Sunday, September 9, 2018

Teachers Need Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Most of the nation's schools are now open and running, but what of education?

Here in New Jersey, and in much of the New York suburbs, the opening week was an exercise in damage control. Most school districts, including mine, that do not have air-conditioning suffered through a terrible four days that saw students and teachers getting sick from the heat and school districts that changed their school's schedules to single session days (there's no such thing as a half-day).

As the climate warms, and it is, these days will become as frequent as snow days are in the winter, and will force all schools to have air conditioning as default equipment. This will cost money that the public will need to contribute in taxes, and with property taxes already high in these states, something else might need to be cut to pay for it.

And just wait until next spring when those of us living in states, where the new tax law limits our ability to deduct some mortgage and home equity loan interest and property taxes, complete our returns and realize that the GOP is fleecing the middle class so that corporations can get their 15% tax cut.

Through all of this, and more, teachers are doing their jobs with tremendous help from...exactly. There is simply no national agenda to improve education other than to cut back on regulations, destroy public unions, promote charter and for-profit schools, private school vouchers, and policies that question the value of what really made America exceptional and great: the public schools. With the GOP in charge, the federal government is abandoning its oversight role and giving the power back to the states to set their own academic requirements, student evaluations and equity policies. While it is true that states should have a great deal of power over their public schools, some states have notoriously low standards, are starving their budgets in order to lower taxes, and are falling short of ensuring that all students are protected by the laws and are provided with an effective education.

And if you thought that last school year's teacher walkouts in Oklahoma and West Virginia were isolated events, then you are in for a shock. I have no doubt that this year will bring more walkouts, more labor disputes, and more civil disobedience. I, for one, am in the mood and I work in a state where the teacher's union is strong and salaries allow for a middle class life.

Which makes this week's weather folly all that much more galling for both students and teachers. Many students, including not only my high schoolers, but children as young as five years old, were in classrooms for hours that registered temperatures in the 90s. If we left these same students in cars with the window cracked a half inch for 15 minutes while we ran into Starbucks we'd be arrested for child endangerment. Our administrators sent us messages thanking us and complimenting us all on being "troopers" and "toughing it out," words that have no place in a school.

I'm a teacher, not a soldier. I don't operate on the front lines, I teach in a classroom. And it's my job to prepare today's students to be tomorrow's leaders. Respect, or get out of the way.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest


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