This post is late tonight because I just got home from a school board meeting (where I live, not where I teach).
Our local school district and its teachers are currently in contract negotiations (well, sorta… see below). My children’s teachers have been working without a contract this year, although you wouldn’t know it by their work. My children come home every day, excited by something they’ve learned. Car rides home are typically filled with stories and lessons of the day. Today Matthew couldn’t stop talking about his trip to the planetarium, while Toby updated me on the latest from How to Eat Fried Worms.
Curricula, state mandates, and standards may come and go, but what always remains and what cannot be easily replaced are good teachers. So far, the boys have had wonderful teachers. My 4th grader’s teacher asks students to recite a class motto each day that goes like this: “I know a place where encouragement is law, and this is that place.” What a simple and powerful statement. When I saw that motto on the classroom walls, I knew my son would not only be in safe hands, but nurturing ones.
Back to my point. I attended tonight’s meeting because the board is currently refusing to come back to the table to negotiate with its teachers. As such, the teacher’s association is contemplating a strike authorization vote. Any time that happens, you know things are bad. Our elementary school’s PTA sent an email out to parents to let them know about the school board meeting. When I arrived tonight, it was standing room only, filled to capacity with teachers and community members.
To be honest, I almost didn’t go. It’s Monday night, with a long week ahead, and as usual, I have too much to do. But I’m so glad I did. After a one and half hours of presentations, the school board finally opened the floor up to public commentary. I quickly got in line. When it was my turn, I spoke of my disappointment with the current state of negotiations and urged the board to come back to the table. I couldn’t help be reminded of an Ibo proverb from the African novel, Things Fall Apart. According to the Ibo, a man does not refuse a call,
He may refuse to do what is asked, but he does not refuse to be asked.
When one side in a negotiations process refuses to even come to the table, nothing can be accomplished.
I then spoke of the positive experiences my children have had at school. That positive experience doesn’t happen by accident. Instead, it is the direct result of every single interaction they have with every single person in that building: from their peers, to the secretaries, to the custodial staff, and of course, with their teachers.
And so another Ibo proverb came to mind tonight as well:
The lizard who jumped from the high iroko tree said he would praise himself if no one else did.
Sometimes I think teachers, as a group, could learn from the lizard. Teachers are an intrinsically motivated bunch; no one goes into teaching for the accolades. Teachers don’t typically seek or expect praise, but they also don’t take credit easily either. Listen to any teacher talk about the successes in her classroom, and she will almost always begin with the students. We give credit to our students for their successes—as we should—but in doing so, teachers may minimize the important role they had in those successes.
This, of course, makes it difficult during those times when teachers do need to speak up and advocate for themselves, whether it’s during contract negotiations or not. How do we make what we do visible to others?
Maybe we need to be more like that lizard….
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 200 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.