Houston, TX (August 19th) – This is my fourth year teaching secondary English in Texas. I am passionate about achievement through education and literacy. August always stirs up a mixture of anticipation and resignation. The sliver of resignation is usually reserved for the fond memories of summer. I don’t have to elaborate on the great pleasure of being able to wake up whenever your body wants. Regardless how luxurious the lazy days of summer are, I’m always ready to enter a classroom around Labor Day, either teaching or learning. An unrepentant nerd, I get excited at the start of a new school year; been this way since grade school all the way through my first day teaching a class of sleepy-eyed sophomores. This year however, the annual increase in enthusiasm is tainted by the terrible fact that as my family grows it is becoming increasingly clear that I can no longer afford to teach.
Budget shortfalls are the norm. Perennial siphoning of the education budget is a fact of life we instructors navigate like Sherpas on the face of Everest. Creative conservation, leveraging free web tools, donations, direct from our thin pockets; all the ways we make education work in America. Educating the next generation is easily the most important job on this planet. What we don’t teach and learn today, we have to buy and borrow tomorrow. Everyone who does something was taught by someone. Whether you are a hedge fund manager or you manage hedges, odds are some kind of teacher helped.
We are not blind. No teacher stumbles into this field and confuses it with banking; money isn’t the motive. We are also not obvious to national and global economic realities. It is clear that excesses will be trimmed. What is not so clear is the simple reality that education is the leanest cut on the budget body. We utilize every ounce of available resources; then recycle it. Murkier still, few know that the education field receives millions that at best provide no resources to instruction, and at worst fund wasteful and dangerous projects.
In 2007 a margarita of mismanagement and malfeasance sent scores of teachers scrambling for new schools. I was hitting job fairs weekly like I had season tickets. One morning before I left home the local news teased a story about Governor Rick Perry mandating vaccinations for teenage girls to prevent HPV.
I thought: Are these same people who won’t teach responsible sex education to these kids having kids, but would require them to get vaccinated for the sex they are NOT supposed to be having? How many dangerous shots were traded for the thousands of fired teachers across the state?
Fortunately, a series of wonderful and horrible occurrences prevented Governor Perry and his corporate cohorts from unleashing Gardisil on the captive population. Voter backlash coupled with reports of seizures shut it down. The money never went to teachers. No new jobs; average class ratio was still 35:1. It mysteriously evaporated as Perry’s dynasty-making reelection campaign ramped up.
We are instructors. We are not looking to get rich like bankers; we teach bankers how to get rich off us. We’re not expecting millions, just the compensation that reflects the professional position and the enormous responsibility hefted on our shoulders. That responsibility is the future, our most important natural resource. We don’t have to drill or wipeout mountaintops for it. The sole requirement to enrich children’s lives, and subsequently the world, is the proper amount of funding and support of the most significant factor in the potential success or failure of a child/nation: The teacher.