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Saturday, March 10, 2012

What is a Political Act?

As I made my way through the course work for my Masters, I learned a new perspective that I had not previously considered: To teach is a political act. I think that came from reading Literacy: Reading the Word and Reading the World by Paulo Freire.

To teach is a political act.

In the beginning of my course work, that struck a chord with me. Until then, I thought teaching was an important job, but often longed for easier conditions and more cooperative students. A little more money wouldn't hurt either, partly why I was pursuing my Masters - to make myself more economically viable - to do what I could to secure an income that would allow me, not only a livable wage, but also to pursue dreams and worthy goals. In the state of Oklahoma, the increase in salary is just not that much, like maybe around $1000 a year, give or take a couple of hundred. For what I've paid the University of Oklahoma, that increase will never catch me up financially. I knew that going in.

Pursuing a Master's degree was mostly about becoming the best teacher I could be. Before enrolling as a graduate, I had spent a year engaged in the process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher. A rigorous process, to say the least. That year had engaged my intellect, my resolve and fortitude, and my ability to reflect on my classroom practice in ways that I had never been challenged before. I sacrificed time with friends and family and other goals, so I could focus on achieving not only the letters, "N.B.C.T.," but also the gains in my ability to reach all my students. The money for achieving this certification? $5000.00. Each year for the next ten years, meant a yearly bonus of $5000.00. That would give me the money to help pay for my master's degree. It would also allow a single mother of three to take her three children on vacation.

When you make the decision to become a teacher, you make it with your eyes wide open. I knew I would always make a modest income. The work I do is meaningful work. And the truth is, I was meant to be a teacher. I love this job.

The state of Oklahoma, while never boasting about teacher salary or per-student-expenditure status, has made huge progress in the almost 30 years since first stepped into the classroom. We were among the first to create state standards for the curriculum we taught. The Oklahoma Writing Project has been a site of the National Writing Project since 1977, connecting master teachers from all grade levels K-College and across all curriculum, for the purpose of using teachers to teach teachers how to teach writing. The College Board AP and Pre-AP programs and teacher training has raised the level of expectation of teachers and all our students. Oklahoma has been a leader in supporting and certifying teachers in the National Board process. Opportunities for professional development have been available for the all teachers  and the ones who become better at their jobs have partaken in those rich professional opportunities for growth.

But in 2011, with a Republican legislature and now a Republican governor and Republican Superintendent, everything changed. Everything that made me a better teacher, was no longer valued.  Our superintendent created a budget that cut funding for every form of professional development that has made me a better teacher. First, the superintendent cut our bonuses by $1300 (est.) to share with certified speech pathologists. Then, she cut the budget for NBCT all together. She NEVER asked for the funds to support NBCT. She told the legislator she didn't need additional funds. No matter what is said now... I know the truth. This legislature is bent toward ending the everything good that has made me a better teacher.

"Where you put your treasure, there your heart lies."

What I'm learning about politicians is they own the literacy of power. Their power rests in their ability to create laws that benefit what they care about. For instance, they can cut taxes for corporations in the name of creating jobs for our state. Whether or not job creation is the result. The research is clear that job creation has not grown as a result of the compelling "trickle-down" economic theory we've been trying for the last 30 years. However, in cutting taxes, they re-create a budget, a budget that cuts programs. We cut programs that impact the most vulnerable of our state: the elderly, the poor, the children of the poor. We cut programs that impact public education. Politicians say they want to "reform" education. Then they  take away the very resources that were working in education.

I read from a friend posting on Facebook, "Follow the money." If you cut funding for education, who benefits? Follow the money. Our governor and our superintendent both make $148,000 a year. When our governor retires, she will retain that salary for a lifetime. That's her retirement. I'm not sure about the retirement of a superintendent or a state legislator, but I bet it's considerably better than my retirement. Follow the money. Which corporations have benefited the most? Who sacrifices so they can benefit? Who benefits from the sacrifices our most vulnerable children must now make?

My rambling has gaps, but I have questions.

What is a political act? I think teaching is. While I don't own the literacy of political power - the ability to write laws that create a shift in our state finances from public funds to private corporations and to the wealthiest of our state, I do own other literacies.

Teaching is a political act.

And so is writing, reading, thinking, learning, investigating and researching. Thank you, Oklahoma legislature. While I've always wondered about the differences between our political parties, you have given me cause to read more, think more, and learn more. I did not become a teacher to act politically. Despite my intentions, teaching has always been a political act. The teaching we do in our public schools has the power to bridge the gaps between a growing lack of resources and access to those resources.