Saturday, June 11, 2011

On teachers . . .

(Note: Pictured here is Coach Eliseo Ramos. He was my history teacher and baseball and football coach at Hebbronville High School. Coach Ramos had a big impact on my life. He showed me how to be a respectable man. He always dressed up to teach and he was always ready with a quick lesson. As a coach, he always had us prepared to play anyone we faced. He told us were as good as anyone else out there. Turns out, he was right. Thanks Coach.).

When did our teachers become the enemy?

I have been watching with much interest the recent struggles on school financing throughout the nation and in Texas. Somehow, watching the various state legislatures arguing for cuts in public school financing has been akin to watching Attila the Hun attacking defenseless women and children in a mountain village. It doesn't make sense.

It's bad enough these legislators (mainly Republican) are attacking our children, but now they are attacking the lifeblood of the public education system - the classroom teacher.

First of all, teachers are not paid much. They sacrifice much of their lives to ensure that a proper balance of education is put forth to scores of children who enter their classrooms. Many spend their own money and many spend countless hours counseling students (and their parents in some instances) as they try to make it through today's rugged society. These classroom teachers are the heart and soul of public education. Much of their individuality in the classroom was taken away from them when state mandated curriculum became all the rage. Now, testing has taken away their personality as they teach to test. Now, we have assured we are not going to pay them adequately. Just leave, old man and old woman. You are in your late 50s or early 60s but just leave, they are being told. We don't need your knowledge, education and classroom savvy any more. Leave!!!!

And,they have. Every state of the union reports high increases in teachers taking early retirement or, for those who are younger, just leaving the profession. It's as if the letter "T" for teacher resembled the "A" in Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. The teachers are being depicted as the bad apples here and are being asked to leave with their tails between their legs, so to speak.

Well, they shouldn't do that. They are the ones who have kept the American way of life alive. Without public school classroom teachers we would be no better than a monarchy where the haves have more and the have nots don't even get the scraps. But, oh, that's the way some politicians want it and that's what they will get - people eating scraps.

What the politicians don't know is that America's success is based on people being able to share a piece of the pie. It's call the American Dream. As long as everyone gets a piece of the pie, it's okay. If you limit educational opportunities, the ones who baked the pie (okay, the politicians and their rich sponsors) will get a bigger share of the pie and those of us left behind will get only the crumbs that may fall from their voracious and arrogant appetite for power. That will destroy America. Doing away with a quality public education for all will destroy our country and our way of life. Making the teachers the enemy to dispose of will eventually result in ruin for our country and our way of life.

I remember my teachers. It wasn't easy growing up Hispanic in a Anglo-dominated educational world. But, somehow, these marvelous individuals were able to transform a proud and somewhat arrogant little boy into an educated man.

In elementary school, the nuns at Little Flower School taught me confidence, patience and perseverance. Sister Grace and Sister Leticia gave me the confidence to read and write in English, and I still do that. Mother Josephine showed me how to be leader, just by example. They all taught me the wonder of books and joy of writing, in any language that I could command. In high school, my teachers showed me that reading, reading, reading and writing, writing, writing would make me a better student. They also taught me not to be afraid to speak my mind and to do so with confidence. Teachers like Mr. Oliphant, Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Pearson, Mr. and Mrs. Perez, Mr. Smith, Mr. Huerta, Mr. Valon, Mr. Martinez and Coach Gonzalez.

Coach Eliseo Ramos (pictured above) touched my life in remarkable ways. He was a true professional educator. In the classroom, he treated everyone fairly and with respect. He always dressed professionally. He demanded excellence from all of us, and most of us gave it back. In the playing field as a baseball and football coach, he demanded excellence, sacrifice and focus. His teams were winners and he left a lasting legacy in my hometown of Hebbronville. Today, the baseball stadium is named in his honor. We were great, thanks to him. Coach Ramos was just a solid example of how to fight for what you want and to never, never think others are better than you. He taught me that I could compete with anyone in the world in spite of my limitations, if I just worked hard enough to succeed. I have followed that example. Thanks, Coach Ramos.

Mr. Oliphant, in particular, exposed my friends and I to the world outside my little hometown of Hebbronville. Through reading assignments and class discussions we explored the world of philosophy and history. I bet he never knew I would some day write a book.

Mr. Smith was so wonderful. He took a young man with a very heavy Mexican brogue (of which I was very proud) and tutored him every day and on weekends with tongue twisters and other exercises to transform me into a - well - decent speaker. He saw that I had the charisma to make a good speech but felt my very heavy Mexican accent would hinder my ability to communicate. So, on his own, he helped this young man whom he saw potential in and whom he felt would have a better future with this work. He was, in essence, my speech therapist and I am forever grateful to him for doing this.

At the university level, teachers continued to make a difference in my life as I tried to prepare myself for a career in journalism. At Texas A&I, Fred Neusch, Bill Holmes, Ben Hobbs and Sheralyn Alexander certainly honed my skills. Mr. Neusch in particular prepared me for a career in sports journalism. How else could a young man from Hebbronville wind up a Dallas Cowboys beat reporter and covering the Super Bowl? Well, it happened. Dr. Ward Albro, Dr. D.J. Stinebaugh, Dr. Ed Su and Dr. J.D. Phaup were among those who made a difference in my life, as well.

My teachers at the high school or university level saw teaching as a mission. Many of them "picked" to go to a rural community where they could make a true impact and be proud of their professions.

A recent radio commentary by Glen Ford pointed out that many politicians simply want to do away with teaching as an honorable profession. Full-time teachers are not needed, he says those politicians feel. Public education’s corporate enemies – Democrat and Republican – are now waging open warfare against teachers unions, seeking to strip them of collective bargaining rights, he said. But that’s just the beginning, he feels. “The billionaires, and the politicians they have purchased, want nothing less than to destroy teaching as a profession.” In the ideal corporate world, most teachers would have the status of temps - or subs. How can we teach our children with temps? It would be like the replacement players making believe they are the real pros in the National Football League. Now, that's something Americans won't stand for, right? So why not go to bat for our teachers? Why not be outraged about losing our qualified teachers? Where's the outrage?

It's time. We must be outraged and we must fight back. We have to. No one gave the Republicans the mandate to attack public education in the manner they have. NO ONE! We asked them to be fiscally conservative and to watch over the budget, but now they've gone too far. They have become the enemy of our children and our future and someone has to stop them. Education should not be messed with. It should be nurtured and cared for and made the best for everyone.

Texas has a long history of fighting for school finance reform (The Edgewood Cases). Forty years later, we are still fighting. But, if these current trends continue, there will be nothing left to fight for in the future. All we will have is a series or charter schools and private schools and only the chosen ones will get an education. If that happens, the American way of life is gone. Trust me. We will become a second-rate country in an instant. Soon, we will elect a king or queen. Soon, the rich will have us serving them tea in their hot tub. Soon, we will become indentured servants to a rich classes society led by vulgar politicians whose only salvation would be the dollar bill. Soon, we will not exist.

Ray McMurrey, head of the Corpus Christi teachers union said, "I am convinced we are in the midst of an organized scheme to devalue and defraud public education to the point it becomes dysfunctional. The deceptive plan also places blame on teachers for the impossible position public education is in, further convincing the public that tax credits, vouchers and private schools are the answer."

He is right. This is a well-planned scheme to deny a proper education to millions of our children. Consider this, "Why is this happening just as the majority of Texas' public school children are Hispanic?" Why is public education being devalued just as the Hispanic children are the ones who must be educated? You have to wonder, is there a plan here? As one well-known politician would say, "Youbetcha!"
Politicians, mainly Republicans, want to devalue education because then only their children will be able to afford a quality education. Have you seen the cost of a college eduation recently? They have to be stopped.

We must fund public education properly, not adequately, or it's over, as McMurrey said. We should stay the course of supporting our public schools and let our state officials know that defaulting on public education is never acceptable. Instead, we should ask our legislators to fully fund education, even if it means finding new revenue (insert rainy day fund for Texas here).

We should encourage our legislators to support laws demanding higher standards for teacher certification. Empower teachers to handle discipline in their class rooms to uphold safe schools, and allow teachers to assign failing grades when deserved without harassment by administrators.

And, the key here is not the dollar sign, although that would help. The key here is continuing to treat teachers with a little respect, a little dignity and a little class.

They deserve, at least, that.

Thank you Sister Grace, Sister Leticia, Mother Josephine, Mr. Oliphant, Mrs. Morris, Mrs. Pearson, Mr. and Mrs. Perez, Mr. Smith, Mr. Huerta, Mr. Valon, Mr. Martinez, Mr. Neusch, Dr. Phaup, Coach Gonzalez and Coach Ramos (and all the others, including those in college), thank you.


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