Letters to the Editor

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STRIKE: What it means to be a teacher

Letter by Christel M. Elliott, Tacoma on Sep. 21, 2011 at 11:12 am with 22 Comments »
September 21, 2011 2:16 pm

Being a teacher means bearing college debt that far exceeds my salary. Some days I work more than double the hours I am paid to work. I invest hundreds of my own dollars to buy supplies/materials for my students each year.

I feed my students. I counsel them when they are suffering and in need of guidance. I instill values and respect in them. I try to help them meet standard in all areas, despite the fact that I am working against 11 to 13 years of unimaginable issues they walk in with.

I try to replace their own ideas that they are inadequate, stupid, “slow,” worthless, retarded and “bad” with beliefs that they are smart, worthy, respectable, beautiful, and responsible people who will do anything they want in life. I try to steer my students onto the right path so they don’t drop out of school and so they can go to college.

I build relationships with families and teams of people who support my students. I do more and more each day and am paid less and less to do it. I never stop giving, and I do it for my kids, not for people who stand at a distance and throw stones.

This situation takes an incredible toll on all of us. It is painful to work so incredibly hard for kids and then have people bash you, flip you off and treat you like you are beneath them. What is wrong with people? Poor education?

Leave a comment Comments → 22
  1. I too am a teacher, retired. I loved teaching and put in long hours and pulled extra duty.

    Now let me ask you, do you honestly think teachers are the only people who do this. Frankly, I’m a little tired of the nobility speech. Aren’t we supposed to work hard? Go the extra mile? Strive for excellence? No matter whether we are a teacher or a checker at the grocery store.

    Anyone remember the expression, “work ethic?” My mother earned 50 cents an hour at her first job and was so happy to get that job, she worked her way up to a prestigious position in her workplace. Why? Because her boss was so impressed by her attitude of gratitude and her work ethic, he stayed late to train her to do college-level work. In 23 years, she did not miss one day of work, and she never stopped expressing gratitude for being able to work.

    Yeah, it’s a “walked 5-miles-in-the-snow” kind of story, but you know what? I’m really weary of everyone thinking they should get a medal for doing what they should be doing. The collective whine is beginning to make me feel nauseated.

  2. alindasue says:

    sozo said, “The collective whine is beginning to make me feel nauseated.”

    I doubt you are feeling even half as nauseated as I am with the constant “teachers are worthless” comments I’ve been seeing posted in these forums since the possibility of a strike was only a speculative rumor.

    Children learn from their parents’ example. If these people are the parents sending their children to school, it’s a wonder their children can learn at all. It’s hard to pay attention to teachers you don’t respect, and these children are not being taught by their parents to respect.

  3. PumainTacoma says:

    Amen. We all have school debt join the club. No more crocodile tears. Enough is enough. Nobility your not. Teachers get back to fricken work.

  4. BigSwingingRichard says:

    What does it mean to be a teacher?

    Well, thanks to 93% of you it means you have abandoned your profession, you have agreed to participate in an illegal strike, you have agreed to defy a Superior Court injunction and YOU and your cohorts have denied food and education to 28,000 kids.

    And for what?

    So you can continue to use seniority in staffing decisions, a practice which contributes to ensuring the best person is NOT selected for the job.

    Seniority benefits you and hurts kids and you have closed down the schools over your own selfishness.

    My recommendation: Everyone should not get mad, get even.

    Strike = No Levy

  5. scooter6139 says:

    Richard, again and again I have seen you rant and rave about getting even teachers and yet your only solution is to punish the same students you profess to care for? Take the teachers out of the equation and look at what you are proposing. You think this strike is disruptive? Imagine losing 30-40% or the entire districts budget because you were short sighted and wanted revenge. I hope you don’t have any kids in school because this would potentially destroy the district.

    Way to go.

  6. To BS Richard:

    I’d be more worried about your threat if I thought that you had ever voted in favor of one.

  7. christelelliott says:

    What is most frustrating to read is the uninformed/misinformed responses from people, lashing out in complete and total anger. Nobody is asking for seniority, and only a few (very senior teachers) would even be interested in that. We just want a structured evaluation system that is research-based, consistent, and measurable. We give our students criteria for their grades, rubrics, checklists, and clear outlines of what it means to meet standard and get good grades. We are simply asking that our evaluation system meets the same expectation so that people are fairly evaluated. Who wouldn’t want that? NOT ONE PERSON I KNOW.

    And there is no whining in my writing above–people only see what they want to see. If I didn’t have a good work ethic, I would work only my contracted hours, nothing more. I work as hard as I can every day and have simply asked for the respect that I have most certainly earned and will continue to earn as soon as I can go back to teaching. Nobody has abandoned their profession. We will still teach kids 180 days this year, provide them with 180 days worth of school meals. Regardless of the outcries, we are not giving kids any less than we would have been, but it has been delayed. And nobody wants school to be back in session more than I do. Every day we hope with everything we have that an agreement is reached so we can vote on it. I would vote to ratify any contract at this point–they have presented nothing to us as of today. I don’t even know who to be frustrated with for that at this point. I am so hopeful that the talks in Olympia will resolve this whole thing immediately. I am sorry, but you guys have to look into this stuff for yourselves, not just be swayed by the media. The parents of my students and my students themselves support me, you don’t have to.

  8. mmbentley says:

    This letter couldn’t sum up my feelings as a TPS teacher any better!
    To all of you nay-sayers, I understand why it may appear that we’re all a bunch of whiners; however, I challenge any one of you to step into a teacher’s shoes for even a day. Yes, I knew when I signed on to be a teacher that I was going into an underpaid and overworked position– I knew that the good I could do in this position would outweigh the negative. The part of this job that no one can prepare themselves for is the negativity.
    You send your children, the most important parts of your lives, to a teacher everyday. You expect the best education for your children, and their teachers provide the best. Despite putting our hearts and souls into YOUR children, we are constantly ridiculed, asked to do more, and given less and less resources to get it done. Now again, I (mostly) knew what I was getting myself into here, but tell me another career with these same expectations.
    We teach our children to be sympathetic and understanding of people in different situations than our own– don’t you think it’s time we take our own advice??

  9. I do not hear whining in this letter and I do not hear anyone asking for a medal of honor. What I have heard and read on several Facebook comments is this misconception that teachers work 180 days a year / 7.5 hours per day. I see the point of this letter as trying to provide even just a little insight into the life of a teacher. We don’t need people to sing our praises. We went into this profession to make a difference in the lives of children, not to be publicly recognized or to put on a pedestal. However, when we are being told over and over that we are selfish and work far less than the average American, then I think most of us teachers will take great exception to that. We will tell you at that point that you are wrong. We will try to give you a glimpse of what we do on a daily basis. This is not to say that others do not work just as hard. We just want people to understand that yes, we DO work hard and yes, we DO care of about our kids!

  10. Vox_clamantis_in_deserto says:

    I do more and more each day and am paid less and less to do it.

    Sure sounds like a whine to me. And how many times have I read that this strike isn’t about money?

    Nowhere in your letter do you raise the issues that you did in your follow-up comment, Christel. Perhaps if you had, it might have left somewhat less of an impression of grousing.

  11. andreab451 says:

    Christel, your letter is well written, and it appears you really want to do well and be back in the classroom… Unfortunately, whether seniority is what TEACHERS want, it’s what TEA is proposing as the first guideline, instead of moving it farther down the line. In the many proposals from the TEA, this has not changed, nor have any specific guidelines been proposed to replace what the district put up.

  12. christelelliott says:

    Andrea, your response (while appreciated) is exactly what I mean when I say that people are speaking with misinformation. This is copied and pasted from the latest TEA proposal, in which it proposes a committee is created by the district AND the TEA this year to create a new system of evaluation, to be agreed upon by 2/3 of the committee by the end of this year. It is to get AWAY from displacement based on seniority:

    “Memorandum of Understanding- Displacement
    Within two (2) weeks of the date of ratification, the District and the Association shall each appoint one (1) individual to undertake the joint design, makeup and working timeframe for a committee that will study the establishment of a process for and new criteria related to the displacement process under Section 85 of the collective bargaining agreement. The committee may utilize outside experts and consultants in its work, and may use a facilitator to assist the committee in its conducting its work. A necessary outcome of the committee’s work will be new language in Section 85 of the collective bargaining agreement that reflects a displacement process in which seniority may be a factor or a tie-breaker (but not the sole or primary factor) in displacement decisions beginning in the 2012-2013 school year. Furthermore, the committee’s work will preserve specialized programs and buildings identified for the 2012-2013 school year (Lincoln Center, SOTA, SAMI, Jason Lee, Stewart, Baker, Giaudrone, Bryant and Geiger) within the District. The committee will adopt a revised Section 85 by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of all committee members
    The District and the Association will implement the committee’s revisions to Section 85 beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.”

    To Vox_clamantis_in_deserto: First, in reference to what I said about more being asked of me and less being paid to me, what you read is a fact, not a whine. It is an explanation of what I do. Black and white. I cannot help how you personally interpret what I write. Secondly, I didn’t raise issues in my original submission because that wasn’t the point of my submission. Hard to cover everything another reader might think of in 250 words. And I also wrongly assumed that people actually know what is going on, especially those who would be so bold as to cast stones. I am quickly learning that people are sadly misinformed and uninformed. Please, go read actual documents for yourselves. Even those are difficult to sort through, but at least it isn’t some biased source of information or an interpretation of the facts by some vested source. I have had to do a lot of researching myself to understand these things, and I am still struggling. I would not dare speak about that which I am not as informed as I can be, especially not in the judgment of others. What I wrote in my original note was black and white about what I do, and I am extremely passionate about helping my students in any way I can. If you got something other than that out of it, you had already decided who I am before you read it. I cannot control what lens you choose to read my writing through. Peace to all, seriously.

  13. KLbentley says:

    First off, I would like to say that I’m not a teacher in the tacoma district, but a just recently graduated from stadium high school. I can easily say it was the best eduacation I could have recieved. For those of you who believe what was written was “selfish” of her, or that the strike is “bad” for the students, your not reading into it as well as you should. While the teachers are on strike they are teaching the students to stand up to bullies, and to stand up for what is right and what they believe in. Personally i believe that’s the best lesson to be learned in life, and luckily these students are having the privelage to learn this lesson while still in school.

    Some parents are complaining about their children not getting their 180 days of free breakfast for some and free lunch for most. Now what some may not understand is that while the teachers and students are out of the classroom they will still recieve every single 180 free or reduced breakfast and or lunch. Now for those who are concerned about not having free childcare while the strike is in effect you have plenty of options. Some of you act as though the teachers should go back into the classrooms just so that you have somewhere to send your children during the day. Believe it or not, teachers are not a daycare service. When there is a snow day and you are stuck at home figuring out where to send your children while you’re still called into work, do you turn around and blame that on the teachers too? Just because they couldn’t get to work, no you don’t. The strike is exactly the same thing, they can not “get” to work because they are not getting what they deserve. Whether you would like to believe that or not is your own opinion, and you are entitled to that.

    I would personally like to give props to Christel for even being able to respond to some of these negative comments, with the class and compassion she is using. Now to those of you that are doing what’s right and standing up for these teachers and supporting them I applaud you. Most parents would rather sit from the sidelines and observe. I know that i speak for every single Tacoma Public School Teacher when I say thankyou for your ongoing suport.

  14. mmbentley, you challenged folks to step into a teacher’s shoes. I WORE teacher shoes for many years, and I actually sympathize with some of what Christel wrote here BUT I am weary of it, especially given the current economic state of affairs. When I used the term whining, here’s what I was getting at.

    What would happen if we gave everyone who works anywhere the space to itemize their complaints about their workplace? Legitimate ones! We would soon run out of room.

    I will stand my ground here that we should all be very grateful if we are working in a job that pays reasonably well AND provides benefits. Furthermore, the rewards that I got from seeing kids learn and grow compensated a lot for the fact that the pay wasn’t stellar (though I still maintain it’s darn good all things considered).

    The issues that kept people out on strike do not strike me as issues that are “about the kids.” I think part of the problem today is that teachers think they need a lot more “stuff” than they actually need in order to teach. Think about the teachers who inspired you most. What was it about them that inspired you?

    Many of the things the union was holding out for here are things folks in the private sector have NO say about at all…transfers and evaluation methods. It’s a tough world.

  15. bristoldog says:

    My wife is a teacher. I know personally a lot of teachers and their families. I will say not all teachers are the same. Teachers do not get paid over time. I know my wife and many like her put in a huge amount of hours preparing for their jobs. My wife and I joke that during the school year I am close to being a single parent. I know that some of you will say that “during the school year” is the key. Well in our case, my wife spends her summers in classes, researching, rewriting lesson plans and figuring out way to perform her job better, with less. She also I feeds some of her students. Counsels them when they are suffering and in need of guidance. She values and respect them and works hard to help them meet standard in all areas. I have told her for years that she would be better paid and more valued if she quit teaching and went to work in any other field.
    Don’t judge teachers until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. (And I am not talking about the strike walk) Go spend a day in a teachers class room so that you have 1/180th of an understanding of their job.

  16. bristoldog says:

    There is also the $100.00s if not thousands of dollars we take from our family budget to spend in her class room because supplies to teachers have been cut. And there are the students that can’t afford school supplies, food, and clothing for different reasons . We again spend from our family budget to help these kids in need. We are not alone in this. I can name teachers all day long that perform this extra function to support their students because they as teachers really do care about their students. There is also the late night phone calls with parents to talk about how their child is doing. The weekend meeting with students and parents because that is the only free time that both parties could meet. I could write a book about all the extras that teachers do as part of their jobs that the average public does not see or understand.

  17. sozo – you are an ex-teacher, you decided to leave the profession. This demonstrates that your dedication to the profession was not enough to stick through the b.s. That doesn’t make you less of a person but it does demonstrate that you didn’t feel the vocational mission that others, who have stayed in the field, are compelled by.

    You tire of teachers “whining”. I tire of your claims that you, as an ex-teacher, have some sort of special insight into what makes teachers tick.

  18. Well bBoy, think what you like, but my choice to move in and out of my career over a 30-year period was about availing myself to my own children at specific times when I thought it better that I was near home than away from home. In each school that I worked, I was considered to be an exemplary teacher; imperfect certainly, but earning considerable affirmation and always invited to stay for as long as I was willing.

    Trust me, I stuck around through plenty of b.s.and paid my dues emotionally, physically and mentally. The only reason I share any of this is because I’m weary of people saying that we’d all change our tune if we walked a mile in teacher’s shoes. I earned the right to say I have worn the shoes, I know some of the ugly little secrets; I know about waste and I know about incompetence in the classroom. I am not judging teachers and schools from the outside looking in.

    Perhaps you just don’t appreciate the fact that I hold a different opinion than you think I should hold.

  19. There was Mrs. Roberts in the 1st grade, Mrs. McQueen in 2nd, Alberta Schultz taught 4 and 5, Edna Franklin, Ingeborg Eide, Lois North in Junior High, Homer Post and Mary Francis Goodwin at Lincoln, among so many fantastic teachers that even now I remember their names. And I remember what a great influence they were on my life. Didn’t know it at the time. I was a disruptive, antagonistic, questioning, student. So much enrichment and curiosity to excell and find my own true interests were driven by these teachers. Respect? YES! It is a terrible crime to tell your children that teachers are the enemy. We should be kissing their ankles right up to their esophagus .f

  20. “My mother earned 50 cents an hour at her first job and was so happy to get that job”

    Thus, sozo, you too should have been paid 50 cents an hour and mom should have never gotten more….unless the market was driving by those that do collective bargaining for the benefit of others.

    I note that you, also, enjoyed the fruits of their labor……

  21. “sozo says:
    September 22, 2011 at 7:48 am
    Well bBoy, think what you like, but my choice to move in and out of my career over a 30-year period was about availing myself to my own children at specific times when I thought it better that I was near home than away from home.”

    Lucky for you that, due to the collective bargaining system, you made enough money to choose when you worked and had the ability to leave your career and return…..something that most private companies wouldn’t even consider.

  22. sozo says:
    September 22, 2011 at 6:03 am
    mmbentley, you challenged folks to step into a teacher’s shoes. I WORE teacher shoes for many years, and I actually sympathize with some of what Christel wrote here BUT I am weary of it, especially given the current economic state of affairs. When I used the term whining, here’s what I was getting at.

    sozo says:
    September 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm
    I too am a teacher, retired.

    If you are so dedicated to balancing the budget on the backs of teachers…..maybe the retire teachers should give back a portion of their retirement and Social Security……

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