Friday, September 21, 2007

Lasciate Ogne Speranza, Voi Ch'intrate

If you've come looking for a chuckle or a little pick-me-up, point that browser elsewhere, my friend. The post title should tip you off to that little fact. If you've got some misery and it's looking for a bit of company, read on.

I never paid much attention to the whole concept of "workplace morale". To me, morale only mattered in situations where you might live or die; where flight was a viable option. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a very private person about certain things, that I'm a big fan of the "Shut the fuck up and do your job" school of thought. After the first couple weeks of this school year, though, I'm not so certain anymore.

I've never seen employee morale so low in a workplace before. The feeling has become almost palpable. It's manifesting itself in anger, frustration, sometimes even apathy. And these aren't slackers I'm talking about; these are talented, dedicated, intelligent, caring people. These aren't only teachers; these are educators--yes, there's a difference. Many of us are getting the message that we are unappreciated. Not underappreciated, but simply UNappreciated. Not undervalued, but UNvalued. Teachers don't work for the money. Even the village idiot knows that. The best of us do what we do because it matters to us. We certainly have our perks, but the fact of the matter is that 99% of teachers in America are underpaid. I believe John F. Kennedy said it best when he said

"Modern cynics and skeptics [...] see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing." -90th Anniversary of Vanderbilt University, May 18, 1963

Rampant hypocrisy only exacerbates the issue; how many times will we have to listen to people say how "important, essential and valuable" we are while refusing to deal fairly with us? There's a powerful emotional undercurrent in the building right now. It's almost as if Howard Beale might show up on the morning announcements at any time screaming "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!!!"

It's so powerful that that the students, who are much more attuned to our rhythms and moods than we give them credit for, are asking about it.

And what am I supposed to tell them? I can't fathom the truth because I can't fathom what the "other side" could possibly be thinking. I can't speak for all of my co-workers, even though I know in a general sense how they all feel.

And what are we supposed to do about it? What can we do about it? Pretty much nothing. Any of the tools that unions use to pressure their employers has been deemed illegal by that piece of shite Taylor Law. You know, that awesome law that strips unions of all their bargaining tools and places no pressure whatsoever on their employers to negotiate.

What now? Do I refuse participation in any extracurricular activity that I'm not paid for? Do I stop showing up at 7AM and start showing up when my contract tells me I have to? The thing is, there's only one group that suffers when teachers start doing that sort of thing: the students. Am I supposed to use them as some sort of pawn in the labor game? Regardless of how bad things get, I honestly don't know if I can bring myself to deny help--of any kind--to those kids who ask for it.

These kids come into my classroom. They sit where I tell them. If I'm halfway decent at my job, they do what I say, and if they don't, they sit there quietly and don't bother any of the other kids who are doing what I say. They listen to me. They pretend my jokes are funny so they don't hurt my feelings. They smile at me in the hallways. They spend their free periods with me. The best of them open their minds, hearts and lives to me. They let me in, let me be a part of their life inside and outside the classroom. They let me know that what I do isn't a total waste of my time, energy and intellect.

At the very least, I owe them the same. I believe I owe them more. These kids have done more for me than they can possibly understand. How can I work solely in my own interests when the Class of 2008 gave me a reason to come to work every day last year? How can I turn my back on a group of kids who are the prime--probably the only--reason I still work in my current district? Next year may be a different story, but I've promised myself that I'll see this group walk that stage, no matter what happens.

It's funny to me that people always focus on the "teacher's impact upon the student". We read countless essays, articles and human interest pieces about "The Teacher that Changed my Life!" It's all good--but it's only half the story. What about the kids that kept that teacher teaching? What about the kids that make us come to work every day?

Hopefully, things will get better before they get worse. In all honesty, I don't think they will. I just hope I never have to choose between my livelihood and my students.

Take care of yourselves.

1 comment:

mineIsay said...

This is a difficult one. What can I say? All the points have been stated, and stated far better than I could ever hope to achieve. It's your strength that will see you through this. It's your knowledge that you are making a difference that will help you along. Of course you'd never let the kids suffer, it's not in your nature to do so. The people that need to take notice of these things are so out of whack with what's right that it would be laughable, if it weren't for the spirits they were killing. Maybe you can help out the other teachers, i have absolutely no idea how you might accomplish this, of course, but if a leader is needed, i have no doubt you could be it.