By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – It’s been a rough couple of weeks here in Louisiana – at least for me. Nothing insurmountable, but it seems that it doesn’t take much these days, at this time of year, to throw me off my game.
Two weeks ago, after a book signing event, I pulled some papers out of my bag and somehow hit myself in the eye and ended up with a scratched cornea. No big deal; it burned for a while and my eye was swollen, but it heals. It’s much better.
Then on May 4, the parish in which I am a high-school ELA teacher held an election with two propositions on the ballot: one for teacher pay raises and one for technology upgrades in the schools so that our internet capability can support the thousands of ChromeBooks we now have in classrooms and the mandatory online testing requirements.
After a nasty, bitter election, both propositions were defeated.
We remain the lowest paid district (by far) in the region.
We also remain the top performing district in the region.
Both propositions were defeated by a 3:1 margin.
I get that people don’t want higher property taxes – I really do. The public wants the school district to find another way to pay teachers. (They defeated a much more modest pay raise in 2012.)
What has truly hurt has been the vitriol with which teachers have been treated through this and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m pretty battered and bruised about it.
We were called socialists and then communists by a prominent local business leader. We were accused of wanting party barges, bigger houses, and nice cars “on the backs of others” by a business PAC that flooded the city with mailers and digital billboards.
We were told that we knew the pay when we signed up for this job and that the “extended breaks” more than make up for any pay disparity we might perceive.
Our cars were photographed in school parking lots and put on social media: “If you can afford to drive a car like this you don’t NEED a pay raise!”
And we were told that if we are truly “for the children” then quit talking about the money. “If it’s not about the money, quit talking about the money!”
It goes on and on; it was truly ugly.
The first day at work after the defeat was also the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week and I can tell you that nobody really felt very appreciated. Morale is critically low and teachers in my district are now jumping parish lines to work in a neighboring district that pays $7,200 more per year. Last year we began the school year with over 200 positions unfilled; I shudder to think what it will look like this year.
So, yes, I knew when I went in to teaching that I would never get rich from my career choice; I did not go into it for the money. I am a teacher because I love what I do and I could not fathom working my entire life at something I hated. Given that, it does not mean that a teacher does not want to be appreciated and her performance valued and recognized. I have been teaching for twenty-three years and the parish has invested heavily in my ongoing professional development training through the years. I am rated a “highly effective” teacher and the test scores of my students reflect that. The same is true of many of my colleagues.
The question of whether or not we deserve a raise is not my point, and the issue of how much of my own money I spend in my classroom or how many hours I work off the clock is not the point either, although I could go on for days about that. The point here is how reviled we apparently are by the community in which we work.
That’s what has hurt.
So, look. If you have a kid in school, be sure you let that teacher know how appreciated she is. Expensive gifts are never necessary. A nice email or note is good. Do that for me, to soften the blow of the past couple of weeks. If some other teacher somewhere feels valued and doesn’t have to feel what we are feeling right now, then that helps.