Parent Guest Post: What I Learned From The 2018 Teacher's Strike

Attribution: ABC news

This post was sent to me by "Elizabeth":

I have never thought of myself as any kind of activist. I have never marched in protest or in support of anything that I can remember. It isn’t that I don’t have opinions – I definitely have them. There are often facets to issues or politics that I don’t understand or, more likely, haven’t taken the time to research.

But my blood pressure rose when I received a text from my teen after returning to school following the Oklahoma teacher strike.

“Our teacher just had us write a paper on our feelings about the walk-out!”

I was floored. I realized English classes give the students lots of different writing experiences, but how does one write something negative or neutral when he knows the teacher has endorsed it? I had told my teens to refrain from any negative discussions on this first day back and remain as neutral as possible. School was not the place for these emotionally-charged political engagements.

The more I thought about it, the more I likened it to if a friend was running for political office and you didn’t vote for him. After the election, how would you answer if he asked how you voted? Before the strike, this teacher had made it clear she was supporting it and going to participate in the strike. As we would gather around the dinner table in the evenings, the topic would continue to come up.

“My teacher said ….” Or “I heard at school that…..” and I would share a different perspective. I would often add, “It is never good to jump on the band wagon.”

We would try to look at the strike from various perspectives – other state employees, parents, legislators, teachers, and support staff. As the strike progressed, my children would see me get more frustrated as people were thinking completely with their emotions. Emotions are a wonderful passenger on the train of life, but should never be given the controls.

I was forming emails in my head when the next text message popped up from my teen.

“I think the teachers were asked to talk about the strike with their classes.”

We just heard all week that instructional time was going to be made up because the testing window was imminent. AP testing, finals, state mandated tests, all of it. And we are taking one of those precious days of instruction to talk about what went on for the last two weeks? I know our home had discussed the situation ad nauseum – from the extra expenses of security at the capital to the parents and childcare concerns to the addition of days on the calendar to the desperate need for teachers to be paid more and the funding of classrooms. And, judging by the district parent page, most parents had obviously been discussing it with their children. We were losing more and more instructional time.

And the seniors--they were getting increased injections of senioritis the longer we dragged out this school year. I knew they would be challenging to engage after spring break, but now after spring break 2.0 and 3.0, it would be a huge hurdle to cross.

Immediately my mind returned to my own high school experience. My father had marched up to school to confront a teacher and principal over some inappropriate classroom practices in my chemistry class, and I never lived it down. “Be careful, students. She might tell her daddy!” That’s how that particular teacher shamed me in front of the students for the remainder of the school year. I knew what my father did was right, but I sure paid a heavy price for it. I didn’t want to do this to my teen.

But I had to say something to the teacher. And the principal. Perhaps even the one school board member I knew of. Because, let’s face it, I had never even researched who those members were or their philosophies of education. I live in a pretty decent school district. What was there to know, I thought.

Whether this particular teacher decided to strike or not was her personal decision, as it should be. I definitely do not think it was appropriate to discuss it with these teens who haven’t filled out their own tax returns, paid the property taxes, voted for bond issues, or even understand the laws the union was trying to get passed. Heck, I didn’t even understand the laws the teachers were pushing!

It was an explosive issue with difficulties on all sides. Social media had made experts of many while some brave teachers admitted to having trouble figuring it all out but had to post anonymously out of fear of retaliation. I wanted some kind of assurance that the students had no idea where the teacher sided on this issue. Current events can certainly be discussed in the context of specific subjects but in a way where the students don’t know the teacher’s opinion.

I was still hesitant to email for two reasons: I never want my children to think they can’t tell me things because I might shoot off an email to the teacher, and I didn’t want my child ostracized by the teacher for opinions they hold. I want to be very careful when I do email. But I came back to this: I am the one solely responsible before God for my children’s upbringing – not the church, not the school, not the community or the state. Just me and God.

So what have I learned over the course of the last month about the education of my children?

1) I learned that I never want to run for political office. As I watched the “pro-education” groups character assassinate the legislators for their votes or non-votes, I knew there must be more to the story. So many extra laws are wrapped up in the education laws so that when they are voted on, sometimes there is one part the lawmakers couldn’t support. They ended up throwing the entire thing out and he/she was labeled “anti-education” or “hating children”. It is never as easy as a law that states “a 2 cent tax will be collected and sent to the classrooms of Oklahoma students K-12”. There is so much more involved and I don’t understand the depth of pressure these poorly paid state servants deal with.

They are not all innocent bystanders, I get that. But they are also to serve their entire constituency, and education funding is only a part of the puzzle – they also have to take care of veterans, bridges, roads, foster care, correctional facilities, elderly, etc. There is only so much money to go around, and the budgets have been mishandled for decades. Voting yes on one pro-ed bill was not going to fix the mess Oklahoma is in. There is plenty of blame to go around. And great persons of character and ethical standards were being crucified on the altar of one issue. Several people in the state congress I know personally were getting slammed for their voting record, no matter what their reasons were for their votes. If it didn’t line up perfectly with the union’s or teacher’s criteria, they were literally destroyed on social media.

2) Speaking of social media – the constant barrage of hate spewing forth from adults in my school district gave me pause. It was a blood bath if anyone was even slightly concerned about the validity of the strike. No questions were acceptable – there was only one acceptable way to respond to the strike.

My teen and I came to the same conclusion: when our joy begins to be robbed by what we read and experience on social media, it is time to switch it off and step away. And in the future, I will never be surprised by issues of bullying in our schools after observing the copious amounts of bullying that went on during this strike. Bullying became the flavor of the day and dog piling was the topping. I am relearning to control social media and not let it control me.

3) Once a person has cut the ties with something, it gets easier to cut other ties. I had such an empowering moment once when I cut the shoulder pads out of a dress! You might have cut the ties to the landline or the cable company. That’s similar to the feeling of freedom I experienced when I chose to homeschool back in the early 2000s. I have homeschooled all my children at some point in their
educational career and if I can do it, you can too.

There are so many resources available to families

When my husband passed away in 2012, I sent my children to the local public school for my own sanity. I didn’t feel like I could process my own grief and homeschool effectively, but I do know some who never quit after the death of their husbands. But in 2016, I was realizing I was losing touch with the  younger of my children while trying to be involved with the older teens. We were able to downsize our home and it seemed like a great time to make the homeschooling switch for the younger two, while allowing the other two to continue attending the school in our district. What a relief!

My homeschooling of the younger two, I believe,  completely transformed my relationship with them. Whatever your perceived obstacle is to homeschooling, research it. Special needs children are being successfully homeschooled, as well as  a advanced and average students. During this teacher strike I saw several families begin to experience the freedom of homeschooling when they withdrew their students midyear.

4) When our children are preparing for kindergarten, we spend a lot of energy wondering if we should hold them back or send them, based on their birthdates. But I truly believe the bigger question should be, “How am I going to educate my child?” You are the parent. Never forget that. You are the authority in your child’s life. We spent so much time deciding the YEAR to send my first child but completely overlooked the HOW. I just assumed it would be the neighborhood school because it was a “good school”.

But was it right for MY child? That is the question we should be asking. I see so many parents educating their children based on the band wagon theory. Everyone at my church homeschools so I guess I will – STOP! Do not homeschool because everyone else is! It will not end well, trust me! Or everyone is sending their kids to public school, so I guess it is good enough, right?

Stop! You know your child best. You decide. Don’t make an educational decision for your child based on what everyone else is doing – grade school, high school or even college attendance. You are the parent, never forget that!

5) Being the parent means I can speak up about the direction of my children’s educational goals even while enrolled in the public school. I don’t have to sit
back, thinking I have no input but to just follow everything the teacher says. Hogwash! I am the ultimate authority in my child’s life and I can speak up about concerns I have in the school. They work for ME! I decided to allow them to EDUCATE my child, not RAISE my child. That’s my job.

I hope what I learned over the Oklahoma Teacher Strike of 2018 will help you make more careful decisions about your child’s education. As the gospel of Luke states, a student, when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Your children can’t help but be sponges in the educational environment you have chosen for them. I pray for wisdom as you decide the direction of your educational needs.

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