All day long in my job as a community college English professor I do a lot of mentoring of hard-working students in New York City, many of whom travel for an hour or more to get to class.
I hear how they wish to contribute to their communities by working as teachers, nurses, law enforcement officers, or in other capacities. When they do not know what to do, often they ask me to suggest careers that will give them the kind of stability they desire and need in order to raise-up their families.
Since I began teaching at CUNY in 2006, I’ve always been struck by how many of them want to be teachers, and many of us, from the English Department to those Education faculty who guide them through the rigorous preparation for just such a career, spend a lot of time encouraging them to follow their dreams.
However, the unrelenting attacks on teachers—as evidenced by the recent Time magazine cover story blaming teachers, make that a difficult if disturbing proposition.
How can I tell my students, "Yes, follow your dreams and be a teacher," when I know what that really means: a career of being attacked for the larger ills of society; the refusal of elected officials to properly fund education to the degree that is needed; being on the hook for the inadequate funding each student has in order to concentrate on his or her studies—and that does not include the petty politics that takes place within schools, departments and programs.
So much is stacked up against students and teachers, that the falsehoods in the Time piece regarding tenure can only lay bear the truth about what corporate America and its right-wing backers don’t want those unsuspecting teachers-in-training to know: prepare for a career in which you are a liability the longer you work; that once you are settled, seasoned and experienced, your career might end suddenly, without due process, only because you "make too much money" or because someone doesn't like you or makes an unwarranted claim against you; and just when you think it is safe to think about the future stability you so long sought for yourself, worked so hard to achieve, you will be returned to the ranks of the poverty-stricken minimum wage workers who flood the service economy and drive all wages down, while the richest of the rich continue to make heaps upon heaps in terms so epic that they are world historic in their proportions.
How can I reasonably tell any student to become a teacher under these conditions?
Might I more rightly tell them that they will only be employable under such conditions when they are too young to properly understand how to best teach students who often seem at first "unteachable" (which in my experience means only that they are interesting)—and that as teachers in this new world order of privatized, corporatized education, they will replaced by profit-generating software, replaced by the next wave of teachers on tourist-visas from the debtors colony, replaced by the whims and whimsy of a society that claims a life of service is a noble life but all the while snickers "sucker."
Or perhaps I should more rightly tell them to "Fight on, and fight will all your might, since this is not just about you, it is about your children, too!"
An earlier version of this article was posted in the comment field of an American Federation of Teachers petition regarding the recent Time magazine attack on teachers.