Popping Balloons; How to Deflate a Happy Teacher

There’s about five ways I could start this edition of The Grumblings because there are at least five angles from which to look at my day.  I had to wake up really early today and when that happens, it’s really hard to sleep because I am worried that my alarm won’t work (it didn’t) or I’ll sleep through it (I didn’t).  So around 4:50 a.m., I left the bed to sit in the living room to wait for everyone else to start their day.  Naturally, I pulled out my phone and started reading the news.  There’s never enough news, even when there’s too much news.

One of the lead stories in the Detroit Free Press, which I have read nearly every day since I was 14, dealt with Michigan’s Superintendent of Education declaring that we may have to extend the school year next year to help students catch up as a result of all the disruption to education due to COVID-19.  It’s hard to argue with that assessment.  Students have suffered skill-wise and content-wise.  As a teacher, I know this as I spend most nights lying in bed knowing I haven’t done enough.  We’re all struggling.  Teachers, students, parents, administrators, people who value public education (Republicans you can stop reading at this point), etc.

As I read the story, I was nodding in agreement that, as a state, we need to do something to help our kids recover.  Then the story got dark.  Real dark.  The head of the House Education Committee boldly declared that “There has been in this pandemic no other profession that I have witnessed that has advocated for lack of accountability in their job.”  She’s talking about educators.  Now I don’t need to tell you that this person is a Republican.  For over ten years, the Republicans have been on a mission to destroy public education.  Under the guidance and financial support of Betsy frickin’ DeVos, teachers have been demonized, funding has been cut, and kids suffer daily under the Republican mantra that “Smart people don’t vote Republican.”

So I posted the Freep story with a comment about Representative Pamela Hornberger’s offensive and reprehensible comments.  (She was, apparently, a former public school teacher.  How amazing must that classroom experience have been!)  And I figured that was my day.  Another pissed off day in paradise as I struggle to find ways to engage students I can’t see, who are tired of being online, and who, above all, MUST succeed.

Just before my school day started, however, I received an email from a local TV news reporter asking if I would be willing to be interviewed about the Superintendent’s ideas for extending the school year.  For me, this was an opportunity to express not only my support for anything that will help overcome what COVID-19 has done to our kids, but also to lash out against enemies of public education like Hornberger.  So against the advice of people I usually listen to, I agreed to the interview.

The interview was conducted over Zoom and lasted about 12 minutes.  In it, I expressed my support for an extended year in 2021-2022 IF ANY ONLY IF there was the money and the political will to pay teachers for the extra time.  I claimed (as I often have) that in the United States, we can do anything we want if the political will to do so exists.  We have spent trillions fighting meaningless wars.  We can spend billions to save our kids.  I explicitly stated that the plan to extend the school year was a non-starter, regardless of whatever good it might bring, if the State was unwilling to compensate teachers.

I made the point that teachers have done so much already.  I talked about my colleagues and the many, many, many additional hours we have put in since the start of COVID-19 to keep our system afloat.  I talked about documenting my hours in the fall, and that in some weeks I hit 65-70 hours per week.  I said quite clearly “I didn’t complain then, and I’m not complaining now.”  Every teacher (I guess except Hornberger) would do whatever it took to meet the needs of their students.  I added that every teacher I knew would be willing to work an extra month next year as long as they were fairly compensated.  I even reveled in the fact that teachers for the first time in a long time were actually getting kudos in our society.  It’s been a long time since I felt it was ok to mention in public that I was a teacher.  The Republicans have done such a great job demonizing us, that it gets exhausting explaining that no, we don’t get summers off while getting paid, and no, we don’t just work 7 hours a day, and no our unions don’t keep paedophiles from being fired.  One of the only pearls in the muck of COVID-19 has been that teachers have regained at least a little of the respect they deserve.

As the interview progressed I made sure to call out Hornberger and her outrageous claims that educators were avoiding accountability during COVID-19.  I said that I was quite pessimistic that there was, in fact, the political will to solve our problems if Republicans were hell bent on their campaign to demonize teachers and to continue to put more work on us while finding ways to cut our pay and our benefits.

I left the interview feeling pretty good.  I had made all the points that I felt needed to be made.

And then 6 hours later the news came on. (Am I allowed to say “holy fucking shit!” in my own blog?)

The story came on and there’s my mug saying “Yes, let’s extend the school year.”  And “I’ve worked a lot of hours.”

No mention of let’s extend the school year as long as we’re paid.

No mention of ALL of us are working extra time and that I’m not complaining about it.

No mention of Hornberger and her outrageous slander against teachers.

Just a happy Mark saying let’s add 20 days to our calendar and boy, I’ve sure worked a lot.

As I told a friend after the story aired, if I was trying to edit an interview to make it look the exact opposite of what the person said, I couldn’t have done a better job than Channel 6 in Lansing.  The first thing I did was Google the station to see if it was Sinclair.  That would have made sense.  Twisting words to meet a political agenda is Sinclair’s stock and trade.  But no, this was just utter incompetence by the reporter and the editors.

So as the day winds down, the satisfaction I felt that maybe my words would have some meaning to teachers, parents, and students who have struggled so much for almost a year have disintegrated into the familiar depression every teacher drags around living in a state where public education is considered an enemy of the people by the majority party.  This time, the press failed in its mission to hold government accountable and was an unwitting accomplice in making all of our lives more difficult.

Maybe next time.

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