From my fingers to political eyes

Let’s try this post again:  If you feel like those of us in education are getting a bad shake these days, why not tell the people who make/change the laws about it?  Here is my own letter to my local state politicos, offered as proof of concept:

To <The Honorable State Senator Owen Johnson, The Honorable State Assemblyman Philip Boyle>

Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher.  Teaching children is in my blood.  My father spent his career teaching science, and my mother taught foreign language.  Growing up, I was surrounded by teachers, and school administrators, all of who came from a place of wanting to better society.  I could not imagine a more noble profession.

Studying the sciences in college, I could have chosen several career paths.  I could have pursued medicine or done research in either the public or private sector.  While either of these avenues was certainly available to me, I wasn’t particularly interested.  Not, as some might suggest, because I didn’t have the grades or academic ability, but because neither one seemed to be able to have the sort of impact that I wanted to have with my career; to be able to reach as many people as I could, help them learn how to consider things from a scientific perspective, and teach them about what science has told humanity about its place in the Universe.  Here, as we live in an age in which the effects of an exploding human population are increasingly being seen in the world, I still cannot imagine a more important thing for me to do with my life.

I became a teacher seven years ago, having completed an undergraduate degree in biology, a minor in environmental science, and a master’s degree in teaching.  Since that time, I have received another master’s degree in technological systems management for education, and am currently in the middle of another post-graduate degree in educational administration. 

Seven years ago was a good time to become a teacher.  As my parent’s generation retired, many districts were looking to hire in large numbers to fill the vacancies.  Even as recently as three years ago, I would still get phone calls from local districts wondering if I was employed, and if I might like to interview for job openings.  I was never particularly interested, as it was apparent to me that the district I work in was a pretty unique place that afforded me everything I wanted to do in my working life, while paying me a salary and benefits that were solidly fair for the amount of work that I did, the amount of education that I have pursued, and the amount of fun that I have doing my job (all of which I qualify as “lots”).

Recently, I have discovered that I no longer have as good a feeling about my career.  While the highlight of my working life continues to be the job that I do for the students that I work with, I have been unable to escape the creeping notion that my job is viewed by large sectors of the public and the political machinery of the state as somehow unfairly privileged, that the salary that I receive is somehow unfairly inflated, and that the work that I do is somehow less necessary than I feel it is.  These notions have only been strengthened as I have watched the various political maneuvering taking place around the country to frame the current economic downturn as the responsibility of those of us who work in the public sector, and to use the facts of that downturn as an excuse to roll back generations of collective bargaining laws and regulations.

Now, faced with budget cuts and spiraling costs, districts are forced to cut staffing while our political leaders talk about “winning the future”, and making the workforce more globally competitive.  I have a difficult time understanding how it is possible to hold both of these ideas simultaneously.  But instead of discussing how irrational it is to cut funding to education in a future-oriented society, I find the political establishment devoting its attentions to discussion of changing the laws that allow the most experienced educators in the classroom during these times of ballooning class sizes and diminished resources.  Instead of discussing ways to reduce wasteful spending by school districts and the state department of education, I find the default course of action being advocated to be cutting staff at the local level.  Instead of raising taxes (or simply enforce the existing tax codes) on the industries and people who’s actions precipitated the economic downturn, I find that the middle-class is being asked to carry the burdens caused by the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

These are all troubling signs, and these are the things that make me concerned for the future of the profession that I love.  I no longer find myself able to recommend a career in education to younger people with the same sort of enthusiasm that I once had, as I have a hard time seeing how the future of the profession that might enter will be as good or better than it was for me.  Here on Long Island, I have a very hard time seeing how any new teacher will be able to make a living.  What will happen to our schools as the people who we expect to run them are priced out of the community? 

I suppose I would ask you to work to do the following:  Please work in your leadership capacity to insure that the state is pursuing avenues that really do allow for the maintenance, and growth of education, a profession that I believe to be above all others in terms of affecting the future of this great society.  Please act in an informed capacity to question any policies that result in decreased funding to education (particularly when the advocates of those policies profess to want to strengthen education), and please do everything in your power to keep this job as attractive a career as possible for the best and brightest members of each generation of Americans.

Thank you for your time.  If you ever need an educator’s perspective on issues, I would be happy to meet with you in person.


David Knuffke