by Adrin Fisher
“April is the cruelest month.”T.S. Eliot
With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, the cruelest month—for teachers—is February. For the past two years, public education has been under attack from the federal government down through state governments and into the district level. Wildcat strikes bloomed all over the US following West Virginia’s lead in February 2018. Again, the nation (and West Virginia) witnessed a series of work stoppages beginning in February 2019.
As of February 2020, the WV legislature has introduced many education bills—some simply rehashing the failed ideas of previous sessions, some looking to make significant changes. One in particular has my attention: HB 4677 would make all teachers state employees (as opposed to county BOE employees). If passed, the law would strip teachers of the right to run for public office, potentially take away new and accrued sick days, and limit our autonomy in choosing our place of work.
We need to be aware of the bills introduced. We need to ask if our part-time legislators have been bowled over by the sales pitches of full-time lobbyists and out-of-state interests. We need to end the notion that WV is an easy sell, a place to make a fast buck with no ramifications. Please take the time to peruse bills and make your voice heard.
In addition to the now habitual threats on the state level, there are closer dangers. For example, my county is considering the dilution of our Title I program which provides reading and math specialists to work with low-SES elementary kids. Interventionists are highly qualified teachers who re-teach and build rapport with our most vulnerable population in small group and co-teach settings—the students who don’t have learning disabilities but also aren’t on grade level, and who, without extra attention and support, may not get to grade level. Additionally, Title I funds produce Family Nights, when parents, grandparents, and foster parents are invited into school to play games, learn about healthy lifestyle choices, and take home free books and family activities. Family Nights encourage caregivers to see schools as ESSENTIAL, which will in turn encourage them to make sure their kids attend school and do their work. Potentially, the federal funding that provides individualized attention and positive rapport will be traded for time on computer programs. I am hopeful that a compromise to please all stakeholders will be reached, but as of today, I’m in the darkness.
February is the cruelest month. It’s the line-item budget proposal month. It’s the “let’s shake the tree” and “let’s make a name for ourselves” month. It’s the month when the daily demands of teaching are compounded with recommendation letter requests, crunch-time preparation for standardized tests, in-school interruptions, and raging influenza viruses. So, if you, like me, are feeling powerless or replaceable or disrespected in your professional life…if you, like me, are feeling beleaguered, teacher-friend, I want to remind you of something.
It’s not for nothing.
Even if all this goes away tomorrow and somehow comes back worse and you decide to throw in the towel to become a HR manager at a law firm or work for a yearbook company or start arranging flowers, you have not wasted your time or your sweat.
Take a minute to consider the impact you make every day. Remember…
- When you asked how last night’s game went
- When you mentioned a kid’s concert performance
- When you picked out a book you thought a kid would really like and she took it
- When you congratulated a student athlete on signing his college intent letter
- When you complimented that quiet kid’s t-shirt as he walked by your door
- When you took the time to put a sticker or a positive word on a kid’s paper
- When you stopped to help a new teacher strategize a way to handle that one student
- When you wrote a positive note and mailed it home
- When you pointed out how far a kid’s come since you met him
- When you offered a tissue or a pat on the back
- When you sat in an IEP or an SAT or a 504 meeting and gave thoughtful feedback
- When you tap-danced for Macbeth and upped your meme game for Hamlet
I’m sure you can add 1,000 more ways you’ve touched a life. Probably more than a thousand.
I believe in the ripple effect.
I believe that we don’t know our worth.
I believe we are not replaceable.
So, I want to leave you with with a word from C.S. Lewis. In Chapter 12 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the ship has been enveloped in darkness. It’s a deep darkness that’s full of nightmares, and they’ve lost their way. As the crew begin to panic, knowing they’ll never escape, Lucy hears a voice say, “Courage, dear heart.” And then, slowly, the darkness lifts.
Teacher-friend, my hope for you is that the cruelty of February abates and that the darkness lifts.
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Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. She wishes you light. She’s a National Board Certified Teacher smack in the middle of her twenty-second year of teaching and currently working with seniors in co-teaches and dual-credit classes, and honors-level sophomores. When she’s not surrounded with her prep calendars and a pile of essays, encouraging and supporting her colleagues, or teaching Shakespeare “like a boss,” you can find her reading Shakespeare with the audiobook blasting, tree bathing in a wintry park with her kids, or writing in drips and drabs. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin