Teachers Synonymous – by Dr. Michael Flanagan
Hello my name is Michael, and I am a public school teacher. Yes, I know in this day and age those are brave words to utter in a public forum, but the first step to any kind of healing is to admit you have a problem. Hundreds of thousands of American citizens suffer from this same affliction. That is why today, I am launching a movement known as Teachers Synonymous. Teachers must stand together.
Being a teacher today means you are made the punch line of jokes on Saturday Night Live, fodder for discussion on The View, the justification for lawsuits against due process rights, and the general object of scorn across the nation. We are vilified and scapegoated as the reason for failing schools. It is enough to give even the strongest among of us a complex.
At first I thought I must be the only one doing such a “lousy job”. I mean I did not actually believe I was a bad teacher, as I work quite hard at my job, earned the respect of my students, parents and fellow educators. I have been given awards for excellence in teaching and amassed 19 years of satisfactory evaluations written by more than a dozen administrators. But at almost every faculty meeting, my colleagues and I were basically told, “you suck”. Which was confusing, because after being regularly admonished for professional incompetence, I would occasionally receive emails from the Department of Education or an administrator expressing gratitude for my hard work and dedication. Go figure.
So you can see my dilemma. As I said, I have confidence in my teaching ability, but know I am not even the best teacher on my floor. I am surrounded by consummate professionals that any parent would be happy to have as their child’s teacher. Yet I was consistently lectured to about what a terrible job I was doing, while surrounded by others doing an equally poor job. At the time I assumed this brow beating was justified since we were provided with free bagels and donuts during these smack downs.
It was not until more than a year ago that I saw what a concerted effort was being made to push the “bad teacher” narrative nationally. I became a member of several grass roots groups of frustrated and angry educators who showed me I was probably not such a bad teacher. We were merely victims of political corruption and greed.
Those who claim to be education reformers are waging vicious campaigns against teachers and our unions, and their most potent weapon is our own internalization of their false narrative. Tell the truth: how many of us have walked out of our classrooms on any given day and felt that our entire career path has been a mistake? We question our own talent and ability so often we are occasionally not even sure if we can make it in to work the next day. I know many of you are shaking your heads in agreement, saying to yourself “that is how I felt today!” And that is my point. We care, and to the privateers, that is a weakness. They are using our souls, against us.
It has proved to be an effective strategy, until now. Teachers Synonymous will allow us to turn self-doubt into self-reflection. It is not a weakness to have a bad day, and question your abilities. It is a weakness to harbor those doubts and let them own you. We will re-direct our angst towards something proactive. Take our depression and turn it into aggression. Teachers have a habit of being complacent. We do what we are instructed to do, because we love our jobs. We are justifiably fearful of jeopardizing our careers. For that reason many of us do not speak out against high stakes testing, junk science evaluations and corporate backed political attacks. But those days are done.
Teachers Synonymous is an effort to turn the anti-teacher propaganda of privatization around. Teachers need to be reminded they are not the problem. We are professionals who care about our students. We will enable educators to stand up and admit to being teachers, without the fear of admonishment or repercussions. We can openly discuss our addiction to education and inability to surrender our profession to a bunch of greedy privateers. We are teachers, and proud of it!
I know what you are about to ask, “How will we fight these people, they have all the money and power, all we have are number 2 pencils?” One technique I suggest is to call out the real criminals in our midst. For years we have seen so many of our students fed into the schools to prison pipeline, it is time we shed light on the Election Booth to Prisons Pipeline. We need to expose the corruption behind the attacks on teachers and public schools. Point out the multitude of politicians facing investigations, indictments and criminal convictions. Publicize the rampant corruption of charter schools and the collusion of school board members.
A second strategy is to support the parents right to opt their children out of high stakes testing. Or to learn from the example our fellow teachers from Florida, New York, Illinois, and Washington State who are risking their careers by asserting their conscientious objector status against standardized exams. Bravery and integrity are contagious. For instance many of us, through no fault of our own, may contract cases of the “testing week flu”. Which will be a real shame considering those inappropriate standardized exams will not administer themselves. This should in no way be equated as a strike, as many of our brethren live in right to work states. The rest of us are members of unions whose leaders seem to be inoculated from this type of integrity and courage. Although they continue to request I make my political contributions. But that is a story for another day.
So, my colleagues, I say speak out. Stand up to the criminals that seek to destroy our careers, and more importantly rob our students of what we bring them. A caring and nurturing environment, with a talented educator who loves their job. To learn more about the Teachers Synonymous movement join the BadAss Teachers Association. Then, select an education reformer, and rip them a new one! Use the hashtag #Teacherssynonymous. I say again, my name is Michael, and I am a teacher. And I am not going anywhere. ^0^