Walkouts give teachers agency in the face of the legislature, but they don’t always result in funding.
The once-earnest appeal toward better public schooling has turned into a classic bipartisan discussion, wherein the damn progressives beg for more taxes and the damn conservatives are a bunch of stingy fools who are morally wrong. It’s becoming ever more apparent that no one has any clue what’s really going on, except for maybe the superintendents raking in the chips alongside the national unions.
In Tulsa Public Schools, there is some clear discontent. Teachers bemoan giant class sizes and lack of resources. It’s everything everyone else is sore about. Los Angeles teachers recently began a walkout, alongside their Rocky Mountain compatriots who laid siege on their capitol. An astute comment made by a Tulsa World reporter, Kyle Hinchey, was that “some days felt more like crowd-control than teaching.” Public schools are a failing American institution; that, everyone is sure of.
Reporting on the topic has taken two angles: the empathetic personal appeal of a hard knock teacher who works five jobs or the rigid “teachers are abandoning their duties” ethic. Everyone has a take: I was sitting in downtown Tulsa, enjoying a fine Saturday night, and had an acquaintance shout, “You are student teaching, right?! Isn’t public school awful?” It’s a social justice mission now, meaning the general public must step in and champion one side or the other. Rightly so, for education is the great equalizer. Unfortunately, what has come to fruition is a long list of demands and little ideological transformation.
There is no clear cut solution to this expansive issue. Instead, the “walkout” and strike has become the ultimate symbol of teacher agency in the face of the anti-school pigs in the capitol, even when the wailing teachers got what they wanted! The 2018 Oklahoma walkout resulted in none of the requests of the Oklahoma Education Association and teachers. What instead happened was the legislature passed a bill approving more funding prior to the walkout, and teachers walked anyway. It’s true: it wasn’t enough money, nor will there probably be enough money.
Now, legislators are fighting back: they’ve created House Bill 2214. If disregarded, the bill would prohibit teachers from walking out with a stiff penalty: permanent loss of certification in the state. The funny thing about all of this is that it ignores both problems. Everyone proclaims that “everything is for the kids! We need more money for the kids. Teachers have to stay in school for the kids.” Teachers are already understaffed enough, even without every teacher who protests being fired permanently — not to mention the obvious authoritarian vein to this piece of legislation.
Regardless, no one has the money, even if every administrator and legislator got massive pay cuts. The problem lies somewhere else: teachers are not respected. They are empathized with, praised and loved by many, but they are not respected as professionals. The people who have an education double major are always asked, “Oh, so you’re going to teach as your backup plan?” My favorite question is, “So you want to coach?” No, I want to teach.
Teaching is not a career with any of the scholastic or cultural appeals of doctors, lawyers or politicians. What first must change before we have any sort of ideological or political shift towards better education is our idea of educators. Education holds many of the same values, philosophies and scholarship as the other social sciences. The teacher is a cultural anthropologist, acting upon years of research to perform responsibly and appropriately to aid the learning of students. They guide and learn with students across cultural boundaries. No, this isn’t speaking for all teachers — just the good ones.
It has never been more apparent to me that teachers are not viewed as professionals because they are not treated so. Our best and our brightest do not head for the double doors of the high school. Without there being any respect for the career, teachers will always be undervalued by the majority of professional Americans, and the money will follow the corporate Godhead.