Teachers On Strike, Parents on Scramble

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mr. Harry Polka. He was my teacher in Grade Three, and he was excellent. I often mention Mr. Polka, glowingly, when I talk about creative writing. He kind of lit the writer’s fire under me all those years ago.  Although my father gave me a dear appreciation for the art of storytelling, Mr. Polka really nurtured my love of putting those stories down on paper.

He also introduced me (and the class) to The Beatles. He often played LPs on a simple record player stashed near the back of the room while we penned our stories. He was all for supporting imagination and stirring creativity.

Mr. Polka was one of those teachers who felt honored, proud to help shape these young minds left in his care. And he made sure everyone in the class felt special and important and heard.

I’ve long wanted to thank Mr. Polka for all of this. Actually, sending the man a handwritten note is actually on  my Life List — the 100 things I plan to do in this glorious life before walking towards the light — and I don’t have a proper excuse for why I haven’t tracked him down yet. Other lists in life, I guess. The best I’ve done so far is give the man a shout-out in the back cover of my debut novel. That’s something, right?

Anyway, Mr. Polka popped into my head today after reading about the Chicago teachers going on strike today. The last strike was 25 years ago. Yes, parents are scrambling, trying to figure out what do with their kids, what the implications of a teachers’ walk-out could mean for these 350, 000 students out of class, what this might look like if the strike goes on for more than a week. Those are real and serious questions.

But here’s another one: what about the teachers? No, not the apathetic, hollowed-out ones who say things like (as someone on Twitter quoted today): “I get paid whether you learn or not, so I don’t care.” Like with any industry, there will be those who are in it for all the wrong reasons. I’m asking about the Mr. Polkas  — the teachers who believe their work is essential work, urgent work, valuable work, and take their job very seriously. What about those teachers out there on the picket line fighting for what they believe is fairness?

I don’t know what the answers are on any of this. Even this Washington Post “411” story on the strike doesn’t offer much in terms of What Next. I do know that it’s never cut-and-dried when it comes to this country’s teachers and public school system.

It’s easy to think, Well, this doesn’t affect me. I don’t live in Chicago. But that’s not really true, is it? We’re parents. We have kids. We have kids in school — there already or on the way in a year or three. Some of us are teachers and parents. It does affect us, all of us.

  • 1
    Kristin says:

    When the vote on whether or not to strike came up in NYC a few years ago (2006 or so?) I voted NOT to strike. The majority disagreed, and I was so relieved when the City and the Union resolved their differences. However, now – seeing how some of the schools are being “hollowed out” to achieve a goal that the City was told was illegal by the court system – I would vote YES to strike if it meant we could stop some of the bullying (and I don’t use that term lightly) going on in NYC.

    I also see all the parents in the blogosphere and around me here cheering and thrilled that school is back in session – and I wonder if they connect that joy with the basic “babysitting service” that schools provide ON TOP OF education of their children. Sigh. I miss teaching every day, but I don’t miss being treated by administrators, parents, and even fellow teachers as though I have half a brain a la The Scarecrow.

    And just to play devil’s advocate about the comment tweeted, I said some equivalent to students when I taught because, well, I taught teenagers. And when teens try to get a rise out of you, the quickest way to get them to deflate is to appear apathetic. I don’t know that the tweet was about that, but it’s possible.

  • 2
    Ms. Mary Mack says:

    Thanks for this comment, Kristin. It’s true… I think many parents see “back-to-school” as “back to the babysitter” in a sense. But then thing moves into another big, bad, heated topic: childcare in this country.