Tales from the Front Lines - Blog by Paul Gamboa

Paul GamboaIt’s teacher appreciation week. It’s a week where our profession is celebrated. It’s a week when the parents can let us know how they feel and how thankful they are for us. My building does a truly magnificent job of this and I can’t say how thankful I am for everything our PTA and parents do for us during this week and throughout the year. I know that it’s like this in many schools across the state.

It’s in stark contrast to something else that’s been sticking my mind recently.

This week the Huffington Post has had up an article about how millenials have very little respect for the teaching profession. I had a long talk with several friends about this the other night and all pretty much came to the same conclusion.

My gut reaction was, this really isn’t a surprise. It’s getting harder and harder to find anyone, outside of us, that responds positively to teachers these days.

Back in 1983, in A Nation at Risk, the Reagan administration essentially said that teachers, and unions, were pretty much terrorist organizations hell bent on destroying America.

It’s gotten a lot worse since then.

The media loves a good “teacher gone bad” story. Every time there’s a misstep in anyway it’s at the forefront of the news. If there’s a drop in test scores, it’s reported.  Every time a teacher gets a cost of living increase, we’re eviscerated for being greedy swine with our vile snouts endlessly sucking from the public trough. It’s almost impossible to have a talk about Illinois and not have our pensions brought up for being the lone culprit in our state’s current financial predicament. It’s nonstop.

It’s so bad that Bruce Rauner pretty much based his entire campaign in the primary race around the fact that teachers are ruining the state. It’s pretty much a nonstop barrage of bad publicity and it isn’t helping our perception at all.

It’s even more maddening when you take it down to a personal level.

Several years ago, I had a seminal moment that really sums up what it’s like to be a teacher today. I was at a wedding making the normal small talk between strangers.  When asked what I did for a living, he was surprised to hear I was an elementary teacher.

This person gave the usual talking points about how hard it must be, how much men are needed in the elementary world and how they would never have the patience to do what I do. He spent a great amount of time asking how I can do what I do and thanking me for being someone willing to dedicate their lives to making a difference in other peoples’ lives.

Not less than ten minutes later, I heard him talking to someone else.  The conversation was decidedly different.

Another gentleman was talking about having to attend his local school board meeting to protest the fact that the teachers were getting a “fat raise” [direct quote] in the district he lives in. When I asked what the terms were, he was unable to tell me. I looked it up. It was two percent below CPI.

For those of you unversed in financial terminology, that means that the raise the teachers were being given was two percent below the cost of living increase. There was a stark contrast here though.

This outraged the person I was speaking to earlier. Although he seemed to be a huge fan of teachers a few moments prior, he now had a decidedly different tone.

At that point I decided to ask the question. I was curious about the apparent shift in philosophy from my supporter. I sheepishly asked, “If teachers do work that you don’t feel you could ever do, how is getting a modest raise unfair?”

His response: “Teachers do something I could never do in a million years. It’s a difficult, thankless job. I just don’t want to pay for it.”

It was wise to remove myself from the conversation at that point.

Basically what you have here is a weird juxtaposition. Most of the teachers I had, and that my kids have had, made a world of difference. However teachers are ruining the country.”

It’s a strange place to be. On one hand, to our faces, people speak glowingly of the impact that educators have on students. On the other hand, they say we’re ruining the state. It’s a strange place to be.

If you open the Chicago Tribune, or most news sources in the area, turn on the news, watch political ads, or recently opened some mail, it’s a constant attack. There, of course, will be consequences.

A two-minute segment once a month on the evening news featuring the “Teacher of the Month” isn’t enough to undo the other countless stories that rip us to shreds.

For almost all of their lives, millenials have heard nothing but about how schools are failing. Our teacher unions only care about themselves. In “Waiting for Superman” it showed parents sobbing when their child had to go into a public school and equating it with a death sentence.

Teach for America is actively recruiting millenials by saying that the best way to rescue struggling inner city schools is to take Ivy League students, give them a few weeks of training and then immediately start changing lives.  Attend a couple of seminars and you’ll be ready to star in your own version of “Stand and Deliver!”

Take all of these things into account and it’s not hard to understand why millenials don’t respect the profession. Society doesn’t.

In the last blog I wrote, I asked what we want from our union? I want our association to try to change public perception. Our association is aggressively trying to do this.

We are trying to give back with grants and with programs that increase opportunities for students and for teachers. We are trying to improve our craft and advocate for students. We are trying to change the perception. We are trying to improve our public schools. We want to get better and help our students do better.

As a teacher talking to other teachers, know that I appreciate all the work you do.  We are all working toward a common goal and it’s through us working together that we will change the tide.

So despite the constant attacks, and negatives that can go along with being a teacher, I will take this week and appreciate it. I’m lucky to be in a school that does value our teachers a great deal and goes to great lengths to show this.

I hope all of you take some time and reflect on all the good that you do and all the lives you improve. You do and it does make a difference.

As always, I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts below.  You can also let me know what you think by following me @paulgamboa on twitter .  Thanks for reading!

Paul Gamboa is a fifth grade teacher at White Eagle Elementary School in the Indian Prairie School District and an IEA member and leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgamboa.