I have worked too hard, much too hard to earn my tenure as a teacher to just sit back and watch ideologues and so called reformers snatch it away from me. Tenure should only be defined as an employee’s right to due process as defined by state law.
When a failed journalist like Campbell Brown uses her name to drive her husband’s education reform agenda and claims to have the legal backing to eliminate tenure in New York, it becomes instant news. Why is it that eliminating tenure is news while earning tenure is ignored?
I worked too damn hard to earn my tenure, as an elementary school teacher. I will not sit back and watch Brown and her corporate backers rip my due process rights away from me. I struggled and my family sacrificed so that I may enjoy a fulfilling career as a teacher. Now Brown and her cohorts believe they can label teachers as some sort of indentured servant to be shown the door at whim. That is not the America I teach my fifth grade students. I teach my students about the struggles all people in this great nation of ours faced and continue to face and that has become the fabric of our great nation.
As teachers it is time to tell our stories. It is time to explain why we are teachers and what we had to do to earn a spot in one our nation’s most precious assets, our schools.
My story started long before I even dreamed of being a teacher. I was a self employed architectural designer. I had a studio, employees, and I supported my growing family. My degree in architecture, taught me to question the need for everything I proposed and I was required to defend every aspect of my projects. Most of my clients were well to do, many of the interiors I designed were well out of my own personal means and had a pretty good following. Being self employed I was readily available to be around for my children whenever I was needed. I visited their schools, I coached them in sports and scouts. It was a good life. Yet something was missing.
My work was not that fulfilling. Designing beautiful homes for the 1%, furnishing resort hotels, or designing the occasional doctor’s office just did not seem meaningful for a life’s work. At the same time I was also dealing with the feast or famine nature of that field. Good times financially and bad times would fluctuate with the market. I began to question my purpose, is this something I really wanted to do for the next 20 or so years?
I began to look for meaningful work, I began by volunteering. I became president of my local chamber of commerce, served as a board member on our youth soccer league, Little League, and even our local senior citizen organization. I was the founding member and became VP of a ratepayer group called the Waterbill Watchdogs that won a groundbreaking case against our municipal water supplier. I became president of our youth council and volunteered most Friday and Saturday evenings running a teen center where our local kids can hang out in a safe environment.I coached my children in every sport and I eventually became scoutmaster of our local Boy Scout troop. I even ran for local office ( losing twice).
I began to really think about my future, what did I really want to do for the next phase in my life. I took out a pad and listed all the things I liked to do and all the things I didn’t. It became quite clear that I loved working with kids and that I was successful at it. I began to think, just perhaps I could become a teacher.
I began to question my friends who were teachers. One friend, a vice principal in a Queens school suggested I apply for a subbing spot and give it a try. So I did, and I was hooked, I subbed every now and then I continued to run my business as I pondered the idea of starting a new career. As I sought guidance from friends, one remarked, “you are never going to become rich as a teacher, but you will have a wonderfully fulfilling life.”
I talked over the decision with my wife and I decided to go back to school to earn a Masters Degree in Elementary Education. I attended classes at night, fresh with new student loans, and I ran my business during the day. My family’s sacrifice was something I will never forget. I wasn’t around as much, our income fell as less time was spent with the business, and we were going into debt due to student loans. I went “all in” and set a goal to earn that degree in only two years.I then student taught for a semester, (working for no pay), scraping by with my business as best as I could. I reached the point of no return, I was sacrificing my business to follow this new dream.
I had a mortgage, 3 children, bills to pay, and virtually no income during my student teaching experience.The bills piled up, the collection agencies called, vacations were put on hold, my family’s life was turned upside down. It may seem hokey, but I prayed for divine guidance and my drive to become a teacher grew stronger.
I finished my unpaid student teacher experience and then looked for sub work wherever I could. I landed a leave replacement spot for a few months and I hoped it would turn into something more permanent. Unfortunately it did not. I was without a job, a business that I was shutting down and more bills.
I then applied to sub in 6 districts, and was able to sub most days, getting paid anywhere from $90- $110 per day ( before taxes). I did this for a year. Do the math, that added up to less than $18,000 for that year. Thank heavens my wife worked and we were able to survive yet another year.
Then I landed a probational spot in a small elementary school. I believe this was meant to be, because I graduated from this school in 1969! Took me all those years on my journey to wind up where I started! My first three years were a test. Without tenure I could be fired without any reason. I was observed several times each year, I volunteered for just about anything I could to stay in the good graces of the powers at hand. I kept my mouth shut, did what I was told. Then it happened.
After all these years I was notified that I was being recommended for tenure. Recommended? It still was not guaranteed. The school board had to make the final decision. Then they held their meeting and voted to award me tenure as of September of the upcoming year. I made it.. due process! I did not have to worry about getting the boot without cause.
Now I was free to try new things in my classroom. I was able to introduce new projects and make my students really grow. I was able to tell parents the truth about what their children really needed to succeed. I was able to contribute , truly contribute on district committees with my own opinions. I was able to speak my mind when I saw a wrong. I was able to be the absolute best I could be.
I have been teaching 16 years so far. I think the first 10 was a learning process, I am much better now that I was 5 years ago. I am now president of our teachers’ association, I speak my mind more that ever, and I am free to write my blog. If you are a follower of my blog, you know that I have been outspoken on several issues and without tenure I most likely be on the street. And yes, now I can pay my bills and I look forward to a pension during my retirement years.
Would I do it again? Yes! This is the toughest job I ever had, but it is also the most rewarding. I touch the future every day, I wonder if Campbell Brown and her cohorts ever have that same feeling about what they do. I doubt it. People like that go through life with a miserable chip on their shoulders. They feel they need to tear down everything in order to prove some warped idea.
All I have to say is, Campbell Brown… don’t even try it. I’ve worked too damn hard to let you get away with it.