“Why am I here?”
Yes, I ask myself that question while standing in front of my kids. But more often, I ask myself that question at 8:00 p.m. in an otherwise empty copy room. I ask myself that question at 8:00 a.m. at a Starbucks…on a Saturday. I ask myself that question as I get on an airplane to fly to see the people I love for too short a time, or as I leave a bar before all of my other friends at 9:00 at night, or as I hand over my credit card in the checkout line for a bag full of copy paper, dry erase markers, and energy drinks.
I am here, plain and simple: for the kids, #ftk. That is what I truly believe is at the heart of most educators. Now, I wish I could say “all” here, but I know personally some who are there for the schedule or the benefits or the bullet point on the resume. Not many, but they are out there.
What really determines why the copy room is empty, though, is what exactly “for the kids” means to me as compared to others.
I am on the fence about some issues in education. I started this blog not claiming to be an expert; rather, I simply want to be a voice. Today, I’d like to open a dialog on teachers’ unions.
The main issue that prevents me from having joined one thus far and that still gives me pause when I encounter them is this: teachers’ unions fight for what’s best for teachers. Remarkably, unfortunately, and surprisingly, what is best for teachers is not necessarily what’s best for kids.
However, to have the absolute best teachers in front of students, we must make them feel needed and appreciated. Teachers cannot be the sacrificial lambs of education, and we should not be putting more effort into someone’s diploma than they are.
On the other hand, due to various circumstances in the past, some students simply necessitate extra effort – extra time spent, extra work provided, extra conversations with parents, etc.
Now, recent professional development sessions I’ve attended that have been presented or moderated by teachers’ unions have actually been quite good. I have been pleasantly surprised by the openness and comprehensiveness of their coverage.
Yet, we have created a system in which the needs and desires of teachers are, at times, at odds with the needs and desires of kids. For example: teachers, to a certain extent, will serve their students better if they are working hard for long hours. Teacher happiness, however, over time, will decline if they do so, especially without incentives. People will do things if they feel valued – ask any CEO of a successful business. The better you treat your employees, the better the outcomes. In our case, the outcomes of education are the better-educated kids.
So what do kids need? According to the late Rita Pierson’s TED Talk, they need a champion. I think that they need unconditional love, care, consistency, and challenge.
I’m in my profession for the kids. I don’t see any way not to be. However, I have been diving into an exploration of self-care, especially in recent months, and I know how important – dare I say essential? – it is to be rested, healthy, and happy. Teachers’ unions fight for education professionals in areas of pay, benefits, and more. These add to our overall job satisfaction. So again, I come back to this: need we sacrifice ourselves for the betterment of our students? Or is that such a short-sighted view that the point is moot – i.e., even if we gave up extra hours of sleep or one more happy hour or a home-cooked dinner, would that really increase overall student achievement, or would the long-term detriment be counterproductive?
Do you agree that sometimes the needs or teachers and needs of kids are different, even at odds with each other? If so, how can we reconcile them? And if we can’t…who comes first? Should I just join a union already?