Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Today in NY Post--Dog Bites Man

Whenever I read headlines, I think about what they mean. In the Post is a story suggesting 60% of DOE employees would leave if they could. That's pretty shocking. There must be almost no morale whatsoever among us, you'd think. But what does it mean when they say, "if they could?" I mean, anyone could. I could send a nasty email and never go to work again. But hey, anyone could do that. Here's the fine print:

One stark effect of the persistent low morale is the prevalent feeling among educators that, if there were no financial consequences, they would want to resign...

Okay then, I'm curious why the results aren't higher. That's a pretty big if. How many jobs are there that you could just walk off with no financial consequences? Name one. Heiress? Oil company magnate? Betsy de Vos? On this astral plane, even if I am toiling away at Walmart for minimum wage I can't walk away with no financial consequence. In fact, if I have a job as crappy as that I must be in pretty bad financial shape to begin with. That person has more to complain about than I do.

Nonetheless, way before COVID came around, I've known plenty of teachers disenchanted with the job. "How are you?" I'd ask young colleagues in the morning. "Living the dream," they'd answer, with all the sarcasm they could muster. One of my saddest experiences as chapter leader was when a young teacher came up to me and said, "You're so lucky. You can retire whenever you want." Never mind that I'm 30 years older than she is, or that she has almost another 30 before she's in my position.

There are a whole lot of reasons you could feel disenchanted, and they've been around long before the pandemic. When you're in an ancient building that hasn't been maintained since it was built, that's a big old, "Screw you," from the NYC Department of Education. When they pack the students in like sardines, load your building to well over 200% capacity, and tell you to your face they have no interest in lowering class sizes, their message is loud and clear.

The kids know it too. For a few decades now I've been wearing a suit and tie to work. I want the students to know that I have a different message than the city does. I want to be the contrast to that crumbling, moldy trailer. Hopefully students see or sense that. I gave up decades ago on expecting encouragement from the DOE. I've had both good and bad administrators, and I tend not to lean on them for support. All my energy as a teacher comes from the students. I take directions from administrators, but I work for those kids. 

For me, this year has cost a lot. It is not the same online. It is not the same in some bizarre, masked, socially distanced, terrifying room where you can't get close. Of course, either of those alternatives beats risking your life to COVID. I was a little lost when I started this job, but I really found my bearings and voice when I started teaching ESL. This is the first time in decades, for me, when my job has felt like just a job. 

I'm sure many of my colleagues feel the same. Frankly, I'd be worried about them if they didn't. It looks like we may have things sufficiently under control to go back to real classroom teaching and learning in September. That would go a long way toward improving things, for me at least. 

The DOE has an entirely different response than mine:

“These survey results are from an unrepresentative sample of less than one percent of our staff, and we encourage all staff to fill out our survey for formal feedback,” said DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson. “Our teacher retirements and resignations are at an all-time low since the start of this administration, and we are constantly doing more to support and develop our school staff.”

Well, that's good for a laugh at least. I don't believe the DOE gives a golly gosh darn about what goes on in schools. I don't know what they do over at Tweed, but they don't make anything better for us. The DOE is still full of Bloomberg holdovers. I always recall a grievance I made about an untimely letter to file, having been written well after the deadline. "The occurrence is not an event," stated the DOE response. I had opportunity to show that to the chancellor, along with his rubber stamp signature, and he had absolutely nothing substantive to say back.

This could change, and I certainly hope it does, but any teacher living in hope of DOE support is headed for certain disappointment. The reward in this job is the children and teenagers we serve. There's really nothing else, and barring fundamental institutional change, there never will be. 

As for how many people would leave their jobs if there were no financial penalty, well, it perplexes me that it's only 60%. I always remember the Sopranos dispensing no show jobs and no work jobs. I remember all the gangsters sitting around in lawn chairs drinking beer and watching people work. I would probably enjoy that if I hadn't given up beer. 

The truth is this--We are a hell of a lot luckier than millions of Americans who've lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. They may or may not have left their jobs if they could've done so without financial penalty, but a whole lot of them have been left with no income and no health insurance. They'd go back to work in a flash, however they may have felt about their jobs. 

We need to work to keep ourselves, our kids, and all our families safe. I think we're doing that right now. We could do it better. We could vaccinate more quickly and efficiently. This Post piece has a catchy headline, but not much in the way of a story.

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