Two billionaires walk into a bar…
The first one talks about the fortune he wants to build. He says, “I want to make so much money, my granddaughter doesn’t ever have to get a real job. She can just go be a teacher or something.” The second billionaire says, “Why don’t we just pay teachers fairly now?”
The first billionaire laughs.
That’s an actual conversation, except the other billionaire was Dan Price — and he’s not a billionaire. He’s a CEO who became famous for actually paying his employees what they’re worth.
I’ve been teaching for over ten years. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was a kid. It was my dream job. I even got a PhD. Now, I’m about to quit.
The classroom isn’t a safe space anymore.
The MAGA students are getting worse. They’ve always complained about safe spaces. The classroom is supposed to be one. They don’t like that.
They’ve turned classrooms into one of the most dangerous places in the world. Imagine a bunch of people with different views and experiences, all randomly thrown together in a room and asked to talk to each other while learning how to debate topics like abortion and global warming. Now let some of those students have guns, and add a deadly virus.
I’ve got a handful of straight up MAGA assholes in my classes this year. They’re anti-masking, anti-vaxxing conspiracy theorists. How bad are they?
They’re pretty terrible. They think kicking Trump off Twitter wasn’t fair. They think the Texas abortion ban was a huge victory. They think liberals are panicking about the coronavirus. They think we’re not executing enough criminals, and that slavery never happened.
They hate my school’s mask mandate.
A few years ago, there was always one student you couldn’t have a reasonable debate with. Now there’s too many.
I’ve never felt threatened by students before, not on this level. Now they can actually hurt me, just by breathing. All they have to do is give me a breakthrough infection that I pass to my 3-year-old daughter.
In my darker moments, I think this is what some politicians want. They’re turning their own voters into weapons. They’ll send them unmasked and unvaxxed into my classroom, which they see as a “liberal indoctrination center” to take me out. They’ll also take out the students I care about, the ones I want to work with, who make the job worth it.
I’m teaching online now, but that can’t last forever. I might get to teach online in the spring, but eventually I’ll get sent back into the classroom, where my state allows them to carry guns.
Let me repeat that last part. My state allows my anti-masking, anti-vaxxing students to bring guns to class. I’m supposed to evaluate these students and give them grades they might not like.
I’ll never feel safe in a classroom. Not anymore.
I’m tired of the vocational awe.
There’s a term in service professions known as “vocational awe.” It refers to the superficial wonder people show to workers like us.
Nurses. Teachers. Nannies. Social workers. Librarians. Paramedics.
Vocational awe happens every time there’s weekly applause for essential workers. (In case you’re wondering, nurses hate it. So do teachers.) All those movies and inspirational quotes, that’s vocational awe. Another word for it is superficial gratitude. It’s a lousy substitute for fair pay.
Here’s something I’ve noticed:
The same people who talk about how much they appreciate teachers are the same ones who complain about mask and vaccine mandates.
They appreciate teachers as long as we’re willing to sacrifice.
When we don’t, things get ugly.
It happens fast.
Teachers are tired of hearing how much we mean. Some of us figure out we’ll never get a raise, regardless of how well we do our jobs, how much we publish, or what our students say.
So we quit.
Nobody listens to us.
It’s hard enough to get our own students to listen.
Imagine talking to our bosses.
We have lots of bosses. Department heads. Principals. Deans. Superintendents. School boards. Vice chancellors. Boards of trustees. We also have people who think they’re our bosses, aka parents who show up at school board meetings to tell us “what your real job is.” They rant about mask mandates and critical race theory, even though they have no idea what that is. None of them teach. They have no idea what we do.
All of them feel like they can tell us how to run our classes. They spend their time thinking about how to make us “better.” That usually comes in the form of more rules and micro-management.
They won’t give us better classrooms or newer textbooks. They won’t lower our class sizes, or do anything backed by research. They ask us to write reports, but they don’t read them.
They lecture to us.
They get angry when we contradict them. They hold long meetings, guzzling coffee and scarfing up pastries while complaining about us.
They wonder why enrollment is falling, or test scores are dropping.
They decide to blame us.
They hire consultants.
They love it.
The pay is literally killing us.
Teachers aren’t paid a living salary. This isn’t an accident.
It’s always been that way.
Look at the actual history of schools in America, and it becomes painfully clear. You’ll find reports from the first school boards back in the 1830s and 40s bragging about hiring women because they can pay them less. They saved millions of dollars in today’s money. Teachers died because they didn’t have the resources they needed to live.
Two centuries later, it’s still happening. Teachers used to die from exposure. Now they die from exposure to a deadly virus. I know lots of teachers who would quit their jobs if they could afford to.
Nothing has changed.
Education is in shambles, on purpose.
There’s another thing you learn when you look at the actual history of schooling and education in America. Americans have always hated school, especially in the south. In the early days of public education, southerners used to terrorize school teachers. They burned down schools. What we’re seeing with school board meetings and angry parents isn’t anything new. If anything, it’s a return to the good old days.
Conservatives know what they’re doing. Around the country, think tanks and right-wing action groups are forcing teachers like me out of their jobs. They want to replace us with their own teachers.
They want to rewrite all the textbooks, and to wash the racism and injustice out of our history. They want to portray slaves as “imported workers,” and recast the KKK as misunderstood heroes.
They want conservative indoctrination centers.
They’re going to get them.
Teachers are quitting. It’s causing shortages. This doesn’t bother politicians in the worst places, because they don’t care about education.
They’ve got nothing to lose. The fewer qualified teachers, the better.
All they really need is someone to lecture and show slides, then hand out worksheets. They just need someone who can watch over the kids while their parents work all day, and turn themselves into human shields in case one of their gun-loving nut jobs goes off the deep end.
They’ll never say that out loud, but they’re all thinking it.
Conservatives know how to play the long game. They understand the power of state and local governments. Those are the locations of power when it comes to controlling the school system.
If you’ve ever wondered why teachers never seem to make enough money, or why our bosses never listen to us, think about who’s really in charge. That’s when it all starts to make sense.
Our last president said it best:
I love the poorly educated.
It was one of the few times he was telling the truth. He told it by accident. Conservatives love the poorly educated. They hate the educated. They hate educators even more. They don’t want schools to be safe spaces. They want them to be hellholes and war zones.
I still believe in education. I just don’t believe in how it’s being done, and there’s nothing I can do without risking everything. I’ll still figure out ways to be a teacher, but I think my classroom days are over.
I can’t do it anymore.