Teachers are striking in Seattle, and because I was a public school teacher for fifteen years, I’ve been respectfully asked by family and friends how I feel about the situation. Being a former teacher should provide some validation regarding my opinion.
It’s a tricky question for many, but not for me. The simple answer is that I oppose the strike. Although I maintain an enormous amount of respect for most teachers, I also feel their duty remains in the classroom with their students even if they believe in further compensation. I use the term “further” because I know teachers’ salaries, and some of my best friends in the industry don’t complain. I understand one of their complaints. Class sizes are out of control in many school districts. It can be the difference between being a babysitter and a teacher. That was just one of the reasons I left the profession. Sadly, I lost my passion for teaching. That was the most logical reason for leaving.
Here are some of the perks of teaching: Two and a half months off in the summer. Every other holiday as well as the day before and after off. The option to coach, and yes, work a little harder, while putting in some extra hours and being compensated for the additional time. Those were the least important perks for me and many others entering this profession. Making a positive difference in a student’s life was, without question, the largest benefit.
Coaching was an additional opportunity for us to create solid relationships, not only with students, but many times, their parents. If a student didn’t finish a classroom assignment, we didn’t send them home before practice. We allowed them a half hour in a sweaty wresting room, or rainy football field, to finish assignments before working out for the next hour and a half. That was punishment enough, and it kept them out of the trouble away from school they could so easily find. The parents thanked us for keeping them in check for those extra two hours.
At age twenty-three, sadly, I showed up for a paycheck, wondering what my next profession might be. One month after turning twenty-three, I showed up every day because the students needed me. It only took me a month to figure it out. I never complained about a paycheck. I also had to slap myself for forgetting why one chooses this profession.
I’ll make this clear. I never considered myself to be a great teacher. I will also confess there were days I showed up to school, and a smile and laughter was all I had to offer. Those were the moments I didn’t earn a paycheck. The students and their care for me in some dark times picked me up, and that’s why I felt truly blessed for those fifteen years.
I never went on strike. I just retired. I will admit that after moving to a different school with a different demographic, those students broke me. Some people would argue that was the easy way out. It wasn’t. I miss the students, some of their parents, and the fellow teachers I had the pleasure to work with each day.