Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Teaching World Used to Be Sacred, Like Coaching

My writing rate dropped off this past week with the kickoff of my kids’ soccer seasons and my seasonal return to the coaching world .

Coaching now trumps writing as the single most therapeutic experience of my week. The anti-public educatorism brought to Wisconsin by outside money and outside forces (like the Koch Brothers, ALEC, and MacIver Institute) and subsequently adopted and implemented by Governor Scott Walker have caused terminal damage to my daytime profession as an educator. In the evenings and on weekends, coaching provides relief from Walker’s dichotomous creation in Wisconsin.

In recent years, my coaching has centered on my kids’ activities. However, I have been at the coaching game my entire adult life. In fact, I was a coach before I was a teacher. Under the wing of one of my former coaches, I started coaching as a college student. Of course, I then had no idea my coaching experience would be the blueprint for my pedagogy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thank You, Taxpayers, and You're Welcome

Professional educator Kevin Diece, from nearby Fort Atkinson, WI, steps in as guest blogger this week. The following posting is an adaptation of Diece’s Letter to the Editor published in April of 2011 in the Daily Jefferson County Union.

As a Tax Day tribute, thank you taxpayers for funding public education. Likewise, you’re welcome for the important and professional service provided our communities by professional educators across Wisconsin.
Sadly, the taxpayer-teacher symbiosis is muddied by conservative think tanks continually misleading many taxpayers to believe that professional teachers make too much.

The propaganda promoting this falsehood compares teacher salaries to those who do not have the same level of education attainment (degrees) that teachers do. My salary is approximately $55,000. To earn that salary, I have taught 13 years, obtained a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and 30 additional graduate credits. When comparing my salary to others, please take some time to research those professions/careers that have the equivalent degrees as I do.

Comprehensive research shows quite clearly that the pay of professional educators (and other public employee professionals) is not excessive. Some key findings from a study Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation over 20 Years found:

·         Jobs in the public sector typically require more education than private sector positions. State and local employees are twice as likely to hold a college degree or higher as compared to private sector employees. Only 23 percent of private sector employees have completed college, as compared to about 48 percent in the public sector.
·         Wages and salaries of state and local employees are lower than those for private sector employees with comparable earnings determinants, such as education and work experience.  State workers typically earn 11 percent less and local workers 12 percent less.
·         During the last 15 years, the pay gap has grown: earnings for state and local workers have generally declined relative to comparable private sector employees.
·         Even after accounting for the value of retirement, health care, and other benefits, state and local employees still earn less than their private sector counterparts do. On average, total compensation is 6.8 percent lower for state employees and 7.4 percent lower for local employees than for comparable private sector employees.

Regardless of the pay discrepancy, teachers knew what they were getting into regarding compensation. We knew we would not get rich, but that we would be offered a benefit package that would offset our salary. Our Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS), considered a model pension system by financial experts, is a form of deferred compensation bargained for instead of taking salary increases. Teachers also have negotiated to pay less of a percentage of our insurance premiums as a tradeoff for lower salary increases.

Deceptively, Governor Walker likes to refer to our deferred compensation (benefits) as entitlements. This brings up a good segue into the reality of who pays whose salary. Last year alone, I paid for the salaries of the following local employees: the local hardwood floor guy, everyone at Sentry, Pick ‘n Save, Jimmy John’s, Subway, Ace Hardware, Fort Atkinson Park and Recreation Department, School District of Fort Atkinson, Madison Area Technical College, Blackhawk Fitness, Langer’s Trim and Style, Salamone’s, BP, Powers Tire and Auto Service, Daily Jefferson County Union, U.S. Cellular, and the list goes on and on. These are just a fraction of the local businesses/employees I support.

Looking across the state of Wisconsin, we could add Charter Communications, We Energies, Wells Fargo, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Brewers, and again the list goes on and on.

You see, we all "scratch each other’s backs." When I go to the grocery store and pay for my goods, I help pay the salaries of the employees that work there. With my family losing $7000 to $8,000 of disposable income this year due to Gov. Walker’s budget-repair bill, I am not spending that money at these local businesses. What do you suppose my cut in pay will eventually do to all of the employees that work at these local businesses?

So, for all of the taxpayers in my local community, I thank you for paying my salary. On the flipside, you’re welcome, since I pay your salary, too.

I encourage every taxpayer to keep an itemized list of how you spend your money in the next year. After doing this, set those numbers next to your tax bill and compare all of the numbers. I think you would be surprised how those numbers compare to what you pay for taxes in regards to the local school district portion. The money you spend on education seems like such a large amount simply because it is summarized as a one-dollar value on your property tax bill. If you spread that dollar amount out like your other expenses, it would not seem like so much. Perhaps the State of Wisconsin needs to list everything tax dollars pay for and the corresponding amount we pay for these services on our property tax bill.

As a final Tax Day thought, it is important to remind Wisconsin taxpayers that the attempts to link public educators and employees to the state’s budget problems is just a ruse. Do you remember when teachers and public employees crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401K’s, took trillions in TARP money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no additional taxes?

Yeah, me neither. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Mildly Depressed Teacher's Perspective

On the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, my family had a remembrance weekend in his honor. That weekend, we did some important and healthy reflecting about the traumatic experience. The meaningful weekend validated how well our family had bonded through our shared suffering. However, what was most surprising was how our shared experience still resulted in such different perspectives about my dad’s death.

Sorting through a shared, painful experience can be complicated. Each person’s personality, past experiences, emotional state, educational background, sexuality, gender, life stage, philosophy, and much more plays into comprehending the communal experience.

Emotionally and politically charged experiences can make the sorting out all the more difficult.  This past year, all of Wisconsin has suffered through the passage and enactment of emotionally charged legislation designed to weaken the role of public workers and their unions in the state government, local governments, and public school districts. This Governor Walker-induced trauma has shattered the Wisconsin family. Numerous perspectives on this unexpected experience mire our state.
Even my hometown of Janesville, built largely on union-fought-for wages, has been sucked into the GOP-generated muck. Last week, an authoritative figure sent me a charged criticism of my  blog posting on the anti-public educatorism pamphlets, which are still being distributed around Rock County under the cover of darkness. The local leader took issue with purported effusiveness in my blog. The detractor also equated my recent posting to that of the bigoted pamphlet attacking public education. Moreover, the critic called on me to “practice a better ‘tone’” and balance my writings with accounts of unfair “hate speech directed at our governor and others.”
I have thanked my local critic and appreciate his expressiveness. His unique voice matters in this complicated public education conversation. My criticizer and I also share common ground in the vitriol we have personally experienced in the past year. However, his perspective on the offensive pamphlet and the shared, painful experience of Gov. Walker’s initiatives is vastly different from my own.

My critic’s advice would be sound advice for someone with the emotional psyche of Spock. However, I am no Vulcan man. I am a Teacher Man—complete with flaws, emotions, a critical mind, and a teacher’s perspective. Indeed, One Teacher’s Perspective is a reflection of my voice. Writing without voice is like living without a soul. A teacher’s perspective without candid sentiments and sincere thoughts would come across as disingenuous (like Gov. Walker’s  State of the State Address).

For review, I created One Teacher’s Perspective to provide another public school educator’s voice in a political climate increasingly pushing educators aside. In Wisconsin, it is ever more feeling like Thanksgiving dinner with the current power players segregating the professional educators to the kids’ table. Consequently, this blog has morphed into a push back to the politicalpreneurs and entrepreneurs trying to ransack public education in Wisconsin.

If my tone comes across as offensive, it is because public school teachers, like me, are rightfully offended. We are reminded increasingly and almost daily of the declining worth of public educators. We see how this adversely affects teacher morale. We are offended that the GOP’s reckless state legislation is sending our most experienced educators running for the retirement hills and driving promising young people from the teaching profession. Most of us are offended that too many local officials provided no support for local teachers and their unions in the wake of Gov. Walker legislation, yet paradoxically demanded union concessions as the local budget crumbled under Gov. Walker’s initiatives.

The millions of out-of-state dollars funding Gov. Walker’s ads that are full of mendacities offend us. We are disappointed by government leaders who ignore public workers as their constituents, important contributors to local economies, taxpayers, and valued public servants. We find it discriminatory that only public workers are forced to remedy the state’s financial troubles, while the reckless and wealthy investors responsible for our recent recession contribute nothing to filling the state budget deficit.

Furthermore, public educators are offended by Governor Walker’s gratuitous educational reforms that up the ante for public educator and school accountability, while Walker hypocritically slashes education funding and shields his favored public-subsidized private and charter schools from the same accountability measures. We are irritated by the relentless promotion of unproven public education initiatives, like merit pay and standardized testing.
Latest anti-educator pamphlet 
Public school teachers rightfully feel threatened by free-market school reformers (and known supporters of Walker) who seek to tear down the reputation of public education with clandestine plans, like "Operation Angry Badger," that "document the shortcomings of public schools in education."  Toss into this mix some anonymously distributed anti-public education flyers with bigoted and red scare messaging and the teachers’ tirade is more than understandable.

It is apparent a teacher’s perspective does not matter much in Walker’s Wisconsin. I do not run with the powerful politicalpreneurs and the entrepreneurs running public education (into the ground). I do not have the financial, business, and the GOP credentials to influence the governor and his GOP operatives. My little teacher blog certainly cannot counteract the barrage of the “It's Working” myth spewed out by the Walker propaganda machine.

Regardless, One Teacher’s Perspective is an attempt at right over might. I was comforted last spring after reading a psychology article with research showing how mildly depressed people generally have the most accurate view of the future for “they see the world as it is.” This blog is admittedly the perspective of a mildly depressed teacher. It is the public educator’s world as it is. Walker’s self-proclaimed “courageous” fantasy is a public school teacher’s nightmare. One Teacher’s Perspective serves as a reality check for those mesmerized by Walker’s fantasy.

While my perspective may sting some, formal and informal feedback indicates that most my readers have similar perspectives on the shared, painful experience under Walker’s reign. Like my family’s sharing following my father’s death, the victims of Walker’s initiatives have bonded together. The sorting out is important and therapeutic. Thus, I will continue to write for what is right.

Monday, April 2, 2012

From MLK's Playbook: Stand Against Anti-Public Educatorism

Pulled from the playbook of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and in the spirit of Joe McCarthy, some anonymous bigots disseminated an anti-public education propaganda pamphlet throughout Janesville, Wisconsin a week ago.

This fanatical flyer is layered with hatemongering. According to the pernicious pamphleteers, Rock County public educators are responsible for the “sexualization of minor children, anti-morality and anti-God messaging, false indoctrination, stripping of parents’ rights, and holding children hostage.”   

In addition, the discriminatory document is laced with overtly anti-gay and anti-union messages as well as covertly anti-women messages.  In true KKK-fashion, the flyer’s authors did not sign their names and have not shown their faces. Thankfully, this klan did not burn a cross, but the klueless krew dishonestly and unjustly associated the flyer with local private and Christian schools.

This anti-public education flyer, titled Indoctrination versus Education, also conjures up our state’s most embarrassing history—when Wisconsin’s Republican Senator Joe McCarthy led the national witch-hunt for American communists during the Second Red Scare. A half a century ago, Wisconsinites thought their national disgrace died with McCarthy, but some 21st century "patriots" have apparently summoned the ghost of the paranoid GOPer. In true red-scare fashion, the paranoid patriots cry out to Rock County taxpayers to “Stop the Marxist/Globalist Agenda in Wisconsin’s Schools.” The anticommunist flyer comes complete with a McCarthy-like, “enemies-from-within” blacklist of 29 entitled and traitorous public school administrators and educators—who allegedly bilk local taxpayers with their salaries and benefits.
None of this anti-public educatorism comes as a surprise to me. A review of history shows social and economic unrest often fosters the climate for scapegoating. Cognitive dissonance kicks in for the conflicted. America’s larger socioeconomic ills, the recent free-market induced recession, and the local GM plant closing have sent the paranoid patriots in search of a fall guy for their troubles. With overt racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism off the table—public school educators are apparently the acceptable target of the freaked-out pamphleteers’ vitriol.

Public educators are unapologetically a unique breed of professionals. Our collaborative mindedness, support for our unions, and disinterest in unproven, competitive business measures  contrast with the MBA-thinkers of the private sector. Further conflicting, public educators sometimes openly clash with politicalprenuers in shielding students from the volatility of free-market forces.  Unfortunately, like other scapegoats in history, nonconformist ways make public school teachers promising prey for those hunting for fall guys and gals.

Just this past week, Diane Ravitch brilliantly outlined the national history that has stirred up the state of discrimination crippling public education. Mix in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s dichotomous creation and Rock County’s intolerant subculture and you have the perfect recipe for anti-public educatorism in our community.
Consider how just two decades ago, a KKK rally took place in Janesville. Remember just half a decade ago, attempts were made to shut down the Gay-Straight Alliance’s annual Day of Silence at the local high schools. Recognize that just three years ago, President Obama’s Back-to-School speech led to  “veiled threats”  in our local school district by more unidentified dissenters. Thankfully, most of Janesville rejects this discriminatory subculture, but one only needs to read the Janesville Gazette’s anonymous “sound off” or check out its readers’ online comments below any public education-related article to see the hatemongering simmering beneath.

Some of this recent public school hatemongering could easily be cooled by Gov. Walker. I have called on his office to do so, but have not yet heard back. Certainly, our Governor does not want his office or Wisconsin associated with the bigotry promoted by the anti-public education pamphleteers. However, the paradox is that the anti-public education McCarthyites clearly stand with Walker. They seemingly feel comfortable associating themselves with the Governor. Almost the entire third page of the pamphlet is a promotion of Walker’s ways. It is only right for the Governor to publicly disassociate with the paranoid patriots responsible for this filthy flyer.

The proper playbook for responding to discrimination has already been written by Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and other activists from the civil rights era. Silent disapproval might stall a conflict, but it does not resolve it. MLK appropriately said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Left a void, bigots will fill it. Public education friends must leave no void for the words and actions of anti-public education bigots. Silence in the face of bigotry will surely make public educators this season's sacrificial lamb. 

As a parting thought, I am reminded how Janesville’s 1992 troubles with the KKK were transformed into great things by the thousands who stood against the bigots of the day.  Local civil rights activists, including my sister-in-law, formed a Human Rights Task Force and subsequently a counter demonstration was organized that dwarfed the KKK rally.

The racial tensions ignited by the bigots led to Beloit and Janesville school districts collaborating on tolerance initiatives. Most impressively, city leaders led a fund drive that resulted in over 2,500 donors contributing to the building of a state-of-the-art playground on the very location of the 1992 KKK rally. The anti-racist park is appropriately and symbolically called Peace Park and one of Janesville’s treasures made possible by those who stood against bigotry.
The suffering ends when the resurrection begins. Let’s stand together against anti-public educationism. Let's resurrect something beautiful in its place. Let's build well-funded, quality public school systems treasured by all who stand against bigotry.