know there’s a balance of sorts, and that high enough tax rates kill growth. But may I please see examples of how cutting the obligations of the most prosperous has led to more jobs, more state revenue, more services, more prosperity - in OUR state, recently?
Someone – the Governor, maybe? - was trying to convince me recently that our budgetary woes are primarily the result of falling oil prices or ISIS or something. I’d like you to know I jumped to your defense! If there’s one thing you’ve been consistent about over the years, it’s that you’re not interested in excuses when the results aren’t what you’ve mandated. You believe in accountability! Taking responsibility! Making the touch choices so the important numbers go higher!
I respect you too much to pretend you don’t have absolute and total control over what happens to the state and every numeric result therein. Poor outcomes means you’re either lazy or poorly trained, and how insulting would it be to hear THAT repeatedly every time you can’t work miracles?
Besides, if the State Legislature has zero influence on the economy, why do we even bother having you? You could be out in the schools, showing us again how to do the learning gooder instead. You should have a talk with that Governor. She doesn’t understand how this stuff works - not the way you do.
Thank you so much for your patience with us! We’ll try to be more open-minded and reasonable, and I look forward to your explanations and examples. Don’t be afraid to use small words and clear visuals. I’m a teacher, after all, and you know better than anyone what THAT means.
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