I am familiar with Shakespeare’s quote from Henry VI, “The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers.” Although, one should note, the quote is often used to malign attorneys when Shakespeare actually meant it as a compliment – the characters in his play were planning a revolution and the lawyers would be the ones who might stand in the way.
The surest way to chaos in society is to silence those who protect independent thinking and the rights of the citizenry. Apparently in Florida, the second surest way to chaos is the destruction of the educational system.
Following the vote of the Florida legislature to eliminate tenure for teachers in the state, I started wondering when it was that the education system and educators became the first sacrificial lambs for the current Florida Legislature’s ill-conceived plan to solve the budget issues by destroying the education system, gutting the legal system, busting unions and fighting health care for all.
For all of those who believe that teachers are a group of overpaid, lazy, unmotivated, overprotected, lacking-in-innovation people who don’t care about the children in their care, the education they provide or the progression of their students, I have just one thing to say to you: You have never been a teacher.
The teaching profession is a hard one to choose as a career. Florida’s teachers are among the lowest paid in the entire country. The population of students encompasses huge pockets of abject poverty, large groups of immigrants with little or no knowledge of the English language, transient students living in unstable households and a significant percentage of parents and guardians who do not support the education system or the teachers and administrators who are a part of it.
Florida’s teachers spend more time, on a daily basis, with their students, especially during the elementary years, than most parents do. Their job, when done right, is vital and provides the foundation for future learning, for the developing the logical thinking and character and the understanding of consequences. Does it make sense to further devalue the importance of what they do by eliminating job security?
Tenure doesn’t prevent school districts from firing teachers who don’t do their jobs, don’t care about education or their students or don’t follow the rules. Every state provides the means to do exactly that.
Many, many things have changed since I was a K-12 student. What hasn’t changed is the devotion and dedication it takes to be a teacher who makes a profound and lasting impact upon a student’s life. I remember every teacher by name who took the time to care about my education, the development of my character and my progression into the adult world. Those teachers cared because society cared about them and understood the importance of their role in the education and development of the children in their care. Those teachers cared because parents understood the importance of supporting their efforts. Those teachers cared because the legislatures in the states in which they worked voted to support their salaries, their retirement benefits, their rights to be treated fairly and equitably and provided them with some sense of job security through the tenure system.
The devaluing of our educational system and the corresponding devaluing of our children may have been well summed up by Rep. Scott Randolph (D-Orlando):
“It’s amazing to me that the members in this chamber see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the plumbing care of their toilets.”