Stop Whining About Teacher Sick Days

My daughter just told me that one of her teachers had wanted to come in to work today, but a friend of hers (another teacher at our school) stopped her.

The former has just started chemotherapy because of a recent diagnosis. She is a seasoned teacher, a leader, well known and loved. I have had two of her children as students in my classroom. The latter is a very good friend of hers and likely felt compelled to push for a focus on self-care and recovery instead of committing (because of sheer dedication and love for teaching) to “the daily grind”.

I think my daughter’s teacher wanted to be in school, engaging students in excellent thinking, great work and taking her mental focus off of the battling cancer stuff. Also, she knows that the difference a great teacher can make is increased along with the time they are with their students. She knows this, like all great ones do, and despite the haters and all their moaning about how little teachers work, their summers off and banker’s hours: most teachers want to be in school for their students than they want to be away from their students. But people get sick. even teachers, even the great ones. So do the very good ones, the pretty good ones, the fair ones…and yes, even the bad teachers get sick. People get sick. They can’t plan when sick, why sick, how sick, or how long sick. Everybody gets sick at some point. People get sick.

But unlike most people: teachers of all stripes and locations within the artifice of a HEDI scale are exposed daily to pukers, coughers, snot-wipers, close-huggers, every-thing-touchers…Every cold and virus that goes through a family that has children goes into school with those children. Now multiply that by all the families and all the children going into school. And then consider that lots of teachers and children are in buildings that generously share a little of the rain and snow/heat and cold on the outside with some of the places and people on the inside. Drop-ceiling tiles show gross, brown stains and sags where roof-tar water has dripped and pooled. Musty, dusty smells in some places indicate that it is the kind of situation that runs a risk for mold and other air-borne contaminants.

Staff members might describe being chronically sick during the school year (not during summer) and parents describe increases in symptoms (coughing, sneezing, throat-clearing…) during the school year and/or in some specific homerooms. Many, many school buildings and facilities across the country are older buildings in need of continual repair. The roofs leak, the paint chips, the ventilation systems don’t work the way they should. Too hot, too cold, infested with vermin …and so on.

And yet some reformers take a perverse pride in choosing to ignore the conditions the poorest have to live and learn in…

…and that educators have to try to teach them in, and preach school “choice”  instead. That is disrespectful of teachers and neglectful of students who spend entire school years and extended hours daily in those buildings and with all those kids and all those other people. Some of those teachers do this for thirty years or more! Is it any wonder that a teacher gets sick once in a while?

It’s understandable that the drooling human rats looking to nibble away at true public education want to point to things like the “sick-out” in Detroit, as a perfect example of teachers abusing their benefit time. But beyond the fact that the time is theirs, and that something was likely given up in negotiations to get those sick days in their contract (they are not just a gift benevolently given): when teachers act together to advocate for better conditions to teach in, they are also advocating for better conditions for children to learn in. This is why teachers banding together against a lack of political and economic will is a good thing.

“Considering the average teacher salary in DPS is $63,716, this means that funds that could have paid nearly five people’s salaries went towards legal fees to sue teachers who were fighting this winter, when the suit was filed, against deplorable working conditions…” (Allie Gross, July 2016)

Interestingly: the self-righteous, editorialized lamenting over the children whose futures are sacrificed when teachers take sick days is generally not matched with columns of concern for children perpetually sacrificed to unsafe neighborhoods, lead-tainted drinking water, lack of access to sound nutrition and proper health care, absence of stable and gainful employment that sustains families and communities, programs that encourage the conditions and skills within families that prepare children for school success…

It saddens me as a teacher to see a “reform”campaign that proudly advocates driving parents towards the open arms of a market that actively separates, divides…

…and only serves to the extent that the market is served. Civil rights and civics get wrapped into the propaganda with talk of “parent rights” along with publicity stunts and slogans like “don’t steal possible”– the whole time denying the when, where, and how the stealing is actually happening; why so many children are coming to school unprepared and why some of the most high profile “choice” schools unashamedly refuse to serve them. The conditions in their communities, homes and families impacts their readiness to learn,  and we would do better by the children to take the goal off of the market and put it back on the people.

“Learning begins at birth. By the time children turn three, they have already begun laying the foundation for life-long learning and success.”

So why no real concern for communities, children or their families-the foundation of good outcomes?

Because it costs money to address the real systemic and endemic evils policymakers enthusiastically sacrifice our children to daily, and to get that money you may have to spend less on bombs, war, corporate subsidies, etc…But you can save or even make money gutting the middle class, labor protections, teachers’ pensions and benefits (like sick days, remember sick days? This is a piece about sick days. I’m bringin’ it around I swear, but I think and write like Arlo Guthrie doing Alice’s Restaurant), the public commons of schools and taxpayer dollars meant to maintain that commons for the good of all…

This can no longer be pinned to typical Republican evil, because despite the current scary right-wing agenda being driven-the Democrats have helped slow-walk us to where we are today. They might be the “lesser evil” but are complicit in bringing the greater evils. The reformer response to their lack of will in addressing those greater evils is usually the typical dodge: “We are in a crisis! We can’t waste time addressing the decaying communities, destabilized families, crony capitalism, political dishonesty that backs our agenda-we just need to focus  on pumping out propaganda on the evils of unions and the promise of an edu-market of ‘choices’.” Or it may be continued promotion of alternative certification for teachers (de-stabilize, de-professionalize the profession), cheap disposable TFA teachers who’ll work a few years and then move on to some political action, non-profit organizing, charter-school creating, uber-driving…whatever. As long as salaries, unions, benefits and pensions can be reduced, eliminated and/or side-stepped. It’s that exciting new transient, insecure, lack of commitment to people, families and children economy and job market that “choice” proponents seem to crave. Choose-em, use-em and lose em I guess.

But, back to sick days (I told you I’d bring it around).

With so much that really needs reforming how can reformers effectively whine about career teachers, their salaries, their benefits, their sick days? “Most people only get two sick days a year…”, “Most people don’t get a pension…, “The days of careers that last 30 years are in the past…” It’s all language intended to sow resentment and discord among the lower classes and encourage acceptance of on-the-job exploitation by the wealthiest (through the government and economy they own) who themselves enjoy the revolving door of never-ending, high-paying opportunities to fail outward, upward or away. This is the paradigm, by the way, that gives birth to a Trump presidency-where those who enjoy position, privilege, protection and pay believe they have earned it, and that their millions or even billions should entitle them to more respect than your average worker, or family, or child…

So back to here, returning  home after my psychedelic journey of a rant.

It is, about 8PM, and my 16 year old daughter is absorbed in some school work, typing and sending some questions to this very teacher at home, by email, regarding the writing of the constitution. How/why was Madison chosen to do the writing and not Bartlett and Dickinson (the writers of The Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to The Constitution)? Interesting question. Even though I’m an elementary teacher, I’m a history buff and have a feel for the tenor of those times (and love to weave history into stories I tell) when leaders sought to make a more unified and powerful (but clearly defined and “checked”) central government. The Articles empowered states in their own interests while the “founding fathers” looked for a more unifying document the put more power in a central government, I know that much but can’t help my daughter with this one.

That’s my daughter, any of my three girls, really.

…wondering about the people and personalities of revolutionary times, and how they were involved and intertwined, not crying over a boy, complaining about a mean girl…She wants to communicate with her teacher. I almost tell my daughter not to bother her, but then I know (or I think I know) that a serious student who is a serious thinker and has a serious question has some healing value. So she sends this teacher, my colleague, the woman beginning a battle with cancer and staying home, her question.

Within 10 minutes my daughter gets a response. It is a mix of admiration for a “great question from a great writer”, an admission of not knowing too much about the specifics of how the decision to choose Madison to write The Constitution was made, a direction to seek out a real history buff teacher at the high school, and (get this)…some seeming enthusiasm for a homework assignment my daughter inspired for her as a teacher.

And I bet she will actually use her sick days to do that homework.

I get that it bothers those looking to exploit others that groups can organize to resist exploitation. But the whining about the sick days teachers have and take has to stop, okay? The resentment wealthy strategists want to sow for what little is left of job security and respect for workers will not reap the benefits anyone wants, and making comparisons to other disrespected workers is not a license to spread that disrespect.

It’s time for any describing themselves as a “reformer” to reflect on who they serve, what it is they are really trying to reform and what they are and are not willing to push for. Whining about sick days in not helpful.

 

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What is wrong with this world

So what is wrong with this world?

My answer is “Nothing that the right people can’t fix”, and I believe it. But boy, it’s starting to approach a crisis situation. To begin with, I have been watching the DNC chair debates, and am now watching the nominations and votes for the next DNC chair-have it running on my phone as I type this. The saddest thing of it all is the unwillingness, both in the debates, in the media, and right now as I watch some of these pretenders talk about a fresh start; talk about reaching out and knocking on doors; talk  about unity… the unwillingness to change and bring a powerfully new and progressive message to the people is glaring. People are desperately waiting for something to vote for (as opposed to being told they have to vote against something), and the tone-deaf and entrenched establishment that had aligned itself stubbornly behind Hillary Clinton still refuses to own up to the error of it’s ways. It isn’t that they’re full of %$#@, god no…They just didn’t organize and unite enough to effectively spread that %$#@ far and wide enough. They didn’t reach out those crap covered hands wide enough to give a fake “I care about your plight” hug and spread the smelly promise of more neoliberalism and Wall Street funded perpetual poverty politics.

Are our leaders working for us? I mean really. Have they been? If you could say that there was something wrong with the world it would be that they are not. Trump is getting the blame for a lot of stuff because he’s an almost cartoonishly deplorable character, but it was Obama who spent his administration demeaning public education, growing income inequality, allowing war crimes to go unprosecuted, and in November, on his way out, microwaving Syrian women and children.

Whoa…what was that, you ask?

Depleted uranium is prized by the US military for exceptional toughness, which enables it to pierce heavy tank armor. However, airborne DU particles can contaminate nearby ground and water and pose a significant risk of toxicity, birth defects and cancer when inhaled or ingested by humans or animals. The coalition’s promise not to use DU munitions in Iraq was made after an estimated one million rounds were used during the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion. Between Iraq and the Balkans, where they were also used in the 1990s, DU rounds have been blamed on a massive increase in cancer and birth defects.

Yeah, that was President smooth. “Microwaving” is a little specious, but the article that link takes you to describes our government’s willingness to blast some depleted uranium on the collateral damage of our foreign petroleum control conquests. I don’t think radiation hurts the oil, but wow is it bad for babies. But it’s only our leaders doing it to babies in other places. Is showering foreign innocents and babies with depleted uranium how we want our leaders to represent us? Who cares about the in-your-face evils of a Trump administration when our corporate shill Democrats in name only are covertly as evil, and still feel entitled the votes of the millions they have helped to ignore and suppress only because they’ll half-heartedly fight for some health coverage and  some labor rights and some minimum wage standards. If the DNC continues to support policies that fuel economic savagery and war-hawkishness-they will be spreading those %$#@-covered huggy-hands wide, but coming back with far less than they’d hoped for.

Questions for Sam Ronan

In the aftermath of the Hillary Clinton loss and transformation of our representative democracy to authoritarian rule under Donald Trump, I’ve been reflecting on the failures of the Democrats. Specifically, the missteps of establishment Democrat politicians and pundits, the machinations within the DNC, and the obvious bias in mainstream media-all of which combined their forces to bring us to where we are. I’m no Obama-zombie or Clinton fan, but neither did I want the keys to this great nation passed on to Donald Trump-who continually displays lack of grace, humility and common sense and also shows a lack of respect for others and for his own responsibility to the office. But a Trump presidency, if you view it negatively, is something that could easily have been avoided. I won’t say that a DNC nomination for Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton was the only way, but I am  saying that a major shift in the Democrat’s platform was needed but stubbornly resisted. As a registered Independent voter who has leaned to the “D” over 90% of the time I have had moments of regret, spread throughout my almost 32 years of voting, for how I chose to register. In New York, Independents cannot participate in voting in the primaries. The state saw a challenge to this closed primary approach  in this past season, and I hope to see something done about it in the near future-but for me it might be too late, spiritually speaking. Over the last decade my votes have been wandering into third party territory more and more. I will never vote strategically for any evil, even if it’s “the lesser” one. My vote will be earned by candidates who speak to my values and priorities.

And that’s how Trump won. I didn’t vote for him, but he certainly spoke for those who did. So I have to ask, who speaks for and represents my desires for the future of America? Looking for more, hoping to hear something…anything that might convince me there was some hope in this happening, I came across some video of recent DNC chair debates.

One of the most disappointing things was seeing that the Democrats looking to lead the party want to play their future strategy as a more careful and crafty version of what just lost them the 2016 race. But Sam Ronan, a virtual unknown (I mean, I had never heard of him before) shows up on stage, looking casual and comfortable…I have to admit when I saw the thumbnail image attached to the link I thought a practical joker had crashed the event and somehow taken a seat right next to Keith Ellison. My hope in clicking “play” was that I was going to see a clever smart-ass grab a seat, take a selfie, and then get bum-rushed and dragged off by event-security.

(Sorry Sam, but if it helps- I’m way happier with what I did see.)

Sam inspired me to believe that younger energy, a fresh perspective, and some honesty is making the stage in the debates and conversations regarding the priorities for our next DNC chairperson. It becomes tiresome listening to the cautious tap-dancing some of the “hopefuls” do in addressing the issue of a clearly rigged system meant to deflect needed reforms . This is what has kept the Democrats and Republicans on a steady course taking them further and further away from the will of the majority. Sam’s willingness to be honest about why Democrats lost, and about what needs to be done to bring that party back to its people (as opposed to how to trick people into voting Democrat without changing the party) demonstrates the kind of character lacking in our representatives and our leaders.

So I shot a few questions at Sam to help me figure out what he’s all about. As a teacher, my priority is education-but understand that to me, education encompasses a whole lot more than just what happens within the walls of our schools and our elected leaders bear a significant responsibility for it.

ME: Tell me your thoughts on “education reform”, public schools, and accountability in education.

SAM: What do we really need to do to improve outcomes for today’s students? It’s a necessity to reform our education, and not just University or College. Our education used to be the envy of the world from K – Doctorate school and now we are tailing nation’s that we would call under developed in some areas! This cannot be allowed to continue! We need to focus on improving the pedagogy of our nation’s teacher’s, funding our school’s adequately, paying our teachers much, much more, and in general making school not a grind that brow beats students with information to be regurgitated.

I go into a lot of detail in terms of mixing: Finnish, Japanese, and German educational programs into our own American version that emphasizes growth of the individual, and guides them on their path to adulthood!

ME: Do you see some value in “choice” schools or charter schools that operate under the conditions described in the NAACP moratorium statement? Do you think those conditions are too restrictive?

SAM: On principle I have nothing against Charter Schools, that being said they do not deserve a single cent of Taxpayer’s dollars, nor should they be able to crumble and fail and receive an insurance payout once again at the taxpayers’ expense. This exact scenario happened in Ohio and was called #CharterGate and for good reason! So with that being said Charter Schools that are held to a strict standard equal to or greater than Public Schools is fine in my book, but if they accept public dollars at all, then they will be beholden to the public, completely.

ME:  What message(s) and or platform items should the DNC be committing to? Not so much how the DNC should commit to self-managing, but what should the DNC be more committed to policy-wise? How do you feel about these?

Clean water and air

SAM:Number 1 priority

A higher minimum wage, more stable gainful employment available at sustainable wages for workers

SAM: -Number 1 priority

Sound public education, funded and supported effectively as if it is the priority that it should be.

SAM: -Number 1 priority

Corporate money out of politics, or at least full disclosure

SAM: -Number 1 priority

Notice how all of these things are a number 1 priority? They have to be if we are to ever regain the trust and respect of the American People!

This was just a brief contact and I hope to have more time to follow up with Sam myself. I will be sharing as much as I can here and on twitter (@dmaxmj)