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Ride It Out

March 24, 2010

Today’s Guest Blogger: Heather Wolpert-Gawron

(a.k.a. Tweenteacher)

Teaching is a daily exercise in, as a wrangler buddy of mine used to say, “getting back on that horse.”  Each day teachers struggle, reflect, and try again to have success whether it’s with a failed lesson, a failed student, or this failed system.  But to be a good teacher requires a daily attitude and conviction of “I will crack this puzzle,” for without that determination, we would never be able to uncover that which makes some students laugh, or work hard, or plan for a future they previously believed had no place for them.

In fact, it’s a common occurrence in your first year or so in teaching to go home dejected, many times in tears, asking yourself why this strategy didn’t work or this student didn’t succeed.  Your nights are spent researching, brainstorming, planning, and throwing out the crumbled paper of previously made plans, in an attempt to finally see that light bulb of learning go off over some struggling student’s head.  You finally go to sleep, if indeed you sleep at all, dreaming of possible solutions, thinking outside the box, only to finally have your eureka moment in your car’s rear view mirror on the way to work.  Maybe today’s the day that you’ve cracked the code to their comprehension.

Teachers, real teachers, don’t give up on their fight.  They don’t give up on their school and their community.  Neither should real leaders.

But that’s just what 49th District Assemblyman Mike Eng was heard saying in an off-handed comment recently at a local Southern California event.  When asked about what he and other legislators were doing to help the California education budget, Eng responded: “It’s a national problem, and we just need to ride it out.”

Sadly, this comment undoubtedly represents a common tenor in California legislators beyond the 49th District.  And with this response, the banner of California education sags ever closer to brush the ground, leaving the teachers with the job of holding it high.  But for how long can those in the trenches be expected to hold the standard of our fight without the support of legislators?

And believe me, those of us in the schools understand feeling unheard and dejected.  We understand that there are some in Sacramento blocking the process towards progress.  There has evolved a political stalemate that, while it destroys schools, cannot also destroy our collected will to survive.

You know, Eng is right about something in that the dire straits facing California are also part of a national problem.  There may be no actual nemesis here to blame for our problems, but in search of the solution, there is one true villain: complacency.  And frankly, just because it’s happening everywhere doesn’t mean that California can’t become the state that models the bipartisan solution.

We are all in professions that expect us to fight.  For teachers, we fight for our students.  For those in elected positions, they are expected to fight for our schools.  But it’s as if Eng had shrugged with defeat admitting, “Well, we’re stalemated up here in Sacramento, so I guess we’ll just see what happens.”  But we in the trenches cannot afford to merely wait this storm out, losing our jobs and our students while California slowly dismantles its own educational system.

Because that is just what is happening, slashed program by slashed program, cut teacher by cut teacher.

It’s beginning with layoffs that are, for the most post, generational in nature.  Districts by the hundreds are laying off teachers who have given their blood, sweat, and tears anywhere from 1-10 years in a district. And after the dust settles, we will have seen an entire generation of teacher let go. And where are those teachers to go?  Who is hiring?  Education is about to lose an entire generation of teachers to the wind.  They are losing resilient, strong people who will find a way to stand up in a storm.  But they will find their way in another profession.

So the teachers go, their programs go, class size increases, and schools fail.  And the end of the storm is not yet in sight.  And still those of us with jobs fight.  For we who fight know that you cannot push against the storm and simultaneously “ride it out.”

What if firemen were to just “ride it out?”  How many buildings and acres would be lost?  What if teachers were to “ride it out?”  How many students would consequently be lost as well?  And to where are we riding?  What awaits us on the other end of that storm if we lose our will to fight?

Since we’re talking about California, it seems appropriate to bring up a Hollywood reference at this point.  I think of Gary Sinise’s character in “Forest Gump”.  Lieutenant Dan’s legs have been taken, his sanity almost gone.  Had he just ridden out the storm of his own despair he would have ended up a drunk in the streets.  But he climbs that mast, fist towards the clouds, and keeps fighting, despite the seeming futility of his battle.

These are dark times.  These are sad times.  But these are not times to let our banner drag, and to hear our own representatives shrugging with defeat.

Teachers are soldiers in this war.  But while we lack the body armor of funding to do our job to the degree we all wish we could, we fight the battle daily that we were hired to fight.  It’s not in a teacher’s nature to “ride it out,” and it shouldn’t be in the nature of those we elected to fight for us in Sacramento.

Californians – contact your representatives! Demand that they make decisions to support our schools.  Demand that they meet the deadlines the rest of us must adhere to.  Demand that they get back on that horse and ride through the battle rather than just “ride it out.”

You can read more from Heather on her tweenteacher site, as well as her ongoing posts at Edutopia, where she is a staff blogger and moderator for the middle school discussion group.

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