Monday, June 1, 2009

Sign of the Times

I ventured out recently to purchase a picture frame at a large chain that sells homegoods. I knew exactly what I wanted, and as soon as I made the turn into the frame section, I saw it from a distance. As I got closer, I realized that the frame I wanted, my frame, had several nicks and chips on it.

Not to worry - there were two additional frames, exactly like the first one, underneath a pile. I began moving items and uncovered yet another damaged frame. I was patient, though, knowing that the one at the bottom of the stack would be perfect and ready for purchase, hidden from damage down there at the bottom.

Wrong. The third frame did have less nicks on it, but the box surrounding it was ripped and barely hanging on to the very item it was meant to cover. I decided I could easily camouflage the tiny chipped places with a brown marker so I pushed the box back together in an effort to find the price. I was a bit distressed at the asking price but wasn't too worried: certainly the kind employees would offer a discount for damaged goods. I headed to the register.

Luckily, I was in a line that was being serviced by the store manager; this stroke of luck would eliminate another clerk's need to seek higher authority to approve the discount. I waited for several minutes until it was my turn. I explained my saga to the manager, including the fact that there were two other damaged frames back there on the shelf - surely he would want to remove them in an effort to present only the best for his customers.

He spoke politely, "I have to ask full price for this." I assumed he was kidding - or delirious - surely he didn't want $40.00 for a chipped picture frame in a dysfunctional box. He saw my surprise and continued, "We aren't allowed to offer discounts on damaged merchandise. It's a sign of the times."

After explaining, as nicely as possible, that I couldn't believe his company would want to represent themselves that way, I left with nothing to show for my visit except a wasted thirty minutes.

Later, I thought about the budget cuts that are occurring in school districts across the country. The proposal in my own state currently calls for the elimination of thousands of teaching positions while raising class size and shortening the school year. This is in addition to a salary cut that hit our pay checks last week...which, by the way, I felt okay about at the time. I didn't mind giving up .5% of my salary so that hundreds of teacher jobs could be saved; however, it was just after I came to terms with that news and justified it in my mind that I heard about the thousands of teachers and third grade teacher assistants that we are likely to lose in our state if this budget proposal goes through.

I thought about the "damaged goods" that we'll manufacture in schools - students who will leave us ill-prepared to be successful and with little hope for a bright future. What should I say to those students? Oh, I's a sign of the times.

But unlike that picture frame, I can't put my students back on the shelf. We, as educators, have to remain committed to do the best we can with the resources we have available to us, even if the only resources we have are a passion for children and subject matter expertise. I can do it if I run out of paper and I can do it with more students in my classroom, especially if those of us left to do the work continue on with a purposeful effort to make a difference in the lives of children.

Meanwhile we will continue to be a voice for those children as we write our legislators and make our positions known (I'm happy to report that each representative that I have written has written me back. I do feel that they are listening.) In addition, in my state educators are wearing red on Wednesdays to symbolize that "education is bleeding."

But bleeding or not, we'll teach those children - however many sit in our classrooms - because the alternative is not an option.

It reminds me of an old song from the sixties - "Don't Give Up" by Petula Clark:

Don't give up; don't let it get you down.
Don't give up; don't think of leaving town.

Which, in turn, reminds me of a popular Petula Clark album with a catchy guessed it -

Sign of the Times.


Janice said...

What an insightful posting. I was a teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools (Cleveland, Ohio), who was a byproduct of teacher layoffs. Thousands of teachers were laid off, and students were stuffed into overcrowded classrooms. This is in an urban district, with many children facing extreme poverty. These children already have strikes against them, and now, with crowded classrooms, even more. I left Cleveland in 2005 and that year I had 35 students in my classroom. I cannot imagine what has happened in some of the classrooms since then.

I love teaching, and choose to teach in urban settings. It scares me to think of what will happen in district with proposals as you mentioned. You are right, we continue to do whatever it is we can to educate our children, regardless of what we face.

So much needs to be reformed in education, and having teachers who truly care will at least be a start for our children.

This is my first real attempt at reading and responding to a blog. Sorry if any of this is not correct, or does not makes sense!

Cindi Rigsbee said...

Thank you for commenting on my blog (and it was all correct and made perfect sense!) I appreciate the fact that you chose to teach in urban settings where, all too often, teacher turnover is high. Thank you for recognizing that caring for children is, at the very least, a start.

S. said...

That's an interesting analogy, but it makes sense. You can't give up on educating students even when the bigger picture seems less ideal than what you wanted. I am lucky that I haven't been part of any layoffs, but our classrooms have continued to be affected by budget cuts and overcrowding. It seems like every year the hallways become more crowded and harder to walk through. In the Teacher Community that I am part of, I have found helpful resources to help me with my career, and have found others to discuss issues like this with. My question to administrators is whether they realize that the bigger classroom attendance becomes, the harder it is to provide each student with resources they need to grow and learn more.

swetzell said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog. I too teach in North Carolina Public schools, and the budget proposals are really tough. Our administration has encouraged our teachers to e-mail our representatives, and I have received some responses back. You are correct, I feel that some of the representatives are not in favor of the proposals. All I have ever wanted to do was to become a teacher and work with amazing children each day. Every year it seems to get harder and harder with several things impacting education, from lack of resources, to larger class sizes. I get upset when those type of things happen because I feel like people do not understand what it is doing to the children in schools today. But you are correct in saying that the teachers will still go to school each day and teach the best that they can with what they have. The children need us, especially in a high poverty school like my school is. My students need me more than anything. I will continue to be the best teacher I can be and have a positive impact on as many students as I can whether they are students in my classroom or any other student in my building. With the budget cuts proposed and several teachers throughout the state losing their jobs, the rest of us are going to have to step up instead of complaining about the budget, lack of resources, and larger class sizes and continue to teach the students. Students still deserve the best education they can get. Thanks so much for writing such a great blog.

Tracey said...

Great post! I'm glad I found your blog. :)