being a teacher

What Does it Feel Like to be the Enemy?

I have been asked by many to write about what it feels like to be a teacher in Wisconsin these last couple of weeks.  What it feels like to be a union thug, a protester, a deserter of our children, the enemy.  I have held off because it is overwhelming.  It is all consuming.  It is making me lose my appetite, lose sleep, and lose my belief in kindness.  And yet again, it has also restored my faith in collaboration, in fighting for your rights, in peacefulness and discussion.  So I guess, this is how it feels.

When the news first broke, I was shocked.  While I was not surprised that the next target would be teachers’ unions; after all, has anyone heard of “Waiting for Superman?” the swiftness and ferocity of these attacks left me dazed.  Nervous chatter in my school led to anger, tears and deep, deep concern.  Not just financially but also over what our classrooms will end up looking like once this “reform” is complete.  I started the year with 27 students in my room, it was a tight squeeze, with no union bargaining rights, I have no doubt what will happen to class sizes.

So I wrote about my fears and placed my private thoughts out because that is what I do.  The response was immediate.  Lovers and haters abounded and the dialogue continued.  I debated my point many times but once the attacks started  to get vicious, personal, and irrelevant, I started to delete comments.  I have never before deleted comments.  Yet I could not provide a forum for people with so much hate in their words, so much desire to see me fired or even better, harmed in some way.  Is this what America has become?

This debate has destroyed friendships, torn families apart (mine included) and caused so much grief.  One thing is paying more for your benefits, and yes this amounts to about a $5,000 pay-cut for me (look up starting teaching salaries and you can see what I earn) but it is so much more than that.  By removing our bargaining privileges, we are saying yes to larger class sizes, to longer school days, to less collaboration, to firing without just cause or even a grievance process.  We are removing protection for those teachers that dare to speak up for the sake of their students.  That dare to try different things and challenge the status quo.  We are removing community and communication.  I fear for my own situation, but I fear more for the education of all the children of Wisconsin.

So the hate continues, the lies swell up and I am reduced to nothing more than a bad teacher.  Someone that others will cheer for when I get fired, someone others will clap at when I cannot pay my bills.  People say that teachers have not felt the recession and that it is our turn to share the pain.  They say this without knowing us or our situations; I am the sole provider for my family, the recession caused that, so do not tell me that I do not know or share the pain of others in this state.  Do not tell me that it is my time to pay.  Do not tell me that I am a thug who does not care about the children.  Do not insult me as a teacher. Do not insult me as a human being.   I care deeply about the children I teach, that is why I chose to be a teacher.  And that is why I fight.  For the sake of my own child, for the sake of my students.  For the sake of all the children of Wisconsin.

23 thoughts on “What Does it Feel Like to be the Enemy?”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I have been teaching for 24 years, and never could I have imagined the horrible things that are going on right now both in education and in our country. The big losers in all of this will be our children. They will lose because talented teachers will leave the profession or never enter teaching to begin with. They will lose when they are crammed into overcrowded classrooms. And in my district they are losing because of constant testing. All any of us can do is our best in our own little corner of the world, but the stress is definitely taking a huge toll.

  2. Regretfully, it sounds like you are in the beginnings of a move towards a fascist community. It is sad. It is sad because many don't understand that complaining, blaming, yelling and screaming is not going to solve the problems or alleviate the situation. Those that complain and have no positive suggestion other than to attack, will realize their error of their ways when it way to late. When the children have already been failed, and 10 years behind their competition to the north and south, because the good, passionate teachers were forced out. It is a dangerous cycle and if it isn't stopped quickly, it is going to take at minimum one generation to fix. An entire generation wasted – what could be worse. My suggestion would be, get what you need and move to some where that respects what you do and supports your efforts – Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and many more, sorry, bug sometimes you have to put what is the most important first. You and yours.

  3. I am so glad you finally found the strength to put this to paper. You wrote a beautiful tribute to yourself and all teachers, not that it's any consolation given what you're facing. I am thinking about you and your colleagues, watching with great interest, and admiring you all from afar for your commitment to our children and our democracy.

  4. Remember that many support you from afar, and not just other teachers. I am a nurse in Minneapolis and understand how important this struggle is for you in Wisconsin. I am proud of the teachers and the Teachers' Union for standing up to be heard during this struggle. Know that many support you and your efforts. We are there with you in spirit, if not physically. Keep up the good work! We know that your struggle could easily become our struggle here in Minnesota, and we support your efforts.

  5. I can not begin to imagine the depths of emotion you must be feeling as you navigate your way through this challenging time for you both as an educator, but also as a person.It physcially pains me to believe that others would even think of gaining satisfaction from the situation educators are experiencing in Wisconsin- but to vocalize those thoughts- what have we come to as a society?All that aside- know this there are many of us that empathize with what you are going through and bear no ill will- only a positive outcome for you and your students.Stay true and stay strong.

  6. Know that many support you from afar, and not just other teachers. I am a nurse in Minneapolis and understand the struggle that you are facing. Keep up the good work!! Stay strong and remember that many are with you in solidarity with your cause.

  7. The belief in education, in helping kids grow and learn, is what teaching is all about. Since I took early retirement I have spent my time on my humor site, I too preview what I post. The misdirected anger by people who have been propagandized and manipulated with the illogical logic of Beck. Limbaugh et al has taken on a fierce and formidable aspect that is, simply, destructive. Humor alone is not enough to strengthen the resolve of teachers to build a future for the next generation and the next. We have a right to seek support for our students and our families and each other. Though I myself am not of a strongly religious nature, the simple "Do unto others" lesson that humanizes us all is what we strive for as teachers. With the vast corporate wealth attacking us as scapegoats for the problems of a nation, I have no idea how this will all work out. It seems obvious that whatever the outcome, we all must stand together as the front line of defense for what we believe in – the future of our children by those of us who know their needs and how to care for them.- Ken

  8. I wanted to put in a word from someone who teaches in a non-unionized charter school. While I enjoy my job and working in a school with a progressive (dare I say "waiting for superman"?) focus, I believe that my working conditions are completely dependent on the bargaining that the larger union-led district does on behalf of its teachers. What I mean is that even non-unionized jobs like mine necessarily depend on union's bargaining practices to set the bar for all teaching jobs. The only reason my own organization hasn't gone union is because we enjoy benefits and salaries that are equal to that of our union-member colleagues. Any less and we'd be organizing. I think that privatized workers sometimes don't understand this point. I want to say THANK YOU to unions for leading the path for *all* workers' rights. and thank you to you, for your post.

  9. There are millions of people in and out of education who agree with you and support what you do for the students. We can't let the downers hold us down. Stand up for what you believe in and remember that nobody has control of what happens tomorrow. Be positive! Stand up for what you know is right – it is all we can do.

  10. "Haters" and "downers" are actually just people who disagree with certain ideas and practices. Labelling them in slur terms is as bad as if they swear and curse on a blog – and as ineffective. It's much better to sift through to find out what the counter ideas consist of and thoughtfully consider them and the alternatives. I expect educators to think and ponder logically and not react in emotional ways and succumb to the lizard brain of lack and attack. I expect educators to become the problem solvers and step out from behind union shields to put their heads together and solve problems within the districts and states.If public education was working, there wouldn't be outcries. It's not, so the citizenry has the right and obligation to insist on a better way.Single breadwinner status is NOT a valid rationale to maintain the status quo. Think again. Rise up with logic and new, fresh ideas. Be the solution to the problem.

  11. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I too have lost friends and family memebers because I chose to care about the children in my state. I too have felt the stress. Where are the Republican teachers?

  12. Thank you for reading this post as well as your public outpouring of support. Yesterday, standing in a crowd of 70,000+ protesters I felt at home. I am not alone. I am happy to see that only one anonymous comment was negative, and even civil this time. I agree that civil discourse should bemade. That is what I have been asking for all along, our governor clearly does not want civil discourse. So to address a couple of points in that anonymous comment: – hater and downers are mild compared to what I have been called: communist, fascist, idiot, leach, thug, horrible teacher, or and I hope you get fired and shunned out of your community. So haters and downers, yeah I am not too worried about those.- I have read most of the bill, and I have proposed solutions in every single email or phone call I have made: raise the sales tax and close big business tax loopholes. This would provide much more income than my measly $5,000 a year in paycut.- Single breadwinner status is absolutely a rationale to be enraged over this! Guess who is going to have to help me pay for food if we don't become a two-person job family again, that's right – the state. Aren't we then in fact robbing Peter to pay Paul.I appreciate your civil discourse but again do not pass judgment on me and my mode of solutions. I have indeed discussed, digested, and proposed. We have done nothing but ask for negotiations, the Republicans have done nothing but undermine, ridicule and refuse to meet at the table.

  13. To the anonymous poster who had the audacity to question the validity of being the single source of income in the home: give it a shot before you pass judgement on the gravity of this situation.

  14. I've been a teacher for 13 years in Florida and if there was something else I could do, I would. I love what I do and the kids, but I'm tired of feeling like you – beaten, the scapegoat for all the world's problems, a union thug. Ironically, the people that complain about how horrible education is, were most likely educated in a public school. Sigh…Keep fighting the good fight and know that you have a country full of supporters behind you!

  15. I am a teacher in a right-to-work state, and I have chosen not to be a member of the union for various reasons. However, I would never make this argument personal or attempt to say that those teachers who are union members and are fighting for their union privileges are bad teachers or bad people. I applaud your honesty, and I'm glad I took the time to read your blog. Just understand that those of us who blog on the "other side" of the debate get the same types of negative and useless comments from union members that you have. None of us has to make this personal. It is political. And, by the way, you will never be my enemy. We are teachers first and foremost. Thank you for sharing your frustrations and your pain. The vast majority on both sides of the debate understand where you are at.

  16. A friend posted the link to this post on FB. Brilliantly stated. My mother was a teacher and my dad, a sub (to supplement his income as an interim minister) during my teen years after dad nearly lost his life to a massive heart attack at age 50. My parents never discussed their finances with us, and I only learned later that had it not been for the ability to raise our own food, we would have ranked well below the poverty line. Yet, they pursued their callings without thought for how little money they made because they knew they were making a difference in the community. Without the health care benefits in lieu of cash they received for their efforts, they would have been completely wiped out. The least we can do for those who ask little more than simple respect is to let them know that we stand behind them and their ability to stand up for their rights. There isn't a teacher in the world that got into the profession for the money, but how did they end up losing out in the respect department too?

  17. This week I experienced the wrath of a parent for things well beyond my control. She sat in the office with my principal, a fellow teacher, me, and two of her four kids. She yelled at us for too large class sizes in the upper grades (37 in my colleagues class who was in the office), she yelled at us for retaining too many children, she yelled about the students not being able to talk while eating lunch, and she yelled ABOUT EVERYTHING. She threatened to write us up for this and that, and she said she would go before the school board with her wrath. As all this happened, she confessed she didn't have a job and she was in crisis. We all felt like punching bags. Yeah, it's getting bad. I pray for all the Wisconsin teachers nightly. God bless you in your courage for speaking up and sharing some raw emotions.

  18. I doubt anything will get any easier- but I'm so happy those of you in Wisconsin are fighting the good fight. We lost our battle in Arizona long ago- but it is you who keep us from completely falling apart. God bless you.

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