Recently I celebrated my birthday—I won’t say which one—and I focused on the many wishes I had concerning education.
I wish I lived in a world whose governors valued education and teachers. I’m glad I don’t live in New Jersey whose recently-reelected governor Chris Christie called public schools “failure factories,” even though his state ranks third in the nation on international-based tests. Governors who truly value education don’t put political neophytes with three years’ classroom experience in charge of the welfare of 700,000 students and 50,000 teachers. They also shouldn’t label a C-level school a failure.
I wish I lived in a world where the disconnect between reality and fantasy weren’t so large. I love the Louisiana people I know, but we wait for the “Buy 1, Get 3 Free” coupons before we spend any money or do any effort. We teach in facilities half a century old but are unwilling to build the schools we need to produce a group of better-equipped citizens. We think we can create a world-class educational system “on the cheap,” but the reality is we are getting what we’ve paid for.
I wish I lived in a world where teachers are paid what they are worth. I regularly watch my former students graduate from college in careers that pay them for their first yearly salary $20,000 more than what I earn after twenty-two years. Despite the many claims that teachers only work 180 days a year, I log more hours in a week than most regular 40-hour jobs. I start at 6:30 and leave at 3:40, but I bring my work home for 2 hours minimum four days a week, and work 6 hours minimum during the weekend to prepare for the next week. That’s 59 hours per week, or 2124 hours a year, where a typical 40-hour job has 2000 hours of work a year. Is it any wonder that I am burnt out and need a block of time to reboot?
I wish I lived in a world whose leaders encouraged their teachers to pursue continuously their love of knowledge. Louisiana removed any incentives for teachers to earn higher degrees by eliminating the higher pay scales, sending the unmistakable message that our children aren’t worthy of extra efforts by our teachers. According to the state, a first year teacher with a bachelors, masters, or Ph.D will be paid the same.
As I looked at the loved ones gathered around me for my birthday, I realized my fondest wishes—to love and be loved—were all around me. It didn’t, however, remove the heartbreaking desire that my previous wishes become reality.