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A Teacher’s Plea

The GOP shouldn’t write off educators.

Jan 21, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 18 • By COLLEEN HYLAND
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Teachers are not government civil servants, so don’t lump us in the same category with federal and state workers. Teachers are typically hired by their local school boards and work for students and parents, not for the government. Having worked in the “real world” before becoming a teacher, I have a unique perspective on what motivates those who dedicate their lives to this noble profession, and it’s not the salary and benefits, it’s the dream of helping kids. How many civil servants moonlight to make ends meet? How many federal workers use their own money for basic supplies? Respect for and interest in our perspective would go a long way to bridge the political gap with educators. Teachers want to make our country better, too.

And please freshen up your talking points. Tenure as most people think of it is a thing of the past. Please stop acting as if teachers have jobs for life. Nationwide, new state requirements tie teacher positions to test scores and other markers. Teachers support tenure to ensure they receive a fair hearing should a grievance arise. We also support tenure to ensure academic freedom. Specious mandates enter our classrooms on a regular basis—including faddish instructional methods -conceived at liberal universities, and promoted with little or no evidence that they work. With tenure, experienced teachers, who know what is best for their students, can resist such mandates when necessary.

Unions are here to stay. Instead of dogging unions, appeal to the better nature of teachers. Some unions have voted to give up wages to help alleviate their districts’ budget deficits and to save teacher jobs so students can receive a well-rounded education. Republicans crow about respecting contracts when it comes to the mortgage crisis and bailing out the banks, but have no qualms about rewriting union contracts with school districts. Respect the agreements that have been negotiated in good faith on both sides.

Finally, please do not write off all teachers as entrenched liberals. Some are, but many simply feel that the only respect they receive comes from the Democratic party. They would welcome an invitation into the big tent of the GOP. Changing the way conservatives interact with public school teachers, without diluting conservative values, would benefit the Republican party and by extension the future of our country. It’s a winning proposition.

Colleen Hyland is a National Board certified teacher in New York.

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