May 7th, 2011

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#368 – Dick Bernard: Reprising National Teacher Day Commentary May 3, 2011

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Between the May 3 post on National Teacher Day and May 7 came the latest issue of Newsweek which included a non-affirming message for wealthy folks seeking to impose change on public schools. Their experiment seems to have been less than a noble success, but don’t expect this to be widely reported.

I am one of the legion of lonely bloggers who toil in the vague shadows of major media. We tend to be belittled and dismissed. As the number on this post indicates, I am no longer an amateur; I just don’t have name recognition.

But when my post on Teacher Day went into circulation I got some most interesting responses, including one from Mary Ellen Weller in Madison WI which deserves its own space and attention on this blog. You can find it here. She seeks dialog, and I hope she receives some responses to her thoughtful writing.

My post got the usual array of responses, from “bravo” to (paraphrased) “the sooner unions disappear from the face of the earth, the better off we’ll be”. The kudos outnumbered the brickbats.

But there were three comments from separate individuals who had no idea of each others existence who more or less in the same language said the same thing, and that got me to thinking.

The three were all women, two from Minnesota, one from Oregon. The two Minnesotans were retired after long careers in education. The third did not relate her background.

Each of the three specifically commented on what their mothers, all three career teachers, had told them somewhere along the line of growing up.

The general thread was this (paraphrased): “it’s very hard work, don’t expect anything other than the satisfaction of doing good for your students”. One said she didn’t think her mother would favor unions, but she wasn’t sure how she’d respond were she around to see what was happening in Wisconsin at this time in history.

I’m Catholic and went my first six years to Catholic Schools, taught by Nuns, and frankly the comments reminded me of the Nuns extraordinarily difficult mission: to work very hard, with no rights, and many expectations. (I have good memories of my education, both in Catholic and Public School. The Catholic Church is not exactly overrun with Nuns these days…the remaining orders of Nuns know the value of their mission, be it colleges or hospitals or whatever. The individual Nuns retain the vows of poverty, etc., but many orders are not poor.)

Thinking about those three Moms: were they in today’s environment, would they not be inclined to protest. Would they accept their lot in life as a public servant? I don’t know.

My own teaching career began back in those good old days before teachers got rights and contracts and all the rest. It was indeed a powerless time.

For me the times changed in the late 1960s when teacher anger coalesced and boiled over and some degree of parity began to be demanded. This was a hugely troubling time for most lawmakers, school board members and school administrators who were accustomed to having their own way, and now had to, at minimum, be somewhat accountable for their own actions, and recognize something called teacher rights.

I began on union staff in March, 1972, which coincided, exactly, with the beginning of the bargaining of the first teacher contract under Minnesota’s Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA). Those were heady and difficult times when both sides made ample and sometimes serious mistakes as they learned new relationships and new roles.

It occurs to me that when that first contract was negotiated, only a tiny number of today’s teachers had even begun their teaching career, and large numbers who started their careers after 1972 have already retired.

Many, perhaps most, of today’s teachers don’t realize what those three female teachers endured in the days before rights.

I wonder how today’s teachers will respond to the current attacks.

It is a serious question.