What do you say when your child comes home from school and says, "Mommy, why do people hate teachers?"
Lately I have been trying to be a voice for my profession. At the same time, I have been trying to be an advocate for both my students and my own children. I know that every decision that effects me, effects them. As a person, I have felt the attacks on teachers and our union very personally. I have gotten into debates and arguments with both friends and family always finding myself in a defensive position. Even when emotions ran high, I always conducted myself with decorum and respect. In a few instances I have had to sever ties with people, and that hurts most of all. My argument is, "You cannot insult my profession and in the same breath say, 'but not you. I wasn't talking about you.'" If you insult my profession, you are insulting me personally, because as a teacher, my profession is a main identifier of who I am at my core. Needless to say, while these arguments have raged on, I have managed to keep them out of my home...until now.
When I picked up my first grader from school today, at five o'clock because I work late on Fridays, he told me a gut-wrenching tale of what happened today. Here is our conversation:
"Mom, you won't believe what happened today. [Jimmy] got in trouble because he was running around the room, and when [the teacher] told him to sit down, he said, 'My dad says I don't have to listen to you. He said teachers are stupid, lazy, and greedy, and I don't have to listen to you.'" (from the mouths of babes)
"What did your teacher say?" (His school's teacher of the year, and someone I greatly respect.)
"She said, 'It's very sad that your father thinks that.' He got sent to the office. Mom, why did he say that? Why do people hate teachers?"
(Now what? How do I respond? How do you explain anger and hate to a child?)
"Well, I don't think people really hate teachers. You know how sometimes when you don't feel good, or if your in a cranky mood, you may pick a fight with your brother?"
"How about when Mommy has a rough day, and I end up yelling at you guys even when I don't really mean to."
"Ok." (He's smarter than your average bear.)
"Well people are really upset right now. There are a lot of people who lost their jobs, or maybe even lost their homes, and they're angry. They don't really know who to blame, or whose fault it is that they are angry, and others are telling them it's the teachers' fault."
"But how is it your fault that they don't have a job or a house?"
"Well, Honey, it's really not my fault. There are a lot of people who made some bad decisions that hurt everyone, but they still don't know who to blame or how to make everything right again."
"But that's not fair. If it's not your fault, then they shouldn't blame you." (Told you he was smart)
"No it's not fair, but some people think it's not fair that teachers still have their jobs and that they still have insurance so they can see the doctor when they don't have those things. They don't seem to understand that teachers and others like the police officers and fire-fighters, give up a lot so that they can have insurance to see the doctor. A lot of the people who are angry at teachers don't have insurance, or they have to pay a lot of money for it, and it's hard for them to see doctors and dentists."
"Why don't they have insurance?" (Oh boy, this is getting complicated)
"Well, if they work for a store like Daddy's, their boss may not be able to afford to give them insurance, or it's too expensive for them to accept. If they work for a big company, like your aunt's, then their boss may make them pay too much money for it. Insurance can be very expensive, and not everybody can afford it. I guess in a way they are jealous of what we have and don't think it's fair."
"Well that's stupid. Why don't they just make it so everyone can the insurance? You always make [us] share when we fight over something."
"Hey, you know how I feel about that word."
"I didn't call a person stupid Mom." (Well he's got me there. That's what I get for raising a logical child)
"That would be great baby. You are absolutely right. They should make it so everybody can have good insurance. Unfortunately as the cost goes up, less people can afford it. A lot of people don't think it's fair, and they want us to pay more or lose it all together. They think that because Mommy works for the state, that I don't deserve what I am paid or the insurance. You see, people like Mommy and Daddy have to pay taxes. Those taxes pay for schools, the police, the fire fighters, they pay for roads, and parks, and all kinds of things. Unfortunately schools are a big part of the taxes they pay and they have been told that it's the teachers' and schools' fault that their taxes are so high."
"But you and Daddy pay taxes too. Are your taxes too high?"
"Oh I don't know. I do understand that by paying them, you get to go to a great school. That's good enough for me."
"Well it's a really dumb reason to hate someone. Don't you tell them it's not fair?'
"We try too, but nobody wants to listen. What happens when you guys don't listen to Mommy?" (he looks sheepish)
"If no one listens the first time, we say it again, and again and again and each time we say it a little louder. Then we end up yelling hoping someone will hear us. That's kinda what's happening now. Everyone's yelling and getting more angry, and nobody is listening."
"Well I don't hate my teacher."
"That's good to know."
"Yeah, she always does fun stuff with us. I know you're a good teacher too. You're always doing fun stuff with your class and buying them prizes." (This is where I got a little misty.)
"Love you Mom."
"Love you too, Baby."
Like most good parents every decision I make is based on how it will effect my children. Now I see the decisions and actions of others effecting my family. No, it's not "just politics." These are people's lives. This is my life.