Yesterday was Memorial Day and it was an easy day to think about heroes of the military variety, those brave souls who put on the uniform of our country and pick up a weapon to go do whatever we ask of them to help keep our nation safe. But just a week ago or so, we saw heroes of another stripe, bloodied teachers corralling and comforting little kids who’d just gone through that roaring, screeching, blasting tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. A picture I saw on the internet featured the lower leg of a young teacher with part of a desk piercing her calf. It had happened, apparently, when she threw her body over those of her students, trying to protect them from the wind, trying to keep them from being sucked up into the vortex of this terrifying storm and whisked away to Kansas or to their deaths.
We should be getting used to seeing this kind of bravery from teachers. We saw it happen at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children were murdered and six teachers and administrators, as well, including a beautiful, young teacher named Victoria Soto who hid her kids in cabinets, then lied to the murdering young man, saying her students were in the gymnasium. Before heading to the gym, he shot and killed Victoria Soto, ending the young life of this new teacher who had done what she needed to do to protect her students.
This past year, bank-rolled by big, conservative money, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin set about dismantling the teacher’s union in that state. Breaking the backs of worker’s unions in America is what the right-wing wants to do. Funny, that’s exactly what Adolph Hitler wanted to do in Germany, too. Talk radio morons went on and on about teachers being overpaid, only having to work nine months out of the year, only having to work until 3:30pm each day, blah, blah, blah. Clearly, these guys don’t know many teachers. I do.
I know lots and lots of teachers. They all have Bachelor’s degrees; most have their Master’s degree; some have their doctorate. They go to work early and they get home late. They grade papers at home, have conference calls between dinner and bedtime, put projects for their students together after work, and sometimes pluck troubled students out of dangerous home situations. Weekends are often taken up with some kind of school competition, Legos Robotics, Math Mania, or some such event. Along in there, somewhere, they manage to mow the yard and walk the dog. They meet with parents who are often angry or resentful and put up with student trouble-makers who manage to keep the rest of the class in some kind of turmoil so that nobody gets to learn. Some of the teachers I know have been hit, kicked, pinched, cursed out, spit on, and head-butted. Lunch break, for them, is usually about 2pm, and right after that, they get to pee. And, for most of them, that’s the only time for the whole day! Sound like a job you’d like to have?
And still, through all of that, they love their students – are thrilled when all the gears grind a certain way until that CLICK! happens and they know their kids are learning. My friend Sylvia taught biology in middle school. Her first year was frustrating because there was so much to know and to do, plus, there were two boys she just couldn’t get to connect, no matter how appealing or interesting the subject matter was to the rest of the class. Late one night, Sylvia slid on her butt down a hill behind her house and scooped creek water into a jar, which she then took with her to school the next day. Carefully dragging out the microscopes, she paired the students up, smeared some creek water on slides and set up each pair of students so they could see just what was going into their mouths when they drank out of the creek their Mom told them not to. She put the two boys together and they took turns squinting into the microscope. Walking down the aisle between the lab tables, Sylvia heard one of the boys whisper to his friend, “JESUS – LOOK AT ALL THOSE LITTLE BASTARDS IN THERE!” It was at that moment that Sylvia knew she had two new students hooked on science and biology. And she did. She became their favorite teacher, and they became two of her best students.
It makes no sense to me that the people we entrust to teach our children should bear the scorn of the nation because they have the absurd notion that they deserve to make a living wage. The crooks on Wall St. who drove our economy into a ditch make millions and millions using other people’s money and nobody seems to get bent out of shape over that. And, if teacher’s unions are what we need to help bring about a fair wage, health insurance and a decent retirement for teachers, I’m all for it. They deserve it. MORE than deserve it. Collective bargaining is better than no ability to bargain at all. Indeed, if we really loved teachers like we like to say we do, we would double their salaries and halve their class sizes.
As I mentioned, I know lots and lots of teachers. My partner is one of them. They are the heroes who only pee once a day. When I think of the teachers I know, I don’t know a single one who would not have done what those lion-hearted young teachers did to save their kids from harm, whether it was taking a bullet to the heart or a spear through the leg. God bless them all.