Every day, I get personal messages from teachers describing how their jobs have been turned nightmarish by tests, assessments, scripting and micromanagement and abusive treatment by administrators. When I posed the question here of whether things are better or worse for teachers than they were 10 years ago, well over 95% said they were much worse; many people said they were planning to leave the profession or were on the verge of being driven out.
So why, given all this, do I tell my students who want to be teachers that they should continue with their plans if they know what they are getting into and understand the powerful trends undermining the profession?
There are two main reasons I take this approach.
The first is that the scripting, micromanagement, surveillance, top-down management and erosion of loyalty and job security that teachers are experiencing NOW are deeply established in most other occupations, especially in the private sector. As a teacher and scholar in labor history, I watched the nation's unionized industrial workforce lose their dignity, their power and standard of living in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s while the rest of the nation stood silent, and saw Wal-Mart, with its abusive management practices and low wages, become the nation's largest employer, replacing General Motors, which once had that status. When that process was complete, I saw the Wal-Mart management style sweep through service industries, and in the last 10 years have seen it invade public employment as city and state governments seek to privatize vital functions, break unions, and undermine worker pensions.
Here is the brutal truth:
THERE IS NO OCCUPATION IN THIS COUNTRY WHERE YOU CAN AVOID THE BRUTAL MANAGEMENT PRACTICES CURRENTLY INVADING TEACHING!
There is no "dream job" I can tell my students about, here or in any other country, where you will find security, loyalty, autonomy, and caring respectful management. Work conditions in teaching, as bad as they are, may actually be better than they are in some other jobs.
But there is an additional reason:
I refuse to give up the profession to the privatizers, the abusers, the people who destroying childhood and undermining what should be one of the best jobs in the society. If there are young people who love the prospect of changing lives, who have a passion to teach, who believe in the potential of all young people irrespective of their backgrounds, personalities and unique aptitudes, I think they should go in and fight the good fight for their students any way they can, and in the process try to organize their colleagues, empower their students, awaken the families they are in touch with, and revitalize their unions.
I don't think we give up on a whole generation of young people because times are hard and getting harder.
Sometime in the next 20 years, if we keep organizing and resisting, we may be able to turn this all around, but even if we can't, there are minds to be opened, lives to be changed, hope to be passed on to future generations.
I still, in spite of it all, think the best and most idealistic of our young people should become teachers.
But Teachers who Fight the Power. Badass Teachers.
With A Brooklyn Accent