Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scholastic solidarity

On the ramparts

I am a math teacher.

I teach in a public school.

I am a union member.

All of these things are good things, at least in my opinion. I realize that some people think otherwise. First of all, math is clearly an unpopular subject, despite its beauty and utility. When you admit to being a math teacher to a stranger, prepare to hear, “Oh, I could never do math” or “Math was my worst subject in school.” You will surely die of asphyxiation if you hold your breath waiting for the first person to say, “Math was my favorite subject!” They are few and far between.

Then there are those people who snidely refer to “government schools” when speaking of public educational institutions, as if they are somehow inherently inferior to private or sectarian schools. Actually, when you allow for our non-selective open-admission policies, we do pretty well. Our best students are as good as any you'll find anywhere else. Our worst have no counterparts at the private schools because they were never allowed in in the first place—but we do the best we can to help them anyway.

And the people who say “government schools” don't seem especially to mind driving on “government roads” or eating “government approved” food or drinking “government filtered” water.

Finally, of course, there's that business about union rapacity and the efforts of union members to destroy our way of life...

Excuse me? What folks so fondly imagine as “our way of life” is a union product. Really!

Look for the union label, idiots!

The forty-hour work week? Paid vacations? Who invented those? Not the robber barons. Not the corporate executives. Civilized work hours and reasonable recreation periods are the result of union efforts and collective bargaining.

Want to go back to the “good old days” before unions? Good luck! Planning to take your kids with you and put them to work to support you? (Those child-labor laws are so restrictive! Five-year-olds used to be really useful in those factories!)

The supposedly liberal mainstream media does a pretty lousy job of covering stories about labor unions and working conditions. Look how supinely they parrot right-wing smears: Why call an upset teacher a “union demonstrator” when you can call her a “union thug”? Why refer to a union executive as a “union leader” when you can tag him as a “union boss”? I once wrote a letter to my local paper to complain about a reference to “union bosses” in what was supposed to be a straightforward news report. Why, I asked, are my elected union officials being described as “bosses,” as if to suggest criminality and racketeering? The newspaper published my letter, but I've never seen any improvement in its coverage.

Sometimes I get snarky comments from acquaintances (seldom from friends, since I avoid making friends with idiots) who whine about the cushy jobs that teachers have. They tend to focus on things like summer vacation (we don't get paid for summer months, you know) and supposedly short hours (as if we're off the clock when our in-class hours are done). They look at a fifteen-unit load and express amazement that we work “only” fifteen hours per week. (Like I said: idiots.) They have no clue at all.

When they tell me I get too much time off, I tell them they get too little. Get a union, I suggest.

Of course, a lot of us still have to work during those summer “vacations” to make ends meet. Perhaps our rapacious union reps didn't extract as many concessions as the uninformed segment of the public thinks. Time to take to the streets again!

See more at Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions! Thanks to Steve Lazar for kicking this off.


Eamon Knight said...

Hey, I'd happily say that Math was my favorite subject, except that it was probably tied with Physics and Electronics. (Which, of course, have a lot of math in them)

Improbable Joe said...

I like the comment about other not getting enough time off. One of the major problems in America is that the 90% at the bottom attack each other whenever one group gets something "extra" instead of joining together to make sure everyone gets it. If one group gets great benefits, the other groups should question why they don't get benefits too, instead of trying to make sure no one gets them.

Also, I think the reason idiots hate education so much is that they failed pretty miserably at learning and still carry a grudge against smart people.

plam said...

Improbable Joe: I'm not sure that it's limited to America; I've read reports that humans in general, or even primates, might also really hate it when someone else is getting something that they are not getting.

I should try that "Math was my favourite subject" line next time I talk to a math teacher. Then again, I liked math so much that my BSc is in math and computer science. Math is hard, though, so my other degrees are in CS only.

Snoof said...

I didn't particularly like maths until I hit the last few years of high school. Calculus, in particular, inspired me in a way the other material I'd covered in previous years didn't, and it really was the start of my love of mathematics.

So yeah, I love maths, but it was an acquired taste. One well worth acquiring, too.

João Paulo said...

I know exactly how you feel when you say you’re a math teacher. I get similar answers or even worse when I’m asked about my profession (“I hate dentists” is the nicest version of them all). Many times I’ve lied about my profession when meeting strangers in a party or at night, in clubs or bars and I have no doubt my favourite “social” profession is civil engineer. You should try it sometimes.
And I totally agree with you about the unions. Life in Europe is a world apart from the US but I suppose that having social security, health assistance, proper vacation period every year, decent working hours, paid maternity leave and other benefits are too communist to be tolerated there.
I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no. Dentists are not as well paid here as in the US (at least here in Spain) but I suppose that comes with the territory.

Kathie said...

Ooooh Zee, Math was my favorite academic subject -- so much fun, just like solving puzzles!

Music was my favorite subject of all in school, but wasn't counted as a "solid" for Cal admissions, even if one proposed to be a Music major.

Kathie said...

P.S. If you think it's lonely being a student in general whose favorite subject is Math, just imagine what it was like (at least back in my day) being a GIRL whose favorite subject was Math -- with aspersions cast on my femininity for that sin (starting with my mother, who hadn't been good at Math in school, so had a defensive axe to grind).

Dr. Pablito said...

Union yeah! Give 'em hell, Zeno!

Leareth said...

*waves a union placard* hurrah for unions! even if they do end up taking an unfortunate amount from my pay cheques. Math was actually my favourite subject, even if I wasn't that good at it.