If you’re a public school teacher in Indiana, I’m writing to you. If you’re not a member of that community, you’re more than welcome to read along, but please understand that I write this without apology. We are in the process of reaching out to other writers willing to share a different take on this debate, and once those are penned we will share them here. But in the meantime, I’m talking about the future of my day job. It’s that simple. Thank you for understanding.Dear Hoosier Teachers:
In 2008 I voted for Mitch Daniels. If you don’t know me, let me clarify: I’m a public school teacher who grew up in a New Deal/ Blue-Collar/ Distrust-the-Bankers/ Distrust-the-Front-Office family. So…to repeat: In 2008, I voted for Mitch Daniels.
Why did I punch that button? For one, Jill Long—Daniels’ Democratic opponent that year–ran a campaign which resembled the clichéd three-ring circus…minus the rings…and the tent…and any cages or restraints. I think I saw a total of five yard signs (all of them with different designs); I never heard a peep from her on television, on the web, or over the radio; and I simply didn’t believe she had the capacity to govern if she couldn’t even run an effective campaign.
Compounding that, Mitch ran a set of slick pro-teacher ads that year, including my favorite: one where he stood by a pair of IPS teachers telling the camera that he was going to support stricter discipline. That the parents were responsible for the behavior of their children.
Keep in mind, this was two years before we lost our minds over the “government takeover” of our healthcare. So after we stopped screaming from the back of the room at crying, wheelchair-bound women in those town hall meetings (saying things such as, yes, they should just go ahead and die) we rushed to the polls in a fever and gave Our Man Mitch the majority he needed in the Indiana House of Representatives.
Now I see many hard-working laborers who remind me of my dad—a general contractor who sizzled on steaming rooftops in the summer and froze in dark crawlspaces six months later…they certainly work more days a year, and on many of those days they put in very long hours. Even though I feel that their anger is misplaced, I now accept that it’s valid.
What happened to me in the year which followed is a story which probably mirrors your own. Salary? Frozen. Labor protections? Gone. Scapegoating? Done. Bureaucratic busywork? Quadrupled…or more. That’s an old story. Like all of you on the night Glena Ritz ousted Tony Bennett, I thought the worst was behind us. Like all of you, I was wrong.
Now we sit on the eve of another election (in the case of the primary, the metaphor becomes literal). Four years ago, we assumed that Glenda’s ascension validated our work, maybe even stifling the critics who hammered at us on everything from our summers off to tenure to our 3:15 clock-out time. And for every one of those four years, troll after troll after troll hopped onto Facebook comment sections, local news comment sections, Indy Star comment sections. They lit the same firecrackers, the same clichés.
Meanwhile the General Assembly moved ahead. They squelched Glenda’s voice and power. They wrote their “not the Common Core” version of the Common Core. They ran state funding into the ground. They tried to change the retirement age. They screwed up the already screwed up school letter grade fiasco. They spent money hand-over-fist for online tests that didn’t work. And they transformed teaching from an appealing career for impassioned young people into a plague-infested wasteland for anyone willing to earn crash-course certification. And they did it all with zero impunity.
Anecdotally speaking, the consensus among the people I read, listen to, and follow seems to suggest that current governor Mike Pence is either vulnerable or outright done. I hope most people are smarter than this. We live in Indiana, where out there among all of that ash, oak, and spruce the state’s GOP loyalists have burned their “red” into “scarlet.” If any state would gladly reelect someone who rates between “incompetent” and “derelict” it would be Indiana.
So when we go to the polls (tomorrow and in November) our future will quite literally be in our hands. And if you’re one of the many GOP-leaning educators in the state of Indiana, I don’t pity your predicament. In many ways you’re being forced to choose between your values on one hand and your income and retirement on the other. If I use 2012’s results as my baseline data, then I’m assuming you voted for Glenda as your statement about the latter and then voted for Pence as your preservation of the former. In 2012, that was a logical move. One I respect. But the current batch of GOP’ers in the State House have made themselves explicitly clear: unless you stop them…unless you remove them…they are going to press on.
We live in Indiana, where out there among all of that ash, oak, and spruce the state’s GOP loyalists have burned their “red” into “scarlet.” If any state would gladly reelect someone who rates between “incompetent” and “derelict” it would be Indiana.
In the meantime, while we wait for our chance to stand in next fall’s November winds, waiting to cast those ballots, I would suggest we change our tactics with our friends and family who do not work in the classrooms. Trying to get them to understand our jobs from our perspective has failed. As my friend Justin Oakley once said to me of the general public: “They will nod their heads, tell you that they support you, and then step into that booth and vote against you.”
For a long time, I didn’t understand why, and I even resented them for that slight. But I see it differently now. Now I see many hard-working laborers who remind me of my dad—a general contractor who sizzled on steaming rooftops in the summer and froze in dark crawlspaces six months later. Let’s face it, they certainly work more days a year, and on many of those days they put in very long hours. Even though I feel that their anger is misplaced, I now accept that it’s valid. Responding to that hostility with equal hostility has gotten us nowhere.
Once the state has effectively “charter-ized” most of Indiana, those “dollars following the student” will be rolled back. They will. Imagine the day when middle class families are trying to come up with tuition fees equivalent to a pair of country club memberships—every year for 13 years.
Instead, we need to shift the discussion. Turn the crisis from us to them. Point out to them one obvious consequence of the reform movement which everyone seems to have ignored: if the reformers get their way, everyone will be paying tuition from pre-K on. Once the state has effectively “charter-ized” most of Indiana, those “dollars following the student” will be rolled back. They will. We should have them imagine the day when middle class families are trying to come up with tuition fees equivalent to a pair of country club memberships—every year for 13 years with the spectre of the college price-tag looming beyond that. And we shouldn’t stop there. We should also encourage future grandparents to imagine forking over their Florida and Myrtle Beach money to help their adult kids send their grandchildren to school. If the millennials can barely pay for themselves now in this economy, who is going to be helping them pay for their own kids? The reformers plan to do to schools what Time-Warner did to television: turn something we used to get for very little into something for which we willingly pay hyper-inflated fees.
While I think such a conversation might get through to a smattering of lay-people, human nature’s long track-record suggests that no one is thinking that far down the road. So for now, it’s up to us. Someday I would like to be able to actually discuss ways to make our schools better. God knows they needed a lot of fixing before “Superman” showed up and made everything worse. And one day I would like to be able to vote for someone in the other party strictly on the merits of her campaign and on the genial idea that she would treat her job with professionalism and not ideology.
But that day is not now. Right now I’m voting to hang onto my frozen salary and my retirement. Right now, I’m voting to keep myself in the middle-class. And if, for some reason, you’re still not sure how you’ll cast your vote this November, then let me remind of you of something I said when I shared that aforementioned interview with Oakley to the educational world: Vote or die.
One Hoosier Teacher.
Photo Credit: Mishawaka-indiana-high-school is a Public Domain photograph.