I’m so excited for our Teach-In at the Capitol this Wednesday, March 28th!! I was asked by a friend why educators are needing to protest at the Capitol. Such a simple question; shouldn’t it deserve a simple answer? If I were a speaker at this rally, this is what my speech would be…
“Arizona teachers need to survive. We need to survive financially, mentally, and emotionally. We need to survive to establish and expand our healthy relationships. We are a community, but we’ve become a community of passive aggressive defeatists. Don’t stop and shake your head at these bold words! Think back of the water-cooler, Happy Hour conversations with your educator peers in the past decade. How often were these discussions focused on activism? Therefore, we need to leverage the apathy to action, the aggression to passion, and the defeat to victory! We can only successfully create this transition by standing together, becoming united through our stories of survival.
I’m sure many of you can relate to my story of survival, or rather my NEED for survival. I was a married mom of a preschooler and toddler when we moved to Arizona in 2004, enticed by the affordable housing market and growing economy. I had taught in Washington state, and was excited to be part of a state that was exploding. My West Valley school district was rapidly expanding, and I was lucky to be placed in a Title 1 school with a supportive principal, experienced teachers, and newly acquired curriculum.
We were on FIRE!! Reading First taught us about the tiers of literacy and small group instruction, the Six Traits of Writing encouraged us to apply writing rubrics to develop strong writers, and the Marzano book study about student engagement created highly performing classrooms. I was mentored by well-trained, experienced coaches at every level: literacy, math, gifted program, and pedagogical. Although we were inundated with trainings, I look back and remind myself that I grew through them. Additionally, our school district participated in a Career Ladder program, and my rather sad-looking paycheck was bumped up by my evidence of student achievement/ growth and my extra-curricular hours.
When the recession hit, our school district took away almost everything that made it wonderful. Teachers started bailing ship, and I wondered if I should as well. But I figured I would ride out the storm and see it to the other side. We lost all of our coaches, along with book studies, and purposeful professional development sessions. Career Ladder was eliminated through politics. We didn’t receive a pay increase for years, but our insurance rates increased. Classroom numbers were expanded to reflect the shrinking number of teachers. Our substitute coverage of hours was decreased, and the professional expectations of guest teachers decreased as well. I remember coming into my classroom once to find a non-English speaking guest teacher sitting in my classroom, making the students do my weekly packet in one day. I tried not to take time off after that day. It was not best for my students.
Despite the bleak status of our state’s education system during the recession, the Golden Years of Education made me hungry for more quality professional development. I wanted to become a better teacher, to become someone who inspires lifelong learning in their students. I started the journey of National Board Certification. It was the most challenging yet awarding experience of my life. I learned the value of reflection, creating deeper relationships with students, and stretching my mindset when it came to curriculum planning. I received my National Board Certification in Literacy and Language Arts in only one year, thanks to the support of the Arizona K-12 Center and my district’s cohort of National Board teachers.
After the dark days of the recession lifted, its remnants hurt me the most by taking away my marriage. The fractures began with my long hours at school but not enough money to pay the bills. They grew deeper when I worked other jobs to support my teaching but still didn’t pay all the bills. As the cracks deepened into the Grand Canyon of my failing marriage, I would put my kids to bed and quietly leave the house to spend the night in my classroom, feeling safe amongst the bulletin paper and textbooks. We filed for our divorce the week before I received my National Board email.
The recession has been over for years, yet my monthly net pay is around $3,000. I still have student numbers in the 30’s. I still have a limited amount of days for substitute teaching coverage. I lost most of my National Board stipend. I lost Career Ladder. I lost quality professional coaching. I lost my marriage.
So today, on March 28th, 2018, on what would have been my 20th wedding anniversary, I need to survive. I’m a single mom who can’t pay all the bills on my 20-year veteran teaching paycheck.
And today, on March 28th, 2018, I am proud to say I am a survivor. I survived the recession by staying in the teaching trenches and fought for quality education. I didn’t give up.
It’s all about survival.”