My Love for School

As I was struggling my way through the 5 and a 1/2 foot snow drift at the end of my driveway this morning, I could not help but be thankful to the county union workers who were out doing their jobs to keep our roads clear and safe.  I wasn’t bitter that I had to work up a sweat, I wasn’t angry the snow was packed and heavy to move, and I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself that I had more snow at the end of my driveway than my neighbor did across the street.  I simply smiled and was thankful.

It took me nearly two hours to clear the cave, and, during that time, I took the opportunity to reflect more upon the political climate of our fine state of Wisconsin.  It upsets me when I hear people argue against unions simply  because the non-union people are tax payers.  As a public school teacher in Wisconsin, interestingly enough, I pay the same taxes as my neighbors who are non-union workers.  My thoughts then led me to many of the former students I have crossed paths with who are now out in the post-high school working world.  A good number of those students have chosen to work in the private sector and have made good lives for themselves.  As a public school teacher in Wisconsin, interestingly enough, I have helped many of those students and will be helping students tomorrow in my classroom, educating them for private sector jobs.

I chose to become a public school teacher in Wisconsin.  My DNA is made up of blue-collar, non-union blood, so I can intellectually appreciate the argument posed by those who support Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. I am the only member of my family involved in a union job.  The argument amongst public school educators and unions alike is not about money, it’s about the right to collectively bargain for a healthy, productive working environment.  When I chose to become a teacher it wasn’t because of pension or benefits.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know or clearly understand the pension plan or benefits package when I took the job.  When I chose to become a teacher, it wasn’t because I saw my dad work so hard, with callouses on his hands and little money in his pocket and no nest egg for his golden years.  What my dad chose to do for his life’s work was all I knew.  My brother has followed in my father’s footsteps and has done well for himself.  He struggles with finding enough work and paying his suppliers like my father did, but has learned from the missteps laid before him and has a good vision of the future.  I am proud of my father and brother and, I believe, they respect what I have chosen as my life’s passion.

I became an educator because I love school.  I did not miss a day of school from kindergarten through my senior year of high school.  Up until I had children, I had never called in sick as an educator.  Sure, I took my one personal day a year and welcomed snow days as they would occur.  Nevertheless, now at nearly 40 years of age I can honestly say I still love school.  I enjoy interacting with my students.  I enjoy getting to know them.  As challenging as education can be at times, I am passionate about helping young adults find their gift and creativity.  Most of all, I encourage my students each and every day to push themselves to share their gifts.  My enthusiasm for school is the only reason I decided to invest in a teaching degree and master’s degree.

I am surrounded by colleagues who are in this profession for the same reason I am, the love of school and the desire to help young adults.  While there are many teachers in our state fighting for our collective bargaining rights by protesting peacefully at our capital in Madison, there are more who are in the classroom each and every day for the love of school and the love of children.  Yes, I did go to Madison with a few of my colleagues in an effort to do my part.  Thanks to worker’s rights laid out many years ago, I had the opportunity to take my Saturday and do with it what I pleased.  I chose to go to Madison.  I am thankful for the teachers who have spent time with my own children helping them to grow and instill that love for school.

I am thankful that, when it comes time for travel to school tomorrow, the county union workers have cleared our roads for all travelers to arrive safely for another day of opportunities.  With enthusiasm I look forward to another week of school.  Later this week my students will have the opportunity to have a skype session with students in Santa Maria, California discussing persuasive technique.  No matter what direction my students decide to take, public sector or private sector, I will educate all of them equally and with the same amount of enthusiasm.

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About jsteltz

Proud husband and father of four; HS English/LA Teacher; Author - Beyond the Scoreboard and A Sacred Promise
This entry was posted in Children, Education, Education Administration, Educational Leadership, Family, Parenting, students, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My Love for School

  1. Kaye says:

    Thanks, John, for posting the links to your blog on Edutopia. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your steadfast commitment to teaching, and I hope you are right that there are opportunities in all of this uproar to find a better, more unified path forward. The vitriol coming from so many comments on many sites from non-union people shows a complete lack of understanding of what unions have accomplished for everyone. There are reasons why we don’t have child labor and sweatshops (at least not openly.) It seems to me that a lot of the anger is really jealousy. Having abandoned union organizations or been forced by management to give up collective bargaining in the private sector, they have seen defined benefit pensions disappear, health care costs soar, and debacles like Enron and Lehman Brothers. It seems like the attitude is “If I don’t have it, no one should have it.” They could be looking at some of the things the unions have fought for and instead say,”How can I get that too?” It’s the profit-driven corporations (and insurance companies, I might add) that created the discrepancies, concentrated the wealth of this country in the hands of a very few (see this report from the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3220), and are pitting those of us who work for a living against each other. It is amazing to me that so many people think that public employees are not taxpayers, just like everyone else, and that people think union dues are actually used to support politicians, when voluntary contributions to a Political Action Committee are all that can be used politically. The bitterness of private sector workers toward public employees is really being stirred up as a smoke screen to keep everyone from looking behind the curtain to see the real “wizards” at work, manipulating things to concentrate the power in their own money-filled hands.

    Like you, I am not normally very political, but this battle seems to be a defining one, not just for Wisconsin but for public employees everywhere. I would not be following this so closely if I were still in the classroom, but having retired after 26 years, I feel an obligation to try to contribute in some way to support a fair resolution and to defend the profession in which I invested so much of my life. If you have any thoughts on how folks from New York can help, let me know. (By the way,I’m married to a native from Wisconsin,Packer Backer forever.) If there are other products besides Johnsonville Brats, which we don’t have here, that we could boycott, I’d like to know about them. The only Koch brothers product I’m familiar with is AngelSoft toilet paper, which I promise never to buy again. Are there others?

  2. jsteltz says:

    Kaye-
    Thank you so much for your thoughtful response and for reading the blog. I have a sister who married a native New Yorker from Brooklyn. They currently live in Scotch Plains NJ, but lived in Brooklyn for many years until recently.

    Here are two links to PDF files of Scott Walker campaign contributors:
    https://acrobat.com/#d=qh-WF-Sjg2c*fJ2zSK1Agw

    https://acrobat.com/#d=98jo2-wEL1A6EEryZ5nhYw

  3. Leif Lautenbach says:

    Kaye-

    “The bitterness of private sector workers toward public employees is really being stirred up as a smoke screen to keep everyone from looking behind the curtain to see the real “wizards” at work, manipulating things to concentrate the power in their own money-filled hands.”

    I agree! Although I am all for balancing the budget and agree cuts need to be made I feel the focus of actions to accomplish this are consistantly put on the people. For example, in 1989, Wisconsin voted to give Senators an automatic 5% increase every year. Since them the salaries for our Senators has more than doubled. Politicians on both sides voted for this so that all politicians would be protected and never have to make it a campaign issue. Average salary today is 174k – Where is the budget proposal to reduce and cut pay of our leaders?

    • jsteltz says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Leif. In fact, I had forgotten about that salary issue. That’s a great point! Is that true, 174K??? Holy – – -!!

    • Kaye says:

      How is voting for your own pay raises not a conflict of interest when the money you are paying yourself is coming from the taxpayers? 5% is way more than any union contract in New York has had in any of the last 4 years, at least. Last year, our union re-opened our contract and gave up 1% of the increase scheduled for this year in return for a two-year extension of the same contract terms, with no further increases. The result was a 2.5% increase, much more in keeping with the economy in general than 5%! Maybe in 1989, they were severely underpaid, and that was before the first dot com bubble burst. But 5% in perpetuity? Amazing!

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