Teachers are not greedy people. Nobody goes into teaching for the money. But that doesn’t mean teachers are not proud people. And I would imagine that right now, they’re tired of being cast as villains by budget-cutting politicians.
Let’s be honest. Teaching has never been a highly respected profession. In capitalist America, money is a measure of social worth. The median salary for a high school teacher in the United States is $56,760, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s less than a fashion designer, a video editor, an insurance underwriter, a marketing manager, a public relations executive, or a fundraiser. It’s among the lowest-paid jobs that require a college education.
And then there’s the attitude expressed in the saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Rush Limbaugh, the bombastic radio announcer, once bawled that “Academics are people who can’t make it in the real world.” If they had anything on the ball, they would be in a classroom. So how much can they be worth?
Lately, teachers have been a popular target for politicians, who cast them as an impediment to both balanced budgets and educational progress. In his speech to the Republican National Convention, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tried to argue that the interests of teachers’ unions are inimical to the interests of students, because they protect the jobs of mediocre teachers who have accumulated long seniority.
“We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity,” Bush said. “Tell that to a young, talented teacher who just got laid off because she didn’t have tenure.
Then Bush added, “you can either help the politically powerful unions. Or you can help the kids. Now, I know it’s hard to take on the unions. They fund campaigns. They’re well-organized. Election day? They’ll show up. Meanwhile, the kids aren’t old enough to vote.”
It was reminiscent of Bob Dole’s 1996 acceptance speech, when he promised to “disregard [the] power” of teachers’ unions.
Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said students “got the shaft” under a contract that granted teachers a 4 percent raise every year. Then he cancelled the raise, while trying to demand the teachers work longer hours.
Urban teachers have been especially demonized as the cause of “failing schools,” because they can’t produce the same test scores as their suburban counterparts.
“We’re tired of being bullied, betrayed and belittled,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told reporters after teachers voted unanimously to authorize a Sept. 10 strike.
A teachers’ strike in Chicago -- in response to the mighty Rahm Emanuel’s bullying -- will be on every network newscast. It won’t just be a local story. It’ll be a strike on behalf of every teacher in America.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $2.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.