This is a letter that was sent to the Pilot News and shared with WTCA concerning the Red for Ed rally outside the Statehouse on Tuesday. It was estimated 16,000 attended the rally. Locally about 80 people from Plymouth attended the rally. The group included teachers, retired teachers, students, administrators, and concerned community members. The letter was submitted by Bill McIntyre and interventionist at Plymouth High School. His letter follows:
I teach in Plymouth as a special educator at the high school. Teaching is my third career. My first was in the steel mills in Gary; my second was in the Navy. I have been teaching for more than two decades. I am sharing why I decided to join over 16,000 other teachers from across the state to make our needs known to the Governor and Legislature in Indianapolis this November 19th.
Teacher talking points were brief. Invest some of the budget surplus in teacher compensation. Hold students teachers communities harmless from ILEARN (the new state standardized test). Repeal the Professional Growth Points/Externship requirements.
As far as marching went, at my age, I try to pick my battles carefully. My first reaction was, “This isn’t my fight; leave it to those younger than me.” In the end, I decided that I had something to share–my experience and my voice. I am concerned that the average citizen only sees a small view of public education and how it runs in our state. I am also concerned that your kids are suffering as a result of foolishness. It is time for teachers to tell their stories and help their communities fully understand this issue and how impacts them and their kids.
I knew nothing about schools when I first started over 25 years ago. I was “sure” that schools and teaching would change–for the better in my lifetime. I wanted to be a part of that change. The solutions being put forward appealed to me and had great sounding themes: choice, free markets, small government, private investments, competition, efficiency, digital learning and so forth.
Twenty-five years later, I’ll admit I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I saw as a way for folks to work for change from the bottom up became something very different.
I am tired of being disrespected at the statehouse. I am tired of countless hours attending to a growing list of things that do nothing to help your kids and instead steal my time and other resources from them. I am tired of a Governor and Legislature that give lip service to public schools–your schools. I am tired of folks who have never stepped foot inside of a school telling me how to do my job. I am tired of the private industry leeches who feed off of public education and our taxes.
Meanwhile, the amount of spending on public schools continues to drop. 90% of the students in this state attend a public school, but funding for these schools has continued to decline for the past 15 years. Meanwhile, the things that schools and teachers are asked to do continues to increase exponentially. They can find money for charter schools, they can find money for online schools, they can find money for endless tests. Who suffers? Your kids.
One counter-point I often hear is, “You teachers just want more money.” In my case, that’s not true. As a senior teacher, my pay is vested in the old pay scales before Mitch Daniels and others dismantled teacher pay mechanisms. It’s “old dogs” like me and our higher pays that skew the public perception of actual teacher compensation, especially when looking at averages. This state has a lot of older teachers. Collectively, our higher salaries push the average up. Younger teachers are frozen–tens of thousands of dollars below old guys like me. They are the ones who are getting hurt. When I got into teaching, I could look at a pay scale to see exactly where I would be in five or 15 years and how getting an advanced degree might add to my salary. I could plan my future. Today’s teacher can’t do that. These younger teachers don’t have a pay scale to consult. There is no such thing as a true “pay raise” nowadays. Teacher “bonuses” are tied to test scores. The same tests that even the state thinks are bad. The same tests they keep rewriting and replacing endlessly. The same tests that nearly everyone–except the test makers–knows do not measure the standards taught in our classrooms. Who suffers? Your kids.
One difference between older teachers like me and the younger ones is that they vote with their feet–and quickly. My group tends to honor our year long contracts; it’s far easier to retire than move. But younger (smarter) teachers leave contracts they don’t feel are fair at a much higher rate. (Isn’t that one of the other side’s arguments? “If you don’t like what they pay you, leave?”) Well, that they do. The upheaval that’s created when classes are suddenly left empty mid-year affects students and staff. Subs become difficult to find because we can’t pay enough, teachers are pulled to cover classes they know nothing about, and support staff and administrators spend an inordinate amount of time trying to juggle all of this. Who suffers? Your kids.
This fight is just starting. There is a lot of work to do over the next several months. I feel that down at the statehouse, folks there simply hope this “disappears; that teachers will “get this out of their systems” and just “go back to work and shut up.”
Some of what I saw today confirmed that for me. The Governor was absent. The Republicans were locked up in a room ignoring us. They had their “speaking points” posted outside that presented their point of view. End of discussion. The only Republican that would speak to us was the State Superintendent of Education. However, I did meet some very nice Democrats (including a Democractic Governor candidate) who took time to speak with us and listen. That was refreshing.
What I’d like to know is where does our community stand on this issue? Will our local press give a voice to teachers, parents, students, and others so we can have a proper public debate? Will our local politicians, business leaders and community leaders find their voice on this issue? What is their voice? What do you really want for your kids?