To Hell And Back

My benchmark for social media sharing is “Would I be ashamed if my grandma or the superintendent of schools read what I’ve written?”  I crack wise, gush about my kids, marvel at my dog’s behavior, beg for money to support our MDA walk team, but I almost never sprinkle politics in with my friendly middle-aged musings.

It’s not that I fear offending anyone on the other side of the fence, and I certainly expect to change no one’s mind by sharing misleading headlines or clickbait that advance my point of view.  I just don’t.  Venom is out there, as easy to inhale as the very air we breathe.  I don’t want to be part of division.  I’m an adder togetherer.  Most of the time addition is the mathematics function suits me best.

At the Tuesday evening budget meeting of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, Amy Mizialko, vice president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (VP of union thugs like myself), was told to “go to hell” by a member of the school board.  Twice.  Amy stood at the podium questioning a suggested solution to looming budget deficits, asking for solutions that benefit or impact least, I suppose, children, families, and educators.

She singled out director Michael Bonds in her testimony, responding to an earlier proposal, a proposal that in my opinion creates a false dichotomy of budget options. The proposal suggests an either/or: teacher raises or cutting bussing for specialty schools. Other places to cut are out there (of course, I’d like to see people care about education and ADD to school budgets actually), but it’s now made to seem like the greedy teachers want what they want at the expense of students.

Yes, she called him by name, and his response? “You can go to hell.”  She looked stunned for only a microsecond by his words as she backed way from the microphone, but regrouped in a heartbeat and clarified, “I should go to hell?”

“Yeah, you should go to hell, you called my name out.”

THAT is how one of my district’s elected officials responds to its families and educators. And before he walked out of the meeting, he blasted teachers for test scores.

I send my children to the district in which I work.  I haven’t decided which part of my heart hurts more–the one that represents the twenty-seven years I’ve committed to the children of my city, or the one that represents my two children I’ve committed to a district who tells their mother to go to hell.  I’ve cried–at home and at work since the news came to my attention Wednesday morning.

I called the school board member who represents my district, whom I helped elect to her seat on the board.  I didn’t know what precisely to say (I mean besides the obvious), and I couldn’t offer a solution, but I had to say something.  I couldn’t not say something. I called as a parent who was disgusted and embarrassed, a parent whose children deserve better from the highest ranking district officials.  I spoke to our children about his outburst, telling them how angry I was that he disrespected their teachers, and that their teachers deserve better. I didn’t ask for nor do I expect a call back from my director, but I wish I would have had the clarity in the moment that Amy had when she responded the next evening by saying sure, we can go to hell. We go to hell and back every day for our students.

THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOUR CHILDREN.  You want teachers willing to go to hell and back for them, to do whatever it takes to reach and teach them.  Only thirty percent of my job is direct student contact at this time, and while I sometimes miss therapy and full-time student contact, I fret that I’d feel beat-down too hard/much to be 100% at all times. 100% is what our kids deserve.

Parents, you want and your kids deserve teachers willing to go to the ends of be earth for your children. Public education is a cornerstone of enlightened society. Demonizing your community’s educators is one sure way not to attract and retain excellent, committed professionals. But I won’t even begin down the privatization of public education path here. Some other day.

For years I’ve been saying that we’ll never “fix” schools until we “fix” the problems underlying impoverished communities. If you think my job is cushy because I don’t work in July, please come spend a day on 3rd & Ring Street with me, or cruise up Atkinson Avenue en route to my office and hang for an hour or two.

This collection of paragraphs is brought to you by a potty-mouthed (but never overtly cruel in my profanity) public educator. No shame in that, is there Grandma?

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5 thoughts on “To Hell And Back

  1. “I didn’t ask for nor do I expect a call back from my director,” But, you should … you SHOULD expect a call back. But, that’s where we are in this era … we no longer ask for, or expect, our elected officials — from school board on up — to be directly responsible to us … to answer to us … to care about or act on our concerns.

    (I realize I am speaking from a much smaller district in a very rural county in a faraway state where school board members represent a very small population — and everybody knows everybody, which creates its own sets of problems — so I know that my realities and expectations are, simply on that account, different. )

    But, still … I can potty mouth with the best of them, but I know that it’s absolutely unacceptable that a director told someone representing teachers to “go to hell” in a budget meeting. And, it’s absolutely unacceptable that no other director there stood up and called him on it.

    As an outsider, I know a little (teeny-tiny) bit about how Wisconsin’s Act 10 has impacted public schools and it is so demoralizing … I don’t know how teachers do it. We just need to keep fighting. Fight back against the injustice. Fight. Fight like hell.

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    • It’s interesting you say “demoralizing” as I just read a journal article about that topic this morning. In it, the author distinguished between being burned out (meaning the feeling is something you individually experience and is a problem within) vs. being demoralized, which comes from experiences, actions, etc. from the outside. Act 10 has left out district in particular a mess. The per pupil spending amount here in the second poorest city in the US compared to the affluent suburbs would make one’s head spin. Should anyway. Act 10 made that gap even worse. Hard to believe it’s been eight years on the one hand, and on the other, it explains a lot about my personal challenges.

      It didn’t occur to me the first time I watched the video that no one on the stage said anything, because the audience response was swift and loud, but YES! The current school board president did issue a statement after the meeting, but Bonds himself stands by his comments. Yeah.

      Thank you for weighing in here, and your support always!

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  2. This is horrible–I’m stunned that someone could behave in such a way. What is wrong with people today? I suppose since most people who are now considered role models do pretty much the same, there’s no incentive to be a decent human being.

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  3. For what it’s worth, Grandma (on your Dad’s side) would have encouraged a steady stream of expletives when running up against stupidity. She was not shy in sharing her demonstrative opinions of the bafoon opposite her.

    In our youth, Stacy and I would run and hide when she started to wind up. With age, however, I find censoring my reactions to be increasingly difficult. She would be proud.

    As she would of you, your passion and dedication to your craft. The world would benefit from educators of your caliber. Which currently, and sadly, seems to be anti-establishment.

    Never be afraid to fight the good fight. God knows our children need it.

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  4. I’ve never had an issue with profanity. Words are just a tool to aid communication, and sometimes a “profane” word is the most effective one! It’s all about the message those words are serving: If the intent isn’t mean-spirited, then no amount of profanity can make it so.

    For reasons I don’t understand, Americans stopped valuing public education — and our educators — a long time ago. My best friend is a teacher at a tough high school in Brooklyn, and it takes a special kind of resilience to do that job under the best of circumstances, let alone when you’re getting little to no support from the community or its elected officials. It was our public-school system that vaulted this country to leader of the pack in the twentieth century… but that’s a history lesson we seem to have forgotten. It’s amazing anyone wants to do that job anymore. We ought to respect our educators, not demonize them.

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