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Risking the Lives of the Unvalued

I am a very introspective person, an INFJ to be specific, and as such, I am capable of spending hours a day in quiet deliberations. Writing helps me distill those reflections down to something well thought out, encouraging, and hopefully, wise.

 I do not claim to be a fountain of wisdom. Looking at the earlier decades of my life, you would probably find that I acted wisely about as often as a stopped clock displays the correct time. Despite the years characterized by foolishness, something remarkable has transpired in recent years. After repeatedly trying to do things wrongly, I discovered pearls of wisdom hiding in plain sight.

 Introduction to Wisdom

The training in wisdom begins early. If you had kept recordings of your parents from when you were a child, you would hear an endless stream of things like:

Don’t touch that stove. You’re going to burn yourself.

Don’t run with those scissors. Do you want to cut yourself?

If you don’t turn off the video games and study, you will fail Algebra and have to retake it in summer school.

If you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get cavities. Do you like having the dentist drill holes in your mouth?

Having survived childhood, we move into our teens and explore new ways to act foolishly. This cycle of foolishness and awakening keeps repeating, and all along, we have, hopefully, reflected on our choices and gained wisdom.

 Having lived for 60 years, I see things much more clearly than ever. Some of the things I see more plainly are unsettling and even disturbing.

 What Will You Believe?

In my economics classes, one of my most repeated questions is: What will you believe? What people say or what they do? 

To illustrate this, I offer a hypothetical bonus to anyone willing to attend a 45-minute tutorial at 6:30 in the morning. Many students will promise to participate in the sunrise session, but experience tells me few will show up.

I once knew a manager who, in public, constantly flashed a huge grin, warmly shook hands with the workers, and said all the right, affirming things. But away from the spotlight, the man was icy and grim, and his actions were downright condescending.

I don’t have to tell you which version of the man his employees believed.

 In the Ghostbusters movie, the team’s low-budget commercials conclude with them saying, “we’re ready to believe you.” I am ready to accept that teachers are respected and appreciated, but, ultimately, what I will believe is the treatment we receive.

 A Shocking Response

As a college student, I worked as a substitute and occasionally ran into some of my old teachers. One educator I will call Mrs. Brown was my math teacher in the 7th grade. Nearly 20 years later, I discovered that she taught advanced high school math, and I was both surprised and pleased to run into her again.

Mrs. Brown had been a very outspoken teacher when I was in her class in the mid-70s, and time had only made her bolder. I introduced myself and told her I was studying to become a teacher. Her response shocked me, “Well, I am very sorry to hear that,” she said. “Teachers are not paid enough and don’t get any respect.”

The bitterness in her words stunned me, and I did not want to consider what she said was true. Still, I knew she believed what she told me from her matter-of-fact delivery. The brief exchange left me with nothing to say, and I left her room, praying my experience would be different.

 Reassessing the Grade

Looking back at the past 24 years of teaching, I would give teachers’ pay and respect a grade of 67 with a curve to 70. Call the 3 points extra credit for the many lasting friendships I enjoy with teachers and former students.

The last several weeks have caused me to reassess that grade.

I now see how undervalued teachers are at the federal and state levels. To many politicians, we are noisy cogs selfishly complaining about working in dangerous conditions. And like cogs, when worn down or undependable, we can be put aside to be replaced with a fresh one.

If that were the final assessment, I doubt many people would stay in the job. Fortunately, many of us are blessed to work with administrators who honor and care for us. Their support helps daily, but these folks can only do so much, as they are as far removed from the halls of power as we are.

Risking Teachers’ Lives

However reckless we view a return for face-to-face instruction, the state has charted that course, regardless of the risks. Many who had the options have already chosen to resign or retire from jobs they loved. With few alternatives in a down economy, others will choose to return.

Regardless of the state or district policies, teachers must do whatever they can to protect themselves and their students from Covid-19. At the same time, we cannot allow ourselves to get mired in the slough of bitterness or depression. Staying positive will be a constant challenge, but gaining character and wisdom most often comes from the tough times in our lives.

Let me offer a concrete suggestion. To avoid those negative feelings, focus on supporting and encouraging your fellow teachers and students. If you occupy yourself with that, there will be little room for bitterness.

We also need to encourage ourselves. Remind yourself of the value you have given to your students and colleagues. Go back through that box where you keep all the little notes students and other teachers have given you over the years and read the personal accounts of how much you are valued. I am sure you will consider those assessments to be more honest and reliable than the attitudes of decision-makers who have never done the job.

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