Saturday, February 23, 2013

It Begins... Lifelong Profession No Longer


Since 2011 Act 10 was introduced by Governor Walker, I told people the fundamentally underlying issue that this particular piece of legislation would create is to cease to make teaching a lifelong profession. At that time I was still in AmeriCorps and facing the fact that Social Studies teaching jobs were tough to find in this state. I had my own ideas/theories about why it was a particularly tough area to break into, but that aside, I stuck by the fact that teaching was considered a noble, fulfilling, and economically stable lifelong pursuit.

It was one of the last places where someone could "plateau" in the rat-race of climbing the corporate ladder, but continue to hone their skills and become even more advanced at that particular job. It used to be that way in many jobs, but sadly we have had a culture shift in the world of work, saying that if you no longer desire to be bigger, better, and higher on the employment ladder you are somehow lazy.

With Act 10, I said that teaching would cease to be a profession for the pure and simple fact that new hires would be constantly put through a series of hoops to prove they are worthy and valuable to the district to get beyond the only possible inflation level increase they would receive. If performance and activities beyond just simply school or years of experience would count for such a large part of your compensation, teachers are going to have to do it, as their real earning potential will fall substantially if they don't receive at least an inflation-level increase every year. Which, with no union over a school district's head means they will never keep up with increases like they had in the past.

What I said would happen then would be that whenever a district gets strapped for cash, they would first lay off or "not renew" the teachers who are at the top of the pay scale because they cost the most. I said that all the talk you hear about districts not firing great teachers if they are performing is hogwash because in the end, districts have to have their balance sheets zero out. It's about pay, and if you can somehow show that someone with fewer years of experience was "just as qualified" as someone who has more, you'd keep the younger person.

This would be particularly noticed at the rural and smaller districts in Wisconsin, as they have less bureaucracy where cuts can be made.

Enter Oostburg, WI in rural Sheboygan County.

There, the school district changed their graduation requirements this past year... not something that should go unnoticed in this entire debate. Many districts change the scope and breath of requirements needed to graduate high school, and often times my profession of social studies gets the shaft for increased rigor in math and science. It's not that any social studies teacher worth their weight in thought thinks that those two disciplines are unimportant, but that there is an enormous value in the social sciences.

The conspiracy theorist in me has become less and less conspiracy over the last two years, as I now very much believe that the goal of groups influencing education these days do not want students to truly know the electoral process, how to analyze proposed legislation, and keep the masses of them unexposed to how politics affects everyone life. They'd also rather not let social studies teachers enlighten student's minds to the fact that many of the problems we are facing in society today have been dealt with in the past.

Well, in Oostburg, the board cut the required number of social studies credits needed, and added to the number of science credits, necessitating a shift in personnel. Because obviously, if students don't need an additional credit of some classes, they aren't going to take as many of those classes. Classes like , a higher level government class, or classes about Native Americans, and the diverse cultures we have in North America.

Enter, 22 year veteran Oostburg teacher Pete Christopherson  who is the teacher the school district selected to not issue a renewal letter for next year. As the Sheboygan Press is pointing out, the outcry from alumni is fierce, and their presence on Facebook is increasing to show their disdain for this decision. A decision that can really only be summed up by the School Board President:
Bruggink said the board’s decision was in response to the district’s financial situation and that the decision to terminate Christopherson’s position wasn’t personal. 
“Given the current budget situations, schools will continue having to make difficult decisions in their efforts to meet higher expectations with fewer resources,” Bruggink said. “This isn’t something that came out of the blue. Proper procedures were followed and communication was made in what we feel was an appropriate manner.”
See... it's all about the money. It's about the district trying to trim it's budget the best way possible. Sure, it's what corporate America has been doing for a while now,  but is this right? Is this really a good foundation for our economy, our nation, our state, our futures? Budgets need to be met, but hamstringing school districts by budgets like the one Governor Walker introduced last week, and corporations no longer valuing years of experience and dedication of service to one company, erodes any sense of stability we have developed as our livelihood since the 1940's.

We're told that the job-flipping culture of today is good, but like Paul Krugman, it scares the hell out of me and is a sign of instability I want to avoid. I'm a 26 year old 2nd year teacher, my first in MPS. This scares the hell out of me. How long can I hold out in education? Maybe the better question is how long should I stay in education.

Why are we letting this happen as a society? This isn't an Oostburg problem, or a Wisconsin problem. This is a United States problem. Why aren't we demanding to fix it?

2 comments:

  1. It's a battle, Andy. I taught for 2 years, and thought about doing more, but I also needed to move back and get more schooling to move ahead. Still miss it at times.

    But I'll also add that it was before teachers were demonized like this. It can be great work and it's heavily needed, but I don't blame anyone for getting out, because teachers can do a whole lot of other things with their skills, (unlike the trailer trash who disparage them).

    Sadly in 2013, you shouldn't feel you should owe anybody anything past putting in a good effort for as long as they pay you.

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  2. Thanks Jake.

    I'm hoping to get my gf licensed as a teacher so I can hone my skills in other areas as well. (Long story for her, and yes it's about medical care in this country.)

    That said, I absolutely love teaching and knowing that I work with many students who need positive and educated role models in their lives. But I just love politics and policy so much as well that I would love to channel my love of helping people into that arena. I know it's hard, I know there's pay issues, but I just want to keep options open.

    As for now, I'm focused on growing myself professionally as an educator. I'm still very green and a novice in so many areas of not just education, but life in general.

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