I have seen many visceral attacks on teachers in my 20 years in education.
Usually, I think these attitudes and remarks are rooted in the jealousy of people who don’t work in a field where they have a chance to shape and influence the future in the profound way that teachers do.
Educators develop a thick skin against public negativity. They are in the field to share a love for learning with their students. Most have a true sense of caring for kids and their families.
In a way, working in this field begs the use of the quote from a Batman movie, “It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.” Teachers want to leave their mark on the world, and sometimes all they want in return is a little respect.
So when Washington Post syndicated columnist Mark Theissen recently wrote a column titled "Don’t negotiate with teachers who walk out over COVID. Fire them," I was far from surprised.
And it’s not that he’s wrong about everything. He gave detailed statistics about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and their academic loss due to the on-again, off-again nature of distance learning and school closures.
Ask any teacher or principal what they know first hand about these important issues, and you’d better pull up a chair and make yourself a strong cup of coffee, maybe Irish coffee.
What left me disappointed was the way Theissen used his platform to attack Chicago teachers for walking out and using their bargaining power this month to drive home the fact that they were working in conditions that they deemed unsafe.
Sometimes when you use your voice and nobody hears you, you need to use your feet. Democracy itself is predicated on this ideal. But democracy and unions have suffered as of late.
Theissen insinuated that teacher’s unions don’t care about children and that “...poor and minority children are held hostage by teacher’s unions.” Yet, Theissen himself is a member of the same political party that put Betsy DeVos, a privately schooled billionaire, in charge of public education for all of America.
Never before have we seen the insidious gutting of programs to benefit poor and minority students that we saw during her reign. So in the contest of who cares and who doesn’t, I’ll match teacher’s unions against Theissen and his party any day.
Teachers work for students and families, with their whole heart, every day. Many have worked in person throughout the pandemic, navigating and contracting COVID, some being hospitalized, some left with lasting health conditions, and some tragically dying of the virus. That Theissen accused teachers of “cutting the line for the vaccine” is outrageous.
Schools are scrambling to cover absences when teachers are out sick and to provide the best learning environment they can for students. Many times fellow teachers help out because it is difficult to find substitute teachers in a pandemic.
Schools are suffering from the nationwide labor shortage and when the going gets tough, teachers and administrators can’t retreat to a cubicle or work from home. A classroom full of children awaits.
Make no mistake, Theissen’s berating of teachers for exercising their rights to drive change is symptomatic of a larger fascist ideology. It seeps into our democratic society through words and actions while we are sleeping and thought we were woke.
Paula Coulahan is a teacher in the Rockford Public Schools. She is a member of Teachers for Social Justice, MoveOn.Org (United Against Hate), and Everytown for Gun Safety (Moms Demand Action) national and local chapters.
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Teachers and their unions deserve a little respect