How one suburban Illinois board of education is illustrating a major problem in education.
Back when I taught and I would be introduced to someone as a high school English teacher, I almost always got one of two responses: Oh, you’re a saint—I don’t know how you do it or Must be nice to get out at 3:30 and have summers off…
The disparity in respect for the teaching profession is nothing new—there are those who feel that teachers should be esteemed as essential to a healthy and thriving community and future…and there are those who embrace the adage “if you can’t do, teach” and feel that teachers have it easy. Apparently, because we’ve received an education, we must know the realities of being a teacher.
That’s like me saying that because I have received medical care I know what it’s like to be a doctor. But the big difference in this comparison is that laypeople are not directing the medical profession—but they are directing education.
To me, there are two major challenges to our fostering a healthy educational system in the United States. The first is the way that education is funded. Unlike most other countries, the majority of funding for education comes from the state and local levels, with less than 10% coming from the federal government. (Where they can establish standards like Common Core and withhold that funding if those standards are not met.) Since property taxes are a major source of funding, where a student lives can have a great impact on the quality of education they receive—creating a very uneven (and unfair) playing field.
Additionally, since referenda are the vehicle for taxpayers to decide on increases in educational support, they are frequently voted down. My theory on this is that…since we have so little direct voice in what is funded with our taxes, when we do get a chance (i.e. referenda), the frustration level is so high that whatever we can vote on faces a ridiculous uphill battle. Educational funding is the “dog” that gets kicked because we don’t get a chance to directly say no to things like military spending or “roads to nowhere.”
The second major challenge is that those making the decisions for education—from the federal level down to the local level—have little or no experience in education or what it’s like to actually teach a classroom of students. Too often administrators haven’t been in the classroom for years or they haven’t taught at all, yet they—along with the board who hired them—are the ones deciding what happens in those classrooms. At best, this results in having those who make the decisions try to understand and do what’s best for students, and at worst, it gives them the ability to push their own personal agendas.
The latter seems to be the case in a teachers’ strike in District 156 in McHenry, Illinois.* Though the National School Boards Association itself states that effective school boards should “have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community,” McHenry’s board of education has members that include a man whose public agenda to get elected was “I want to make the teachers suffer.” And…he was elected.
Contentious is an extremely diplomatic way to assess the relationship between District 156’s BOE and the teachers’ union. Though the teachers have been working in good faith without a contract, board members have said that they are willing to move on nothing.
The board’s reasoning for not offering teachers an increase in pay that reflects the teachers’ previous sacrifices or better insurance compensation is centered on the community’s lack of education. They have stated that since only 24% of the people in McHenry have college degrees, and since the average income of the community is $50,000, why should their teachers make more?
I wonder if the board members are willing to share what their income is…and if it’s over $50,000, shouldn’t they give it back? After all, if we are deciding professional compensation based on average incomes, then shouldn’t it be done across the board? (Pun intended.)
Sadly, board members do not see compensating the teachers in their district as an investment in education and their children or a way to make the community more attractive to home buyers. Offering a fair and competitive salary schedule will make teachers want to stay and continue to grow as educators rather than getting their resumes in order to find a district that values its educators.
Rather than valuing the teachers in their district, a board member was actually overheard saying, “I f***ing HOPE they go on strike—and I hope they’re all in the same building and a bomb goes off!”
I am at a loss for what to say in response to those words and that kind of mindset.
Having BOE reps say multiple times in news coverage that they are not interested in truly negotiating, the intent seems to be to have it be a lengthy strike so that the teachers look bad and the community’s ire grows. And, while some in the community are very angry…
…their plan may indeed be backfiring. The striking teachers have been met with growing support as the days wear on from students, parents, community members, and local businesses. Perhaps they are seeing that the wolves shouldn’t be sitting on the dais after all.
As combative as this strike is, I continue to hope and pray that there is a positive end result.
But even if there is, the bigger challenge still looms.
This issue is too important to ignore. It is our heart because it is about our kids—all of our kids—and our future as a society. Those who feel that teachers shouldn’t be paid as the professionals they are should shadow a teacher and find out what life is really like. Perhaps they will grow respect from the inside out instead of assuming what they don’t really know.
If we want our children to blossom and flourish, then we must cultivate and support the garden in which they grow.
If we value education, then we must value the educators.
*In the interest of transparency, my sister is a teacher in District 156, and a damn great one. However, while I am related to someone involved in this strike, the facts are the facts, and that is what I base my writing on.