Where’s our Norma Rae?

“We’re not going to get better teaching by punishing our teachers.”

Thank you, Rep. Brain Cronin (D-Boise)! You have just become my personal hero!

In these dark times as legislatures are stripping rights away, (And I mean you Wisconsin) we need leaders to stand up and actually address the real problem. 

We are not going to get better teachers by denying job security and cramming classroom full of students.  It might save money in the short term but the devastation it will cause will be huge.

You want better teachers? Of course you do! Quality teachers cost money!  It’s a fact that professionals in other fields with the equivalent education and years of experience are making well more than teachers do.  It is very feasible that our best teachers have left the field and gone on to business or some other career.  Teachers are well qualified to do many things.  We are great multi- taskers, excellent at social interactions, goal oriented, and willing to work long hours.  Other fields would love to have us work in their companies.  I work part time in one of the world’s top three hotel chains.  They asked me last year to interview with their Human Resources Dept as a corporate trainer. They acknowledged that I would be great at designing a curriculum to teach employees.  I turned it down.  Two weeks ago, they called and asked again.  I am torn now because I am unsure of what to do. Do I stay in a field making pennies where I am constantly the villain? I feel very skilled at what I do and I feel very fulfilled as well.  However, I don’t see my debt going down quickly nor do I see my bills being paid in a timely fashion every month.  Do I go into a field in which I have meet others who are making in the high hundred thousands? I looked at my district pay scale and it caps out in the high sixty thousands with 20 years of experience and a doctorate.  Who wants to be a doctor making $65,000 a year? Your cost of education is well more than that!

I am very thankful for the educator association (AEA) in my state. I know that they are at the state capitol on a regular basis paying attention to what the legislature is doing. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would ever know what was going on up in Phoenix.  I can’t imagine that if it was left up to my district or school board, they would send someone up regularly to be my voice. My district has too much work to do running our district and with all of the budget cuts, they would never pay someone to be a lobbyist!  If we did have one, that would be one of the first positions to go.  Thus, my district and I would have no voice or knowledge as legislation was being passed. Is that why states are trying to strip away union rights? So there is no one to fight/complain for us “common people”?

I saw a story last week in an anti-public education documentary about a high school teacher who was video taped by a student sitting in class reading a newspaper.  This teacher was at first fired but then was rehired by his school because his union forced them to rehire him.  My first opinions were, “Of course! Fire him!” and “Ugh, what jerks making a school keep a bad teacher!”  As these union debates have been unfolding around the country, I keep going back to this teacher.  I kept wondering that there must be more to this story. (I searched and couldn’t find anything.  If anyone knows more, please let me know.) Then, I kept thinking that this teacher could be me.

As a teacher, we have the weight of the world on our shoulders.  We are expected to perform at peak levels everyday and there is no way to measure the butterfly effect of us having one bad day. I know there have been days in which I was not my best.  Either I was sick, or there were issues in my personal life. (Try as you might, you can’t  always separate your personal life from your professional life.) And of course I have had the worries after the fact. “Oh my god, I hope I didn’t ruin that child’s life!” I have sat in my class in front of my students and read one of my own books for pleasure. Would I have been fired if the wrong person saw me? Would they stop and think about the whole picture of my career and practice? Would they try and understand that I am merely trying to model to my students what it looks like to read for pleasure because I worry that they don’t see their own parents reading? Would they see that I haven’t actually turned a page for awhile because I am still listening to my students? Was the teacher in the video doing the same thing?

It’s nice to hear legislatures say, “Students first.” That’s a great idea. However, that’s my job to put students first.  Legislatures should change their tune to “Quality teachers first!” and then let us teachers do our job.  Until that song changes, I am glad for unions that keep reminding them that quality teachers are vital. If it wasn’t for unions, who would speak up for us? Where’s our Norma Rae?


Donnie Dicus

Donnie Dicus

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Donnie Dicus and I have been teaching in Arizona for 12 years. I came to Arizona from Southern Illinois to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson. I graduated in 2003 and began teaching second grade. I taught second grade in Tucson for 8 years before moving to Phoenix. I now teach third grade. I achieved National Board Certification in 2012 and I received my Master’s Degree from Grand Canyon University in 2015. I achieved a National Board Certificate in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2012. I’ve been teaching mainstream and SEI 3rd grade classrooms in the Cartwright School District in Phoenix since 2013. I taught 2nd grade and was a math interventionist in Tucson in the Amphitheater School District. I’ve been a technology coach and have helped teachers apply technology to improve instruction. I facilitate coaching cohorts for teachers going through the National Board process and organize peer groups at my site to pair new teachers with experienced teachers. In 2010 I was nominated as a Rodel Semi-Finalist for Exemplary teaching in 2010 and featured as a Teacher Leader in February 2016 by the Arizona K12 Center.
I have class pictures of every single student I have taught behind my desk on my wall. After 12 years, that is approximately 350 students. My students know that this is my Wall of Accomplishments. I am so proud of the difference I made in their lives. I became a teacher to make a difference and I strive to do so every day.

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