`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
- “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
As a high school English teacher and proud North Carolinian I have kept quiet over these last few years on the steady decline and current remains of my salary. I always figured that what needed to be said would be said by those many, more experienced and articulate than me. After all, we hear it all the time: we truly appreciate you, you’re not paid enough, you’re the key to our future… and all the other rotten, wrinkled, and moldy phrases in a cloud of recycled air. Like those three simple words that are dryly stated in a long deserted marriage. Meaningless.
We hear that bullshit every year.
Forgive my French for the truth. You can say those words to me all day and it will not inspire me just as it would not inspire my students. Mind you, they pick up on your hollow ‘appreciative’ language faster than the average adult. Students like positive change in feedback and motivation as do teachers. So, I want to ask, why are we appreciated?
We are appreciated because we do a job no one else wants to do while at the same time knowing we will not be paid like one of Pat McCrory’s cabinet members.
But oh, how sacrificial are we!
Is this something to be proud of? Your answer lies in the self-driven teachers that last beyond a year or two. The ones who wish to not be sacrificed for the greater good leave. And more power to them. Our art is not for everyone. Our art is not understood by everyone. Our art is not appreciated by everyone, which is clear given the fulmination of the North Carolina House and Senate 2013 budget and legislation.
These two trunkless legs have allowed the state I was proud of stumble and fall flatly among the last states in the nation in teacher pay, pushed by state Republicans and allowed by state Democrats. Mind you, the President visited Mooresville recently touting the advances in technology in schools.
Yet we survive.
Dust us off. Slap a few taglines on us. Send us to Time Warner Cable arena for a mockery or two and shove us back into a classroom with the future generation. A generation spent.
So what is the solution?
If we were to use the disillusionment of a business model, the pedestal of the mighty McCrory’s education plan, our children would then be our products (that we don’t choose even though they seem to think they are selected NFL Draft style). This is where the business model falls apart. Entrepreneurs make choices about their products. Teachers get the cards they’re dealt and without bunnies, wands, or black hats we make magic.
Personally, I do no believe in magic. I’m not so superstitious to believe that teachers wake up in the morning at seven, teach until three, then go home and watch television. I have a wife and two children. At five-thirty we wake up, shower and get our children ready. We drop them off at daycare at six-thirty (when it opens) and head to our classrooms. Upon arrival, we lesson plan. We watch our kids enter. We teach. The students leave and I coach. I stop coaching at five. I go home and eat, clean, grade, and look at the clock and it is ten. This is on a day of simple grading. Forget essays. Forget game days. Forget staffmeetings and IEP meetings and grocery shopping. What time I have to myself, I spend running. After all, if I don’t have my health, I don’t have anything. As a teacher herself, my wife does the same, and more. Elementary teachers may teach the basics, but her job is far from that (and requires an infinite amount more patience than I could ever have).
In the summer, I juggle part-time jobs. Most recently I worked with a flooring contractor making seven-hundred and fifty dollars a week. Requiring no degree or experience in the profession, I made more money in a week than I would as a teacher. And still it was barely enough to make sure my kids did not eat Ramen every night for dinner for the next month.
As a man and as a parent I feel it my responsibility to keep my kids healthy, loved, and entertained. But what does one do when year after year the bank account is nearly boundless and bare? We live a simple life. Or is this what Mr. McCrory calls a “comfortable life?”
I was a coach and loved the challenge, but I was no compensated enough. Now I must have a second job. I will not see my children. I will not see my wife. Weekends being spent doing my job which requires hours of grading and planning. That or I sacrifice the job I have sacrificed myself for.
We have discussed moving. We have discussed changing professions.
But what is it we tell our students to do? We tell them over and over again, that when the time comes, you will faces challenges. You can either hide from them or confront them. As a teacher I find a melancholy anger in watching teachers be the pushovers of society. If a student were to ask me if I am proud to be a teacher, I could look them in the eye and say no. Because I have been a hypocrite.
“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away"
What we face today is not respect for our bank accounts. It is respect for our profession. Public education is the foundation of democracy. However, despite our hopes in speaking out and morally marching around Raleigh, there are only two ways to earn the “respect” we desire: to strike or to motivate others to stand up for us.