Note--this is my 200th post. Others write so much faster (and better if I were honest), but I'm proud of this!
“Vitriol” An interesting word I’m hearing a lot…usually directed to passionate educators who stand up for our profession. The first time recently I read it was on an Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs's post taking several of us education bloggers to task for our bad words and our anger/passion about current affairs in #oklaed. Their sanctimonious pursing of their lips and clucking with disapproval is typical, and I figured I was in great company. So, I checked the link to my own name and found a blog I’d posted: “Fund Us. Support Us. Or STF(lip)U.” Hmmm. I know OCPA thinks ‘fund’ is a dirty word, especially when it applies to funding schools adequately. They will fight tooth and nail to keep that dirty word from supporting the work in our schools. I plead guilty. I used a dirty word. I used another one in "Vote, Dammit." Self reporting!
That's just one of the words and phrases I hear "reformsters" use...another makes me see red, and want to use even more bad words.
“Moral imperative," as “children are our moral imperative.” I agree, but not in the same sense of the phrase. Reformsters use it to push choice, and cutting retirement benefits for teachers. For excusing the lack of pay raises, for cutting funding to schools. I use it differently.
I taught moral imperatives for 39 years. The moral imperatives who came to school ready to learn, from an intact family, with full tummies. The moral imperatives who came hungry, tired, inadequately clothed for the season. The moral imperatives who faced insurmountable odds in their lives: family poverty, homelessness, abuse, deprivation, ill health, hunger. I taught moral imperatives who were already under the influence of drugs and alcohol…making learning nigh onto impossible. I taught moral imperatives who struggled academically, who couldn’t catch on as quickly as others, who came to me with learning disabilities we worked to overcome.
I don’t need a politician who’ never taught a day to lecture me about moral imperatives. I attended their graduations. I attended their funerals. I attended the funerals of their parents and siblings. I spent 180 days with them, hearing their hopes, trying to assuage their very real pain. I sat with a moral imperative when she described in vivid detail the rape she had suffered at a party. I sat with a moral imperative when she reported child abuse. I held the hands of moral imperatives who told me they were pregnant and were trying to figure out how this would affect their lives, and their education.
I cried and laughed with my moral imperatives for 39 years, watching life become harder and harder for them and their families. I secretly paid for snacks and books and supplies and lunches for my moral imperatives.
I prepared lessons and assessments to help my moral imperatives grow in their academics. I took hours to respond to their work, creating a dialogue. I created a community of readers and learners with my moral imperatives. I begged them to buckle up, to be kind. To find ways to reach out and help each other. I created a climate of classroom respect and trust where risks were expected, and failure was never permanent.
At this point in my life, I am connected with many former moral imperatives, and we often have conversations about their lives. Several are educators themselves, and we talk about learning, and loss, and how to return to the classroom after those losses. These conversations are rich and real. And heartbreaking.
So excuse me when I get passionate about defending my moral imperatives…for standing up for them, for marching, for emailing, for writing, for visiting, for calling.
Excuse me if an occasional bad word slips out. I’m defending public schools and my moral imperatives from harm. Harm from uninformed legislators and policy makers with their own agenda. I have an agenda – it’s my moral imperatives.
Excuse me if I am extra assertive, if I share research in this time of ‘alternative facts.’ Excuse me if I advocate passionately for my moral imperatives and my schools.
Education is my family business…we have invested our lives in other people’s moral imperatives. We entered teaching knowing it was not a high-paying profession, but knowing it was a profession we valued. Our own children often suffer because of our decisions…I used to tell my children that I’d used up all my patience on other people’s moral imperatives and had none left for them. My low salary meant our family didn’t ‘have’ what other families had. My family supported my decision to teach, knowing we would never get rich, knowing I was not contributing my ‘fair share’ to our finances. My children didn’t wear the latest designer clothes, or drive brand new cars (the cars many of my moral imperatives DID drive), because their mother chose to be a teacher.
Excuse me if I expect policy makers to pay a living wage to educators. Excuse me if I expect policy makers to provide resources for our moral imperatives’ education. Excuse me if I demand that every school be staffed with a professional librarian, overseeing a full, up-to-date collection. Excuse me if I expect moral imperatives to have access to up-to-date, dependable, technology, to fine arts classes, to rich electives, to recess.
Excuse me if I become incensed when politicians tell ME that my students are ‘moral imperatives.’ That is exactly how I lived my life for 39 years in the classroom.
As ideas for this blog post were swirling in my mind, a former moral imperative, Lauren Blatzheim, tagged me on a touching link about a teacher who taught all day, and went home to unimaginable hard work at home. But he returned to the classroom, to his moral imperatives, every day, full of love and optimism.
She reflected, in the introduction to her post,
“First, having a teacher in your life who's passionate about What they're teaching--that is an amazing gift. Another gift is getting to have a teacher who enjoys teaching, and a teacher who loves their students, and a teacher who truly takes the time to get down on a personal level with their students. When a teacher supports you, it's hard not to feel capable, to feel infinite even.. but then for him to teach the importance of love. How enlightening to be reminded that we as humans are not just number crunchers and test takers, but that we're all deserving of love!”
“…we are not just number crunchers and test takers…we’re all deserving of love.” They are moral imperatives.
So, excuse my passion and my vitriol. I’m busy defending a generation of moral imperatives from lousy reforms.