Tales from the Front Lines - Blog by Paul Gamboa

A woman finished another day of backbreaking labor in the field on the farm she lived on. As she slowly plodded back to her house, she stumbled over the something in the dirt. To her amazement, it was a shimmering gold lamp. She sheepishly rubbed it and to her amazement, a genie magically appeared.

“My lady, thank you for freeing me from my lamp. In order to show my gratitude, I will give you three wishes.”

The farmer thought for a moment and sighed. “Genie, I am a humble woman of meager means, I have but one wish. I could not possibly take all three.”

“Very well then,” the puzzled genie exclaimed, “What wish can I grant my fair liberator?”

“Oh it’s not much. My neighbor has a really nice cow. It gives milk regularly, has had several healthy calves, gives enough milk to provide for her family, and has been one of the few things they can count on. Sure there are much bigger and productive cows in some of the other farms, but her dependable cow is really nice to have.”

“Then a cow like hers it is,” the genie majestically proclaimed.

“Oh no,” the startled farmer explained, “I don’t want a cow like hers, I just want you to kill my neighbor’s.”

Late last week, I was in a meeting with many of my colleagues from around the county my district is in. As the meeting began to come to a close, one of the participants told a story that hit home.

She was out to dinner with her daughter who had just entered the teaching profession. They were having dinner with some friends in the business world. When she said she was teaching, they started asking questions about what her day looked like.

“How many sections do you teach?” they asked.

The word four wasn’t even totally out of her mouth when she was met with confused silence.

“And you have time to plan?” they followed with.

“Yes……….”

“And you get a lunch???” they asked.

She stood there in silence, not knowing how to defend herself.  Her mother, whose blood pressure was skyrocketing, finally stepped into the conversation and began to defend her daughter.  Sadly, this conversation isn’t an outlier.

Every one of us has had this conversation. Right after the obligatory pandering, “Wow I could never do what you do” leaves their lips it is quickly followed up by eight words that cause me to have an aneurism every time I hear it start.

“Must be nice to get your summers off.”

There are lots of theories out there as to why this country hates teachers. However, it’s pretty hard to argue that they don’t. It’s truly bizarre, though, how this country views educators. It always fascinates me to look at data. Most studies out there show people think very favorably of their child’s individual teacher. However when you ask peoples views of “teachers”, they seem to respond negatively.

It feels as if as soon as a group of teachers gets together they go from being something from an individual in a Norman Rockwell poster to some vile money-sucking monster that Nicholas Cage and The Rock are fighting in a straight-to-Netflix sci-fi movie.

It’s there that the problem lies. We’ve become so programmed to be on the defensive as a whole that we have reached the point where a lot of us are done fighting the fight. It’s precisely this attitude that is contributing to this misguided view. This means one thing:  the people who want us gone are winning.

I don’t get this. When it comes to defending ourselves, we don’t.  We just take it and let people forge the narrative.  Why should we be ashamed that we have a right to negotiate our working conditions?  Why should we be embarrassed we have a right to stand up and fight for our kids?  Why should we be demonized for standing up to the politicians who continue to pass waves of legislation that are destroying our schools?

This job isn’t just teaching four classes. Anyone who has had the courage to step into a classroom knows that this job consumes you. What the profession is made up of today goes well beyond anything that anyone could have imagined even a few years back.

Defending our profession should be the easiest thing we do. Think of all the things that we do for kids that go unheralded. We don’t seek recognition. We do it because it’s right for kids.

  • That same teacher who has a “cushy” job of teaching four periods a day is the same teacher who is tutoring kids after school for free.
  • That same teacher is the woman spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on supplies to serve her kids because our schools’ budgets have been eviscerated.
  • That same teacher is being forced to pretty much create an entire curriculum because her district doesn’t have the resources or time to adapt to Common Core.
  • That same teacher is sacrificing every fiber of her being during the school year in a job which the public loves to villainize at every turn.
  • The same teacher is taking classes, attending workshops and trying to find ways to continue to grow as a professional.

This goes toward being in a union too. We all know that unions get pounded with persistent and numbing frequency. I don’t think the public gets that the same person who is going above and beyond for their kid is also part of a union. We need to make sure that we get that point across clearly. The same people the public respects for dedicating our lives to make a difference in kids’ lives are the same people who belong to our association.

We all know that a lot of this has to do with the truly magnificent job that people against teacher associations have done to get their word out. Yet we let them continue to hammer us and refuse to push back.

That has to stop.

We are in a union to fight for what is right for our schools, our students. We shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for the fact that we get extravagant luxuries like a lunch or time to collaborate with teammates to try to meet the needs of all our students.

There are not many people out there fighting for public education. IEA is one of them. However, that’s not enough. This needs to be taken down to a local level. We need to be more aggressive in our efforts to combat this image.

If you think about it, this shouldn’t be hard. This should be a unifying issue. Defending public education is a regular topic at school board meetings. Superintendents strongly believe in, and have to regularly defend, public education. District and building administrators want do the same.  This should be something that unites us. We all have a common interest. However, we don’t this. That has to change.

This is something that can bring all of us together. It’s time to start thinking about ways that we can get the word out about what we do. We are all in this together. It’s time to remember that and find ways to get our message out. There aren’t many people in the business of defending public education these days. We need to be the ones who change the message.

One thing I know for sure though: I am done being on the defensive. I am not going to sigh every time the conversation starts, and it will. I will proudly tell people what I do, what I stand for and what my association stands for.

It’s the holiday season. That means most of us will see lots of people with lots of different views. I’m sure all of us will have some run in with family or friends that leads to snarky shots at teachers and the union we are a part of. If the narrative is going to change, it has to come from us.

So when you run into your “ education expert” uncle halfway through his tenth eggnog (which I wrote about last year), keep something in mind. Don’t worry about the people who are worried about killing your cow. Take control of their message. Proudly tell them what you do and what you believe in.

I hope that everyone has a chance to enjoy time with family and friends over winter break. Take some time to rest, relax and recharge. You’ve all earned it. Thanks for all you do for our kids, our association and public education.

Thanks for reading and as always, I welcome your comments in the section below. You can also follow me on Twitter @paulgamboa. Seasons Greetings to all!

Paul Gamboa is a teacher who is currently serving as president of the Indian Prairie Education Association.