Should I feel guilty that I have just retired from teaching when I still have a few more ‘good’ years left in me? Am I quitting? Am I abandoning my comrades in the classrooms?
Quick background. My first ESL job was in 1982 but quickly laid off due to Reagan budget cuts to social services, with Democratic Party acquiescence and submission. Had some years off in-between then and now but have been in the field for most of my career. I have never been an in-school leader (such as a department chair) but have been an in-school agitator. I have served as president of my state’s ESL affiliate as well as taken leading roles in international circles, with the expected workshop presentations, articles, etc.
But right now students and teachers are more on the chopping block then ever before. This time, the chopping block is almost literal. I have known teachers and others who have died due to the Trump pandemic and I would be afraid to return, even though I am fully vaccinated. But hell, I’m old. That’s enough to scare me from returning. But am I abandoning my comrades?
Maybe I am, but the powers that make or break an institution have long abandoned us. General Assemblies nation wide never put full funding of education at the forefront of their legislative agendas. That’s for both parties. Several administrations ago here in Maryland Governor Glendening campaigned on 30% of the budget going to education. Whether it was realized or not, the fact remains that here, and in most other states, funding is based on class, not need. The wealthier the county, the more resources as it is property taxes that have always been the barometer used to allocated state funds.
Then there are the unions. If I say Randi Weingarten, AFT president, just once, it should be enough to dispel any notion that union leadership is on the side of the rank and file. Sure, she supports mask mandates but was an active supporter, without membership approval, of the charter-school queen, Hillary Clinton. In many states, such as Maryland, to call for a strike means instant de-certification as a union. But never have I heard a union president hint at a wildcat strike by saying he or she feels like they’re coming down with something and think it’s best to take Monday off. Get the message? You do, but it’s a message never sent.
When many of us returned last April (some sooner) for hybrid teaching, both in-school and on-line, we thought we were over the hump, and for awhile it was true. Our state by the end of the school year was hovering around 2% and under for Covid. Things were promising. Now with the Delta variant our numbers are going up, some states like Florida are death zones, and many states are refusing mask mandates. Education will not be on many people’s minds come this fall, but survival.
Do I feel guilty? No. This death trap we’re heading into was long in the making, only now death is no longer a metaphor. Do I feel bad for my comrades and students? Absolutely. It is not true that one person can make a difference. That’s as much a myth as the rags to riches stories we thought made up the American dream. Sure, there are exceptional people who were great leaders for their movements. But they did not act in a vacuum. Dr. King’s great oratory and organizing skills could not have brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 without the brutal murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, lynchings and the brutalization of blacks by local sheriffs’ departments and state police.
Will it be the deaths of students, teachers and support staff to initiate the class revolution needed to tear down our capitalist system that puts opening up an exploitative economy over everyone’s well being? Fearfully, yes, but there will be competition with the Q Anon and Blue Anon rabid counter-revolutionaries.
A Far Side cartoon years ago showed 2 guys in a row boat looking at mushroom clouds at a distance and saying, ‘You know what this means, Norm? No size restrictions and screw the limit.” Maybe I’ll just be sitting back reading a good book, drinking a gin and tonic, and watching everything implode.