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LJWorld.com weblogs Something Done Right

Hello, I am a teacher...and I am a thug

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I’m a thug. This revelation came to me two years ago as I was attending a KNEA convention in Topeka. There I was seated between a grandmotherly woman in a denim romper wearing wooden necklace and an auto tech teacher from what I like to called “western Kansas” (which translates to “anywhere west of Wanamaker”).

So there I sat in a Topeka convention hall rolling the word “thug” around in my head. The imagery of mafiosos in Dick Tracy hats and tommy guns just didn’t seem to fit with the teachers sitting around me. Neither did the incendiary descriptions of teachers only out for their own self-interests. My goodness just a couple of rows away sat my former piano teacher and I KNEW any self-interested man would have fled the awful sounds I could produce for another career.

But a thug is what I have become. If I am a thug it is the educational system that has made me into a thug and for this I’m grateful because it means I have become an advocate for my students, myself, my family, my peers, my profession and my community.

I have come to see my career as a series of journeys. The first phase of the journey as a 21-year-old straight out of teachers college looking for a classroom of her own. Any basement classroom would do; even if it meant no centralized heat or air and sharing the space with a few creatures of the four-legged variety.

My journey started with the enthusiasm of establishing a career, staying at school until 10pm to “just wrap things up” and volunteering to be on parent, scholarship and district committees. My husband and I had just married and my time for students was limitless. In the teachers’ lounge I scoffed at the negativity of some of my peers while hero worshipping others who seems to have boundless energy and drive.

The journey changed so subtly that I barely recognized that I had arrived in a different place. Even today I can’t really say when exactly I changed or whether it was the job that changed or whether it was just a change in my awareness. Somewhere between baby number one, the changing of school administrations, earning my masters degree and baby number two my bright optimistic attitude dulled. The grousing in the teacher’s lounge didn’t seem so far away from reality.

Rather than believe some of my peers were just lazy or didn’t care, I started wondering what THEY had been like their first five years of teaching.

  • When had they lost the love of teaching and learning from students? When had they lost their joy for teaching? Was I going to lose MY joy in teaching? Would the constant demand to do more with less wear me down as well? How could I combat a downward spiral of expecting the worst and receiving the expected and more?

At this point in my teaching journey I had known the support of a true instructional leader, an advocate for students and teachers. I was experiencing the loss of that support to an lackluster leader, a rubber stamp and a bully. For almost a decade I had dealt with a school environment that locked teachers out of the building, offered a $50 budget to classroom teachers and chastised them for not doing more with less each year. I could handle a decade of the challenges, but an uncertain future without a leader who valued my contribution was too much. While I loved who I taught and who I taught with, I was seriously contemplating becoming a clock-in, clock-out teacher.

When I expressed my plans to a peer, she chastised me for giving up too easily on myself, my students and teaching. This started the current phase of my journey. I figured out that year my contributions to the classroom were valuable and that value was recognized elsewhere. When I was offered the journalism position at Lawrence Free State H.S., I was ecstatic.

After pulling myself out of (and being pulled out of) the doldrums, I recognized the value of this new direction in my journey. Never again would I allow my professional career to be dictated by circumstances outside my control. If I didn’t think classroom teachers were being supported, I volunteered for a grant committee. If the principal was retiring, by god I would volunteer to be on the interview committee for the next principal. If I felt teachers needed an advocate, I volunteered to be a building representative. If I felt the state was making a mistake by cutting career and tech education funding for journalism, I would join forces with fellow journalism teachers to push back on a done deal.

On this journey I have had friends and family members question why teachers complain so much. After all we get three months off in the summer and only have to be in the classroom seven hours a day. My response is I spend all but two weeks of my summer traveling with students, attending conferences, taking classes, or teaching. As for seven hour days, I know few teachers who can do the work that needs to be done in seven hours. Their families live with a parent whose attention is often split between grading papers, preparing for classes and paying attention to the needs of their own children.

Oh, but I’m “one of the good ones” I have been told. That statement says more about the ignorance of the person uttering it than about the teaching profession. It reminds me of a situation where my brother-in-law was making jokes about lazy Mexicans until he realized he was pounding nails on a hot tin roof with a Mexican-American. He gave the same lame remark... “oh, but you are one of the good ones.” Back peddling at that point does NOT make up for insulting my profession, those who have mentored me, those who have supported me and those who give everything they can give to students everyday.

I have heard even peers question how hard it is to actually be a FILL IN THE BLANK teacher. When I hear this I conjure images of other teaching positions... I shudder at the energy level and multi-tasking abilities it takes to be a kindergarten teacher... I cringe at managing 40+ stinking students in and out of a locker room... I mentally shut down at the idea of dealing with the hormonal experiment that is middle school teaching... and I defend my peers because until I have walked in their shoes I cannot understand their journey.

So in the end when I hear my teachers union called a bunch of thugs, I am proud because when if you take away a teachers voice what you will get is a clock-in, clock-out employee. If we are thugs, we are “the good ones” fighting for our students, our families and our communities.

Comments

nascar 1 year, 11 months ago

Ms. Folsom, thanks for your service.

Paul Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

Thug? Thugs only fight for themselves and even then...they will only fight if they have 2 or 3 Thugs to help them out. Self centered and me, me, me. Thugs are cowards and bullies at heart. You don't sound like that. Very bad analogy and a weak attempt at relating to youth. Thank you for your dedication but you need to learn the common definition of "thug" before you start comparing yourself. Webster's: "Thug, a common criminal, who treats others violently and roughly, often for hire." I don't think that is you. If teacher's really wanted to 'grow a pair' they would disband the tyrannical teacher's union and allow teachers to compete in a free market and get paid what they deserve.

chootspa 1 year, 11 months ago

Haha - in other words, "She's not like the others." Because the teacher's union is made up of... wait for it... teachers! They even have elections and stuff. I hear tyrants aren't much into that sort of thing.

Paul Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

The heads of the teacher's union is made up of thugs who used to be teachers. Now they are just common criminals bilking good people for dues.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 11 months ago

You don't have a clue what you're talking about, and you also have a very tenuous grasp on grammar. Perhaps, if you had listened to your teachers instead of denigrating that of which you know nothing, you'd have gathered a little more of the teaching they tried to give you.

Paul Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

Given that I have three teacher's in my family and seven as close friends...I have an intimate knowledge of the bilking.

chootspa 1 year, 11 months ago

I hope none of them teach English. Otherwise, they're doing a lot of eye rolling and face palming. Well, they're probably doing that anyway.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 10 months ago

Great! I'm always looking for reasons to expand my kniowledge. How about some real, not made up, pertinent reasons for your dislike of the teachers' unions.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 11 months ago

Wow, you chastise the writer for her lack of understanding of the word "thug," (even though she was clearly using it facetiously) and then demonstrate your own complete ignorance of what the word means.

Downright comical if it weren't so indicative of how much of an ideological punching bag the serious business of education has become.

chootspa 1 year, 11 months ago

Huh? Grammar counts. First off, there's more than one teacher's union, so I'm assuming you mean the KNEA. They have presidents and elections.

Usually what happens is that the elected president - a teacher - goes on leave from their teaching position while serving in office. That doesn't make them a "used to be teacher" unless they've retired from teaching.

Can you cite some specific examples of actual criminal activity committed by a KNEA leader? A link to a news article would be most helpful, since you seem so convinced of this criminal behavior. As far as "bilking," that seems to be a matter of opinion, doesn't it? Since membership is voluntary, I'm guessing your definition of "bilking" is just using money in some way you don't like.

Greg Cooper 1 year, 10 months ago

Again, please elucidate the specifics of your "reasoning".

Oh, yeah, and arrogance, in my opinion, is personified by those who rail against something about which they can give no specifics.

Will wait patiently.

Stuart Sweeney 1 year, 10 months ago

Compete? without a union--that is like a fawn protecting itself from a pack of wolves! There is nothing wrong and everything right with standing up together and demanding a living wage with decent working conditions and the respect and dignity each employee deserves!

bd 1 year, 11 months ago

I really appreciate what teachers do , but there are subpar teachers out there that are just looking for the next paycheck and are protected! That is an injustice to our children!

chootspa 1 year, 11 months ago

Oh noez! There are teachers that can't be fired without documentation and stuff! What is a poor, lazy administrator or partisan politician to do?

hedshrinker 1 year, 11 months ago

Thank you, Laurie, for this blog and your ongoing educational contributions. It is hard to believe that professionals banding together to advocate for the needs of the people in their care, as well as their colleagues are so frequently branded as thugs by the general public. But there are powerful political forces that want to keep you down, as well as the more intimate and internal weasels of demoralization that lead to a sense of powerlessness and defeat. I know this struggle as a former high school and university educator,and as an organizer for healthcare workers. Finding paths to personal and professional renewal and finding strength in like-minded groups can keep your feet on the good path. Keep on doing the good work! We are SO grateful.

Satirical 1 year, 11 months ago

Mrs. Folsom's comments clearly reflect an intelligent and articulate individual. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her story of personal progress in overcoming situations out of her control. Rather than complaining, she decided to become more involved. I think it is a great lesson for all of us. However, I believe she made two errors in logic.

First, it appears she wants to reader to make the logical leap that because an individual's motives are pure, any group with which that individual belongs to must also be pure (i.e. teachers unions are a group of thugs for the common good).

Second, it appears she wants the reader to make the logical leap that because an individual's motives are pure, anything that individual advocates for must be for the "common good." This is a mistake I notice liberals often make, in assuming that because they care about people, anything they advocate to accomplish that goal must be for the "common good." And likewise, assuming anyone who is opposing what they advocate must not be for the common good and not care about people.

Satirical 1 year, 11 months ago

Agnostick,

I absolutely agree that both liberals and conservatives are guilty of making the same error about the motivations of an individual who opposes an individual will apparently pure motives. However, the topic du jour is that of unions, which objectively have liberal support, and whether they are a "good organization." So, whether both sides are guilty doesn't change the topic at hand and doesn't make it ok.

Also, I don't think most people stereotype all unions members, but rather unions themselves. I am sure there is one person who belongs to the KKK who is a great person ("one of the good ones," to borrow from the author), but s/he still associates him/herself with a terrible organization. While I am not claiming union = KKK, I am pointing out that whether the individuals in the group are "good" or have good motives doesn't really matter if what the group proposes is against the "common good."

The specific changes the union wants and the methods to reach those changes are what matter, not the motives of the individuals.

tomatogrower 1 year, 11 months ago

Can you give me any instances where the KNEA and NEA have not advocated for children?

Satirical 1 year, 10 months ago

tomatogrower...

I know very little of the KNEA, but I think efforts which make it harder to fire a teacher have the direct result of making it harder to fire a good teacher and harder to fire a bad teacher. Bad teachers can be cancerous to other teachers (see author's comments above), and are bad for children.

Of course the opposite is also true. If it is too easy to fire a teacher it could lead to arbitrary or politically motivated firings, so that must be avoided as well. There should be balance, but I think sometimes the teacher's unions simply care about one side of the equation.

weeslicket 1 year, 10 months ago

satirical, i have taught for 30 years. and i can count the number of "bad" teachers on one hand and have fingers left over.

and i will tell you as well, that none of the other teachers wanted those "bad" teachers around. the union didn't "protect" them, the union helped the administration to move them out of the profession. just thought you'd like to know.

Satirical 1 year, 10 months ago

weeslicket...

First, thank you for your service. That is a phrase too often reserved for those in the military, but I believe teachers should be given similar praise.

Second, I am glad to hear that you have seen few "bad" teachers, and glad to hear the union can be helpful in getting rid of bad teachers. However, your evidence is merely anecdotal. I suggest you watch the documentary "Waiting for Superman." It shows how often the teachers unions put the best interest of the union members (teachers), even the bad ones, above the best interest of the children.

From my personal experience dealing with unions, they can sometimes be helpful if an employee is guilty of "serious misconduct" such as drug use, but more often they are an impediment to getting rid of employees who are poor performers. As I said before, I know very little about the KNEA, so perhaps they are the exception.

weeslicket 1 year, 10 months ago

seen the movie. not impressed much by it, as it describes a world that i have never experienced. i would also point out that this docudrama is anecdotal as well, and presented from an incredibly biased political point of view.

you tell me you know very little about KNEA, and also that you have personal experience dealing with unions, and also that unions can have "poor performers", and that due process rights are an impediment (as if due process was anti-american or something). what a strange assortment of facts to argue from. seems like you're leaving out some bits here.

verity 1 year, 11 months ago

You seem to be making a lot of assumptions. I don't think she said what you're trying to twist her words into.

Satirical 1 year, 10 months ago

verity...

So, you disagree that the author claims that she has good intentions and is an advocate for "our students, our families and our communities?" Do agree that she also claims the members of the union and even the union itself has the same goals in mind?

Alyosha 1 year, 11 months ago

So silly. Which definition of "thug" are you using here?

"1a violent person, especially a criminal: 'he was attacked by a gang of thugs'"

"2 (Thug) historical a member of an organization of robbers and assassins in India. Devotees of the goddess Kali, the Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travellers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s."

parrothead8 1 year, 11 months ago

I notice you never brought up the Constitution when Brownback stacked his regime with pro-business cronies.

jayhawklawrence 1 year, 11 months ago

It is the nail sticking up that gets hit. I hope these precious teachers do not give up and abandon our children who are the hope of the future. If they do, who can blame them?

There will be tremendous pressure to conform and the people running this state have never wielded more power.

They have the money, the authority, shrewd political skills and an army of very naive people who believe through both religious faith and cultural prejudice that they are enrolled in a holy crusade.

It will take a miracle to stop these people.

Liberty275 1 year, 11 months ago

"clock-in, clock-out employee"

Clock in, do your job, clock out. That''s all we expect of you. If you don't want to do that, then stop.

Alyosha 1 year, 11 months ago

Have you ever been a teacher, Liberty?

Also, is that how your teachers approached their jobs?

I find it hard to believe that anyone who's ever taught, at any level, would suggest that "clock in, clock out" is an appropriate perspective for a teacher.

Liberty275 1 year, 11 months ago

Yes.
I didn't pay attention to what they did off the clock. I find it hard to believe you expect anything more than "clock in, do job, clock out".

Greg Cooper 1 year, 11 months ago

I, for one, do not expect anything more than for teachers to "clock in, do job, clock out." However, and God bless 'em, I've never had a teacher who approached the job that way, and I'll bet you never have, either.

Your approach to this issue is simplistic, and ignores the very fact that the majority of teachers (in my experience as one myself and being a member of a family of educators AND administrators) do not look at their jobs as "cidjco", but as jobs that entail doing what it takes to make th kids' time with them (on or off the clock, thank you very much) educational and useful.

Education is far more than being there alone. Education is caring and doing something about it. You are in the position you have attained in life largely because of the very teachers you want to spend less time teaching.

Liberty, your name alone pays homage to the tradition we, as a nation, have valued for ages and ages. You, of all people here posting, should be aware of that, and aware that the people who stay with the profession are not, and never can be, clock-watchers.

Sometimes, what we expect and what we get are two very different things.

tomatogrower 1 year, 11 months ago

Well, Liberty, some of us work for a living. And we all know that you are not a professional. Professionals live their vocation. Your work is your life. Professionals have found something that is not just a job for paying the bills.

parrothead8 1 year, 11 months ago

That's one of the most reality-challenged comments I've ever read on this site. You clearly have never spent time as, nor know anybody who is, a teacher. (If you do know a teacher, ask them to explain how ludicrous your assertion is.) It's simply not a profession that can be confined to the hours measured by a time clock.

chootspa 1 year, 10 months ago

GTA doesn't count, especially if the end-goal wasn't tenure track.

tomatogrower 1 year, 11 months ago

But she has been called a thug, because she belongs to the NEA.

weeslicket 1 year, 10 months ago

whoa there, consumer1. did you just define a thug as a libertarian?? a thug is one whose only concern is for themselves. uh-oh.

guavablues 1 year, 11 months ago

Thanks so much for your letter. I am a retired teacher and have experienced exactly what you are saying. There are many that don't get it and never will. They will continue to vote against their own self interests out of fear and ignorance.

verity 1 year, 11 months ago

Thank you, Mrs Folsom, for your dedication to our children. I hope you never lose your joy and love for teaching. You are appreciated. None of us would be where we are today without people like you.

And thank you for taking the time to write a well thought out letter. In the atmosphere today in Kansas I couldn't blame anyone for giving up.

grammaddy 1 year, 10 months ago

Our teachers spend more waking hours with our children than most of us parents do. I think they deserve a lot more respect than they get.Sure there are a few "bad apples" out there, but that goes for parents also. Teaching children takes the combined effort of BOTH. Don't complain about little Johnny reading at a 3rd grade level when he's in the 8th grade if you haven't taken the time to help him. All failures in the classroom are NOT the teacher's fault. Turn off the TV, the smartphone and sit down and read with your kids. It works wonders. I find it crazy that we think nothing of paying millions of dollars per year to entertainers and athletes who contribute NADA to the futures of our kids, while our teachers struggle and spend parts of their own meager incomes to make sure ALL of their charges have what they need to compete in this world.

jayhawklawrence 1 year, 10 months ago

My children did extremely well in the Lawrence school systems and I am most grateful to the amazing teachers that nurtured them. Not all of them were as dedicated as they should have been or as qualified to teach but there were enough Superstars that all together, they made a winning team.

You have to have Superstars and none of them were clock watchers.

My heart goes out to those kids who never meet that special teacher that can change their life forever.

grandnanny 1 year, 10 months ago

Interesting that unions get such a bad rap because people realize that there is power in numbers, but the NRA, Chamber of Commerce, etc. are okay. They use the same idea but that's okay. The leadership of the NRA and the Chamber of Commerce wield far more power than the so-called teacher's unions. In Kansas, we cannot strike and there is no binding arbitration, but Brownback wants to take away the little bit of power that we have. At the same time, he bows to the Chamber of Commerce "god." In case you haven't noticed, as the power of the unions has decreased, so has your salary. The 40-hour work week is going the way of the dinosaur. And for those who aren't paying attention, the underfunding of education is just Brownback's way of funneling more money to charter and private schools. When western Kansas people wake up and realize that they have lost their schools, perhaps our State has a chance, if it's not too late.

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