Warm Up, Teachers

Mar 11 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, ViewsNo Comments on Warm Up, Teachers

I went to chilly Washington, DC, last week to learn how to be a better teacher in my field. The program developers, Dr. Arthur and Christine Nezu, are expert researchers and outstanding teachers. They’ve spent years developing ways to help us solve our human problems without driving ourselves crazy. They’re not motivational speakers raking in millions. They study. They teach.

Before we chose to feed our futures to the wolves on Wall Street and sold our souls to the Pope in the NC State Capitol, teaching at all levels of learning was a noble profession. If Governor McCrory and others continue to get their way, teaching won’t even be a profession. It will be a side job. Now that’s a chilling thought.

Back at the hotel and after the training, I turned on TV, looking for something that might warm my heart. There was Governor McCrory being interviewed and smiling about how well NC is doing with his education reforms. Apparently incentivizing teachers by cutting their salaries is turning our state into an education Mecca. I went right past warm into hot.

But I was grateful hot. Our smiling governor provided me a perfect opportunity to do my homework and practice skills I’d been going over during the day’s training. I stopped, slowed down. I took a dozen slow belly breaths to cool my brain so I could think.

All was going well until I turned back to the tube. McCrory was still smiling.

It’s a neat trick to blame teachers for “failing schools,” while promoting “neighborhood” schools (re-segregation), preventing collective bargaining (unions remain relevant and necessary, particularly in the South), promoting charter schools (another example of Jim Crowing). And Art Pope’s approach for a more “realistic” budget request for our university system should help recruit the best and the brightest faculty and students. (“Realistic” means gutting budgets more.) But I suppose from the governor’s perspective it’s better to have everyone’s “butt in seats” than marching in front of his quaint, quiet little office in Raleigh, demanding respect and a living wage.

The disease of dismissing teachers as professionals is not solely North Carolina’s problem, but we do seem to take pride in leading the pack. I’ve been a pain in the neck to teachers at times. Sister Florina once called me “one of the brightest, most obstreperous, laziest soul she’d been burdened to teach.” That was third grade. I had to look up obstreperous. It fit then, probably still does. Even an undisciplined lazy student understands that dissing teachers dooms learning.

Stop. Slow down. This time I yawned a bit to cool the brain and think. Thankfully, I fell asleep.

The next day the plan to cut the military budget was also announced. Even those of us that would rather hold bake sales for bombers than school supplies recognize there are challenges associated with the proposed cuts. Many servicemen and women will face unexpected transitions. It sounds silly, but I got outside the box a little and thought about linking the challenges of improving education and reducing the military-industrial complex. I asked, “How can this culture re-learn to value teachers and provide opportunities for its veterans?”

I’m warming up to an idea. Why don’t we incentivize our service persons to join the ranks of teachers in the ongoing battle against ignorance? We might even develop a formula to add classroom time to reserve duty time, and allow classroom time to contribute to retirement. Teachers have been losing respect for generations, but I can’t watch a game on TV without a tearful salute to veterans. Would any governor or legislature eviscerate a public education system that employs a high-percentage mission-oriented prior military?

Many within the military are a bit like Sister Florina. They don’t sign up looking for millions. They sign up looking for a mission. Colonels could teach kindergarten, and NCOs teach advanced placement courses. Actually, pre-school being more important to the development of creative problem-solving, cooperation, and good citizenship, NCO’s might better serve there.

Go ahead. Laugh. Sure there are obstacles. At worst, maybe this idea can stimulate other creative ways to revitalize teaching as a profession and solve some associated problems.

Or, we could invade Russia.

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