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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 02/22/2012

Teacher: ‘Tis a shame (that education has become so political)

This was written by Steve Strieker, a veteran social studies teacher in Janesville, Wisconsin. Here he writes about what many Wisconsin teachers see as an assault on their profession by the governor, Scott Walker, who last year tried to severely limit their collective bargaining rights and is now facing a recall campaign. A version of this post appeared on his blog “One Teacher’s Perspective.”

By Steve Strieker

In his 2006 memoir Teacher Man , the late, great Frank McCourt tersely wrote, “Teaching is the downstairs maid of professions.”

Just six years later, McCourt’s proposition is already in need of a rewrite. In Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, teaching has been relegated from professional status to political fodder.

Professional distrust reigns in the wake of Gov. Walker’s union-busting legislation created without consideration of professional educators’ input. Too many state and local business-focused politicians and their supporters have promoted unjust resentment for teachers, their unions, their compensation packages, their work conditions, and their professional standing. Many teachers fear what further awaits public educators in Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin.

Talented educators are prematurely retiring. Would-be educators are choosing new careers. Teacher morale is low. As a middle-aged educator recently said only partly in jest, “Every year since college I wished I was younger — until this past year. Now I suddenly wish I was older.” Many of us are too young to retire and too old to start a new (and more respected) profession.

Many midstream educators, like me, feel stuck. All the angst from this past year has left me wondering: Is teaching a profession?

Would politicians (such as Gov. Walker) employ aides to advise on business legislation who did not have professional business experience ? Why then is it acceptable for Gov. Walker to place non-educators in high-ranking education policy positions?

We do not need a teacher to explain the answers to these questions. In Walker’s Wisconsin, education is not a profession. It is politics.

In my 16 years of teaching, I have, like many teachers, advised dozens of promising students to join my noble profession. When I previously sized up prospective students for education careers, I evaluated their empathy, ethics, fortitude, leadership, maturity, interpersonal skills, and eagerness to learn before nudging them toward teaching.

With the current attack on public education, however, our next generation of professional educators will have to be seasoned young, impervious, and politically active. Otherwise, future educators will be doing more political initiatives in education, for less than professional pay, and with less professional liberties.

“‘Tis a shame,” McCourt might add.

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