Two of my closest friends are former teachers in their fifties. Both of them retired from a career of public school employment within the past five years and both remain active in the profession. One works from home as an online high school teacher for a private education company and the other is a part-time university professor who teaches K-12 classroom management. We all became friends as members of the same traditional protestant church and share conservative values on most issues.
This past Friday, the three of us engaged in our usual badinage over an exceptional bottle of wine from the west coast of central California. If you must know, it was a 2008 “Southing” Pinot Noir by Sea Smoke. This was, of course, paired with complementary cheese and crisp biscuits.
I posed a question that I had been reserving for years for these two. The three of us have been compadres for a couple of decades and I knew that I would receive a full answer. But like that bottle of pinot, the character of the grape needed to develop for a time after leaving the field.
I asked, “If you were the Chairman of the Republican Party, how would you appeal to teachers to get them to vote with your candidates?”
Predictably, the initial responses emoted from their right-side cerebra with, “First, stop blaming teachers for student failures.” And, “Stop complaining about the spoils of time off and early-age retirement.” And, “Today’s teachers haven’t had a raise in four years.” And, “Get parents to quit warring with teachers. When I was a kid, what my teacher said was law and my parents backed them up at home.”
After the wine decanted a bit, the acidity began to vaporize and the pinot opened up smoothly. Along with the mellowing vin came more useful responses to my question: “The Republican Party is more connected with free enterprise and profitability than is the Democratic Party. Republicans make educators uncomfortable and insecure by challenging us to adapt to a competitive economy. That is not the lifestyle that we chose. And Democrats defend us with empathy and support.”
As special as they are, I believe that my friends are representative of most educators who identify powerfully with their profession. They see themselves more as constituents of the teaching archetype than as citizens who have trained in the profession of teaching. Like other kinships such as The United States Marines, law enforcement, and clergy, education has become a fraternity with its own language, certifications, memberships, and affirmations. In a manner, K-12 has developed as its own culture in awkward isolation from the community in which it serves.
Another useful point came during their lamenting teachers being subjected to public criticism, “It makes sense to conduct standardized testing to measure student progress. But the natural response from educators is to shift the focus of instruction from student comprehension to simply training the students to perform well on those tests. That is a low-set bar that hinders imagination.”
There were two areas where my friends’ initial emotional responses evolved into reasoned thought as the sky darkened and our glasses emptied. Where they first protested a lack of pay increase for teachers, they later described recent raises as being about 3%. It is not in education’s lexicon to figure compensation as tied to the customers’ ability to pay (i.e. the American economy). The second change of mind was in regards to the effectiveness of modern-day teaching methods. While first describing public K-12 as “better than ever,” they later acknowledged the unacceptable percentage of high school grads who require remedial coursework in their first year of college.
Two other topics where liberal indoctrination maintains a lockjaw grip on my pals’ thinking are environmentalism and egalitarianism. While I contend that teaching the green agenda is a proselytizing of the Left’s religion, they defend it as promoting good stewardship. They also are accustomed to assuming an “A” performance rating for most teachers, with rare instances of a deserving unsatisfactory rating.
The most revealing and astute observation from these old owls was that teachers would align themselves with the conservative party if they felt honored by them, as are firefighters and the military. And the single antagonist preventing that alliance is the teachers union establishment.
They spoke ruefully of union membership as like owning a pit bull; a disagreeable companion that you would rather not have in your house, but one that gives you a position of strength when you could use it. They offered two specific attractions to union representation; liability insurance and having someone else perform the unpleasant task of salary negotiations on their behalf.
The highlight of the evening for me was the moment when both of my friends agreed aloud that their utopian ideal of parents, citizens, and Republicans honoring teachers could not be realized as long as the union remains engaged. Their classic mistrust of school district management was a clear result of that devil on their left shoulder. They even described how union leadership would whisper warnings of wicked management intentions.
But we are now well into the 21st Century. And I believe that it is high time that American communities function with greater purpose in preparing our next generations of technologists, scientists, accountants, artisans, artists, and dreamers. I would invite union leadership to become part of the solution by working in constructive positions as employees within a school district’s Human Resources Department rather than fabricating an outside demand for their services with such tired, archaic and destructive practices.
I am inspired at the notion of honoring our teachers in an effective partnership with engaged parents and local industries who rely on the emergence of a well-prepared and resourceful workforce. We already entrust to teachers what American conservatives value above all – our children and the very destiny of this nation. Let’s configure our communities to invest in equal opportunity for our youth on a national level with unrivaled equipping of our youth on an international level. We can do this.