October 20, 2011

Lend Me Your Foghorn

When I was ten my family lived in Upper Michigan in a tiny community called Gwinn Township. There was one elementary school, middle school and high school for miles and miles. The school district was large but with a small population. And that population was the kind that was born in, lived in and died in their community. And because of that it was really common for a teacher to teach his students' children. The principal of the elementary school easily looked over the education of three generations. So when the school board decided to push an unfair contract (I don't know the details, being ten and all at the time) the teachers went on strike and delayed the start of the school year. Because they had first hand knowledge of how much their work mattered in their community.

Though I didn't really mind, my summer was longer and the only difference was I had to go to daycare until the strike was over, it kind of bummed me out. I loved going to school. I liked my teachers and was sad they had a problem that was directly affecting me. My dad explained that the teachers felt their salaries were not reflective of the work they did. He said it without judgement or condemnation. In fact, I sensed some agreement from him. My parents taught me to respect my teachers because they would shape who I would become. That my educators held the key to helping me start an educated and therefore better life.

The rest of the community agreed with me and the strike didn't last long. How can a community that was all related either by blood or marriage deny their own something that was fair and balanced? It is very possible that as a ten year old it was all simplified for me and I'm misrepresenting history. But what it boils down to is the community knew and understood that teachers are where our nation's collective sense begins. Our sense of community, our sense of responsibility and our sense of self. Don't abuse it and don't treat that lightly. It's sad that the teachers had to strike in order for the community to see that. But the point was made.

Fourteen years later I met a man who told me he wanted to teach. I was immediately attracted to the selflessness and idealism he expressed in his chosen profession. Nineteen years later I married that man. And twenty years later, almost on the nose from my first strike experience, my husband went on strike. His school board decided to impose an unfair contract, without any negotiations with the teacher's union, that as a layperson I'm not going to try to explain. But it boils down to less pay, more contracted work time. There's other stuff involved with pay grades, higher education credits and health plans but I'm keeping it simple when I explain it to people. The board refused to negotiate and forced the teachers' hand to stand up for themselves. So yesterday, the teachers went on strike.

It surely goes without saying but I one-hundred percent support the teachers. I would support the teachers even if I wasn't married to one. The Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union school board needs to understand that they can't bully the teachers into giving them what they want. That they can do whatever they want without consequence. The school board wants the teachers to think about the students and not disrupt their school year. The teachers think about their students all the time! That's why they bring work home with them every night. That's why they stay late and help students with work. That's why they coach sports teams or advise student government. I'd like to see any school board member teach for a day and then try to impose that contract. It's time for them to understand the value of our teachers.

Support your teachers. Support a fair contract. Support the strike.