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Honking your horn: A small gesture for our educators

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POSTED March 12, 2009 4:28 a.m.
I owe my sister Mary an apology.

Some 30 years ago when I had the dubious pleasure of serving on the Western Placer Unified School District Board she decided she was going to become a teacher.

Half-jokingly I tried to talk her out of it. I told her only someone borderline insane would be a teacher in this day and age. This, by the way, was back in 1975.

It seemed like every other person who button-holed me was complaining about the schools and teachers in general. I ran for the school board not because I thought the school district – and public education in general in California - was going to hell but it was simply headed in the wrong direction. There is a big difference.

Your ear gets bent by a lot of people when you are a board member. Essentially teachers and schools get blamed for everything from young people working in stores who couldn’t make correct change to the deterioration of sexual mores.

Far from being an apologist for the district, I was the most outspoken board critic of the school system to the point that the original superintendent said I was anti-school and I was part of the board that worked to get rid of his replacement.

It seemed no one was interested in hearing things that countered their views of everything from test scores to student conduct. It was always “better” back when they were in school. Nothing else mattered including the fact more and more parents were abdicating their basic roles expecting the schools to pick up the slack or the fact knowledge and the amount of information was changing drastically every two to three years. It’s true there are still classics in English but science and math and even social studies are living things. It’s kind of like the smugness of the U.S Patent Office back in the late 19th century when it was proclaimed that everything worthy of inventing had probably already been invented.

The point at when we enter this world and grow into an adult tends to make us pretty myopic.

One gentleman – a lawyer by the name of Earl Kendall – was particularly critical of teachers and public schools in general.

Every Friday at Rotary he hammered me about the lack of quality and how graduates couldn’t make correct change. One day when SAT scores came out he was on a tear.

Two things changed his mind. First, I arranged for the club to take a test involving questions from an older SAT. It was a mini-test and they had 30 minutes.

No one in the club – even school administrators – came close to mastering the questions.

The second thing was getting him involved – reluctantly- in a career day at Lincoln High that I arranged through Rotary. He was kicking and screaming all the way that it would be a waste of time.

Kendall came away with a different impression on how articulate and inquisitive plus how knowledgeable students were of his profession. He was so impressed he volunteered for future career days.

About 20 years ago, Mary called me after a particularly trying day during her third year of teaching.

She had an out-of-control smart aleck who was a non-stop discipline problem in her classroom, she had just been told she’d be teaching different sections of history the next semester that she was unprepared for and she had just spent considerable time after school talking with a student who was suicidal.

Meanwhile, she had six periods of papers to grade and she missed dinner again with her family – she has two kids and a husband – because of the student. She was feeling anything but chipper about her decision to become a teacher.

She said she doubted she was even getting through to the students. I remember telling her that as a teacher you never know that you’re getting through to students but you do.

Since that day, she has had the pleasure of students visiting her years after graduating who told her about the big impact she had on them. They were students, by the way, that she thought she wasn’t getting through to.

Teaching isn’t a vocation. It’s an art. It’s a craft.

Some have commented negatively on the upcoming Pink Friday Rally the Manteca Educators Association is staging this Friday from 4 to 5 p.m. at the corner of Louise Avenue and North Main Street to protest state budget cuts.

Most teachers – my sister included – understand the tough times the state is facing. They’re taking cuts in pay and support services to keep things moving forward.

Yes, there are deadwood educators just like there’s deadwood in every profession.

Do teachers get paid too much?

The answer in most cases is a resounding “no.”

It is important to remember the MEA and classified employee groups have really been cooperating with the district as they go through the pain of restructuring, if you will. They aren’t screaming for more money. They’re not screaming over job cuts. What they are demonstrating for is essentially standing up for public education in California.

We all have a tendency to trash talk schools and teachers in general.

This state is messed up and you can lay much of the blame at the feet of the California Legislature dating back to the late  1970s for acting out of political expediency when it comes to running the state. Friday is a chance to show teachers that you still believe in public education.
Going by and honking is a s
mall gesture given the fact some of those at the rally will be out of jobs comes next year and the rest walk end up having their pay cut 5 to 10 percent but they’re still going to work diligently to educate our kids.

If that’s not noble, I don’t know what is.
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