Guest post: My friend Tasha is one of many teachers in Kentucky (and elsewhere) currently fighting state legislators for pension benefits, a livable wage, and for the resources they need to do their jobs. Read on.
I woke up on Monday to a raging bout of shingles. Blistery, red rash on my side. Tingling nerve pain. Hot to the touch. And, the itching. Oh my goodness, the itching. A shingles outbreak can signal times of high stress. Today, I am experiencing an excruciating physical manifestation of the workplace stress I have been under over the past weeks.
This stress is also wreaking havoc on my ability to sleep. It has been a few years since I needed medication to manage my sporadic, but severe insomnia. I finally went to my doctor in my 30s when the sleep deprivation made me (and everyone around me) miserable. I now have a prescription medicine on hand to take, just in case. Unfortunately, “just in case” has been happening multiple times a week for a few weeks now. Ergo, sleep medication. Again.
You may be thinking “That is a strangely intimate way to begin a blog” or “What does this have to do with the teachers striking across the nation?” Well I am a Kentucky teacher. And my work is literally making me sick. This is my genuine, raw, and uncomfortable truth. And I know several others who are feeling just as ill. Behind every social media post and every news article– featuring thousands of Kentucky’s teachers wearing cute “Red for Public Ed” t-shirts and holding witty protest signs– there is a real educator, like me, who is sick and tired from the BS spread across the Commonwealth from our Governor Matt Bevin and other legislators in Frankfort.
We are sick of the disrespect and name calling from our elected officials. We are sick of the threat of funding cuts and now, the waiting game, as lawmakers decide what to do with the Governor’s vetoed budget and tax bill. We are sick over the prospect of a full-on work stoppage (strikes are illegal for teachers in KY) and what that could mean for our families and careers. We are sick over the dirty dealings with our promised pensions. We are sick of the ways legislators are brazenly cutting public school funding while simultaneously sneaking in money for charter schools. We are sick at how our students (and generations of students to come) are potentially going to be wrecked by this legislation.
Most of all, we are stressed from being torn in two about what our next steps need to be.
As individuals, Kentucky educators are asking themselves: “Is teaching in Kentucky sustainable and stable as I consider the future of my family?” This is my second career and I busted my hump to become a teacher. While working on my Master’s degree in Learning and Behavior Disorders, I continued working full-time with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. I woke up at 4:30am every morning for two years to read hundreds of pages of text and write research papers. I took the online portion of my graduate classes on a laptop in my closet while my young daughter cried for me at the door the entire class some nights. I could not be more proud of being a special education teacher. It is emotionally fulfilling and rewarding work.
But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have my doubts about remaining a teacher through retirement. There is something terribly wrong when I am being forced to think long and hard about choosing either teaching or living in poverty upon retirement. I feel like screaming at our Governor and all of his cronies, “I just want to teach special needs kids to read! Do your job so I can do mine!”
Collectively, Kentucky teachers are also at a crossroads. A successful sick-out/pro-education rally was held on April 2nd in Frankfort. All 120 counties in Kentucky either shut down their public school districts (or were otherwise on spring break). Thousands of teachers, myself included, and other supporters of education poured into the Capitol building and grounds chanting and holding signs. From our actions, the legislators put just enough education funding and just enough security back in our pensions to satisfy the general population. And today, the Governor vetoed both the budget bill and tax bill. Emboldened teachers –who want to call a full week sick-out– now face the court of public opinion. People are going to be inconvenienced and angry if school districts are forced to close due to a high number of teacher absences. State legislators are on a “veto recess” until Friday and as such, some educators feel that Friday is our best day to be unified and heard in Frankfort.
Being an educator on spring break this week should, in theory, give me the time I need to rest and heal from the job stress I have been feeling. But, who am I kidding? After his announcement today, it looks as if things are just getting started. The stress from these work issues continues to permeate my break, just as it did last weekend ON EASTER, as I joined with educators across Kentucky who ridiculously split their family holiday between hiding eggs for their kids and creating protest signs. As the stress of Kentucky educators continues to brew this week, I wish I could get one message across to my Governor, letting him know how much Kentucky teachers love our students. Because of this immense love and our caring hearts, we won’t back down our advocacy efforts. My message to him would sound a little like this:
Dear Governor Bevin, I just wanted to inform you of what this “uninformed, ignorant” Kentucky teacher “who has a thug mentality and lacks the sophistication to understand [your] pension reform” has done so far on her spring break. (Mean words in quotes are yours, Governor, not mine). Friday, after school, another teacher and I volunteered our time and money to decorate cookies with students who won a “teacher experience” in a raffle. Two of those dear children are Kindergartners. Have you ever stepped foot into an elementary school the day before spring break? “The natives are restless” is a polite way to express the near-manic energy level of all the students, but especially the 5 and 6 year-olds. Add the prospect of eating gobs of homemade icing while decorating endless cookies and wow, they are just balls of energy! Though I was weary from my work week, I matched their energy level and danced as we decorated with the best of them. After keeping them from licking the shared spoons and cleaning up the giant mess, I literally limped out of school to head home.
Saturday was the official first day of break. I deserved to go get a pedicure or fly to a warm beach or start right away with a pitcher of margaritas after the stress you esteemed gentlemen have been putting on me and my co-workers. Instead, I found myself driving 40 minutes to cash in a shopping voucher, that I spent my personal time volunteering to earn, to get enough pencils and paper to hopefully last the rest of the school year. I share a classroom with another teacher and our supply stockpile (also purchased with our own funds), ran out in January. Don’t worry, our beloved elected officials. We’ve been buying the students what they need for the past three months ourselves. This “first day of break school supply run” is intended to lessen the financial burden of managing a classroom for my friend and me as we finish the school year. The out-of-pocket costs for “just doing my job” are downright outrageous! By the way, how much do office supplies, tissues, and cleaning supplies run you for your big office in Frankfort?
I understand that our legislators are on recess this week, as well. Boy, our elected officials sure get a lot of time off work! Do most of them work second jobs on their “off” time to supplement their income, like teachers do? I bet it is sometimes just exhausting for them. Well, wherever your friends in the Kentucky House and Senate are this week, they should think long and hard about the legislation you have vetoed and what they are going to do about it. All of my friends across the great Commonwealth and I are watching, and we are ready and willing to come visit you in Frankfort again.
Tasha Wilder, a Kentucky teacher who is sick of you. Literally.
Postlude: My fam and I are headed to Cleveland in the AM. It is our first trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and we are visiting during Rock Week nonetheless. I’ve worked on laundry all day so that everyone has a rock shirt to wear each day we are there. We have a GnR shirt clean and folded. We have a Twisted Sister shirt ready to go. We have a Metallica shirt packed. We are, quite literally, ready to rock. And yet, I am packing my KY educator shirts because…I just feel like I should. I am crossing my fingers that we run into a totally awesome rock band who is in town for the Induction Ceremony and also, crossing my toes that I do not utter the words Matt or Bevin, in any order, for the next three days lest my sweet and very supportive husband might lose his mind.
[I totally just lifted this last part from Tasha’s FB page because it is perfection. Rock on, Wilder fam!]
Tasha Wilder is an elementary special education teacher in Northern Kentucky. She proudly teaches in the same public school district from which she graduated and where her two children currently attend school.