Education
11:05 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Commentary: In defense of teachers

The recent debates about school funding and public employee benefits have teachers in Michigan feeling defensive.  South Lyon East High School Social Studies teacher Keith Kindred has these thoughts:

Last year about this time, I did a commentary for Michigan Radio describing the copious amount of time I had to think while I proctored state proficiency exams given to high school juniors. You may remember I used much of that time to reflect on all the wrath being directed at teachers.

Recent events in Wisconsin, Ohio, and even here in Michigan suggest I may have been prescient in recognizing how severe the disconnect between teachers and the public had become, but they also prove that my plea fell on deaf ears. Clearly, the anger I observed a year ago was but a preview and, moreover, my attempt to plead for both common sense and common ground was a failure.

So in the spirit of perseverance that all good teachers instill in their students, I want to try again.

Ready? Okay, here goes: Are people insane?

Parents trust us enough to leave their children in our charge for seven hours a day, but so many people think we're greedy socialists living the high life? I'm having a hard time reconciling that view of me with the reality I experience every day, like taking work home with me every night, or shoving half a sandwich down my throat during a 20 minute lunch.

Whatever you've been told, teachers are feeling the same effects of the economic downturn as private sector workers. Layoffs by the thousands, pay cuts, higher health care costs, and we know more of all that is coming our way.

More importantly, if you eviscerate teachers, you'll downgrade the quality of your child's education so thoroughly, you won't recognize what they experience as a school. I already have 35 or 36 kids in my classes - and I teach in a district that's better off than most. If Governor Snyder follows through on his promised cuts to education, I'll likely lose my job - which is fine, as plenty of people have lost their jobs recently. But before you take pleasure in my pain, you might want to think about how the teachers left behind could have 45 or 50 kids in a class. In Detroit, it might be as many as 60 students per class.

Let me assure you, my friends, that in such an environment, very little real learning will take place.

The reality is that cutbacks in government services have been happening in Michigan for years and, truthfully, there was no way to avoid that given the economic devastation that state has experienced. But we didn't get into this financial mess overnight, nor was it the fault of public sector workers. Let's make the cuts we have to given current fiscal realities, but let's drop the poisonous, vengeful tone.

I don't know why people seem more mad at teachers for our current economic troubles than they are at Wall Street executives involved in the sub prime loan fiasco, but I do know this: You need to stop listening to ideologues who rant that all government is evil, or who attack public sector unions for political gain. And you need to contact your elected representatives - something too few people actually do - and demand they stop this nonsense and find reasonable, responsible solutions that don't disembowel the services on which we all depend.

Look, we're all frustrated by this economy and public sector workers should and indeed are feeling the pain, too. But you don't want to view as enemies the people who teach your children, nor the firefighters who respond when your home is ablaze, nor the police who arrive when you need them most, nor the snow plow driver who clears your street.

If you do you wont just be hurting public sector workers, you'll be hurting your friends and your neighbors, your children and yourself.

Do you really believe cutting a teacher's nose to spite your child's face is a wise education policy?

Now, if that message doesn't get through to you, I give up!

Keith Kindred teaches social studies at South Lyon East High School. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.