All the wind beaten political signs on Hunt Highway carry the aspects of Christmas lights left up well into January.
In truth, it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours since the poll results came in, yet as I drive by to pick up my girls from school, I can’t help but feel this way. I’m worried about them. I’m worried about my job.
All these useless signs–Prop 204: Quality Education and Jobs, Vote “Yes” on the Florence Override, Invest in Our Future–flap with their crumpled corners and broken spines in the wake of my CR-V, which is in far worse repair. The election is ancient history, and my role in this town just might be as well.
This morning, I lobbied with Arizona’s newest “special interest group” according to the state government officials who spent millions to defeat Prop 204. The lobby was my classroom–the special interest group, my students.
“How are you doing this morning, Mr. Pike?” one of them asked, and I wanted to explode.
How the hell do you think I’m doing? I wanted to scream. I haven’t had a raise in five years, and your parents don’t value your education enough to pass a goddamn one cent tax increase! And they voted down our override to boot!
In truth, my senior students, who are nearly voting age, did get a milder version of this. I’ve never been one to sugarcoat. But before I got too heated (getting wiser at the ripe old age of 30 I guess), I realized that as much as this election is going to hurt my wallet, I’m not the real victim here. After all, I can leave the field of education. I could even leave Arizona if I wished. These kids, on the other hand, are at the extreme business end of the proverbial political hatchet.
Arizona is getting to be a downright abysmal place to receive a public education. For years, we’ve been ranked 49th in the nation in terms of the fiscal amount that state governments fund each student. The feds haven’t done much better by us. My district, which includes a dusty prison town “historically” positioned in the middle of nowhere, is still receiving federal aid based on figures from the year 2000 Census–twelve years later.
This is my sixth year out here, and with a masters degree and taking on Theatre Arts for a salary bump (which doesn’t even cover my girls’ health insurance), I gross less than $40,000 a year. This year, to try and augment our pitiful salaries, my superintendent (who recently took a salary cut) applied for a grant that would enable us to receive performance pay, but despite successfully implementing the program in our district, the funds were yanked out from under our noses because our low income students aren’t performing poorly enough.
Yeah, you heard me right.
But we’re sticking to the program because that’s called integrity, kids. I-n-t-e-g-r-i-t-y. Now spell it back to me…
There are plenty of other programs that we unfortunately won’t be able to stick to in the years to come. Even football, the one activity this town reveres with all the misguided fervor of Silent Hill cultists, is in jeopardy. Our students already pay $100 per sport, and next year this figure will probably double. If I’m not laid off by then, I’m sure I’ll be facing classrooms with 40 or more students and no textbooks. (We took the technology plunge and integrated laptops into our instructional model, but they’re going out on us after four years of all the punishment teenagers can dole out.)
And all because this state decided that a one cent sales tax was too big of an investment in our future.
The craziest part about all this? I’m not sure I want to leave teaching. Even with publication looming and the hope of more of the same, I know in my heart that I’ve made a bigger difference in these six years as a teacher than I ever will as a writer. My Facebook is primarily composed of students that have graduated. My greatest joy other than my family is hearing from one of these grads that English 101 is easy–No, really, Mr. Pike, a total joke compared to your class. My greatest heroes are teachers and professors who put me on the path, educators who saw something more in me than a big mouthed know-it-all and challenged me to excel not only as a student, but as a man.
So with their example in mind, I came to work in a suit of armor for Le Morte d’Arthur, dressed up like Satan for Paradise Lost, encouraged kids to ditch Calculus to see the choreographed fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff… Hell, to defend Chuck Palahniuk’s place as a writer of literary merit, I even got into a sumo suit and beat the snot out of an administrator and an annoying Economics teacher at a Homecoming assembly. (The administrator later informed me that I broke his rib. Don’t f— with Chuck.)
It wasn’t all antics. I helped put the International Baccalaureate program in place at my school. My Advanced Placement scores are the stuff of local legend. I helped my colleagues, who are just as overworked and underpaid as I am, transform an underperforming school where lockdowns were a weekly occurrence into the only A ranked high school in Pinal County.
Sure, it was work. Hard work. I left ghostwriting for this field thinking I would write my own novels over the breaks, and that hasn’t exactly happened. (I have some students attempting NaNoWriMo that are ahead of me at present.) But if any of this made one more student care about the written word, it was worth it to me.
It’s still worth it to me. It’s a damn shame it isn’t worth it to Arizona. The thought of my two little girls not being able to have art or music is downright despicable. The thought of not being able to feed them–my very own “special interest group”–is worse. It’s no wonder that when I teach The Great Gatsby, my students balk at the concept of the American Dream.
If you’re somewhere where you can see this–I don’t care if it’s Arizona or the UK or Malaysia–do everything in your power to support your local students. Whatever the issues are with your country’s economy, robbing the next generation of their right to a decent education will only make things worse. Governments make less in taxes when damn near everyone is counted amongst the poor.
It’s a simple equation, really. Maybe some of these politicians should go back to school.