World Teacher Day, Thanks Chicago Teachers! (and having to hold your pee)

Today is World Teacher’s Day and so I wanted to share an amazing story about my son’s wonderful teacher.  Last year, during the beginning of Occupy Wall street, we did what any civic-minded parent would do – we took the children. We joined the union/community support march for Occupy. It was a Wednesday night.  Our twins had a great time with whistles and chanting, we are the 99%.. We got home late, so we didn’t get the chance to do our homework.

The next morning, as the kids lined up on the school blacktop, I told Alejandro’s teacher that we were unable to finish our homework because we were at the Occupy march. She replied – that’s great, I will Alejandro talk about his experience in class today.

This wonderful teacher did even more than that – she had Alejandro share his experience. Then she read to them some poems by Pablo Neruda, the inspiring poet from Chile. She told the kids about how he fought for the rights of miners in Chile. Then she encouraged the children to discuss what they needed in school to learn and they made signs and marched inside the school!  Alejandro’s sign said: “we need more money for books. “

I was absolutely amazed and so thankful to have a wonderful teacher who changed her teaching plan that day because she saw a real teachable moment.  There has been so much teacher-bashing this last decade. Make no mistake, bashing teacher unions is ALSO teacher-bashing because it attacks teachers’ right to retiring with a decent pension, their medical benefits and their right to democracy in the workplace.

We entrust teachers with our CHILDREN and with their education. How is that we stand for so much hatred aimed at them and their work?   I think that much of it comes from male politicians who see teachers as an easy mark – a primarily female workforce doing “women’s work” which is easily disrespected. After all, our entire culture disparages the hard work of child raising. People think its not actual work.

People rarely stop to consider the actual work conditions of teachers. My kids’ describe the work conditions – “Susan put gum in Jose’s hair today and Jose cried”, “Alicia threw up in class today.”  Imagine being surrounded my children all day, with never a moment of quiet? Not to mention the lice outbreaks! If you are not a parent who spends a good chuck of time with kids’ you would never actually know how hard it is to spend hours and hours with our “little angels” My guess is that most of these politicians have not spent a lot of time with their own children or anyone else’s for that matter.

Another thing – teachers have to hold their bladder all day! The DOE laid off most of the teacher’s aides (called paraprofessionals now) throughout the city. Our teachers in our schools have no paraprofessional, which means that they can’t go to the bathroom until they kids leave for lunch or another program. Those of us who work in an office, can’t imagine what it be like to lose the autonomy to pee whenever we like.  Why would any smart, professional person chose this work?

My guess is – because a majority of them they really do love the children and prize their own sense of personal reward at really seeing children grown and learn under their wings. But it is certainly not for the money or the sense of respect they get in society any more. In the Philippines, where education is prized, teachers still don’t make a lot of money but they are certainly respected. They are always referred to as “mam” or “sir” whether you see them in school or not.

I for one, feel like it is time that we stop the teacher bashing . Let’s give them all our support, which includes supporting their right to have democracy in the workplace through unions, good pensions, good raises, affordable health care and opportunity to continuing education.

And special shout out to the Chicago teachers for being so courageous in this atmosphere of worker and teacher hatred. We all learned a lot from you and your president Karen Lewis.