What's With All The Teacher Hate?
Sarah Seltzer, contributing writer to the The Sisterhood, shares her thoughts on education, class, gender, unions, and workers' rights. As the Chicago Teachers' Strike came to a close today, we at JWA are struck by the relevance of these continuing themes as we prepare to announce new material in Living the Legacy: A Jewish Social Justice Education Project, which through the use of primary sources, explores the role of Jews in the Civil Rights and Labor Movements.
We know you'll enjoy Sarah Seltzer's piece and hope you'll appreciate the connections between the labor protests of our past with that of our present.
The single year I was a public school teacher, green and fresh out of college, was unquestionably hard. Sure, I was typical for my demographic — naïve, a poor disciplinarian — but the nightmare arose from circumstances beyond my own inexperience: waking up at the crack of dawn to commute, dealing with ever-fluctuating administrative directives, teaching in a former home-ec classroom without blackboards and with a short-circuiting power source that left the classroom in the dark halfway through a presentation. New students were added and my favorite students pulled out of my class with no warning. Troubled students would wander around without the resources they really needed. The absurdities abounded. I remember standing in my classroom while four experts tried to gauge how I should arrange my chairs to best meet pedagogical standards. I remember when a huge percentage of staff would get minutes marked off their time-cards when the subway broke down and everyone coming from Manhattan was delayed. I remember the superintendent following our usually autocratic, suddenly meek, principal around chastising her about hallway bulletin boards not being colorful enough for standards.
I left teaching full-time but stayed in touch with my colleagues. Over time, I found that while the teaching climate kept changing, they were expected to be ever-ready to shift their priorities, style and standards to meet demands from above — and they did so willingly.
I felt then and feel strongly now that robust teachers’ unions are necessary to rectify the power that administrators have over faculty, to keep the job from sliding down the line from professionalism to drudgery, and to advocate for improvements like smaller class size and freedom to innovate.