Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week: Tales from the front lines

Tuesday is National Teacher Appreciation Day, and all across the country PTOs and PTAs will be honoring us for the work we do. I am continually grateful for and humbled by all the PTO does at my school this week because they already do so much for us throughout the year. This week I will be showing my appreciation for my profession and those who support us, like our PTO, by writing stories from the front lines: the good, the bad and the ugly from my 13 years as a teacher, and stories I've heard from other teachers.

I also hope to pay tribute to those who have risen to the challenge of education 'reform' all across the country. I call them accidental heros. They didn't start their careers with a plan to blog, Tweet or organize on Facebook, but they are committed to fighting back against the corporate takeover of our public schools. They put themselves on the front lines every day. They confront, challenge and demand change. And in the end, they have the facts on their side because it's hard to argue with someone who makes a career out of doing their homework. Some of these heros are listed under My Favorite Bloggers. Check them out when you get a chance.

Today I begin with a little piece of legislation that expired in December and will have a big impact on the 2014-2015 school year: the $250 tax deduction for teachers. With education budgets slashed from coast to coast, teachers are forced to spend more out of pocket than ever before just to provide the basics to their students. Granted, we're not paying $7000 for a coffee maker, but why would we buy tissues, hand sanitizer and other supplies from contracted vendors, when we can get them cheaper on our own? But that's not all we buy out of pocket. Some school districts are so cash strapped that teachers must purchase the basics like pencils, crayons, books and paper out of pocket. While many teachers in more economically stable districts can and do send home supply lists for parents to purchase, it's a lot harder to do that in a low income district.

Melissa Melligan, a first year reading teacher wants to make sure her time in the classroom will have an impact on her students, that's why she shops at the 3R's in Rockford to pick up extra workbooks for her reading students. Next year, Melligan and her fellow teachers won't be able to deduct these kinds of purchases from their federal taxes. A $250 tax break for teachers expires December 31, 2013.

"Teachers need the assistance because they're already asked to do so much and taking that help away is kind of slapping them in the face and saying you don't need those resources to reach the goals we set for you," says Melisa Melligan.

Workers at the 3R’s in Rockford say teachers have spent up to $700 in one trip at the store.

“There are a lot of things they buy extra so they can help the children, even after class. I think it’s going to hurt them and I hope they keep the deduction because I think they deserve it," says Stacy Fry from the 3R’s.

While the price tag can add up on all those workbooks, pencils, and stickers, some teachers say they'll keep shopping for their students.

“Every year I spend $1,000 to $1,200 on the kids, I’m in this profession because I love it, I love working with the kids and making this world a better place and if I lose the $250 deduction, it'll hurt me more on a personal level than a professional level," says ESL Teacher Joe Kowalski.

Kowalski and Melligan say they hope Congress will renew the tax break so they can focus on their classrooms instead of their budgets. The New America Foundation estimates the cost of the deduction was $170 million last year.

The New American Foundation estimates the cost of the deduction was $170 million last year. 

In what other profession do employees have to spend so much money out of pocket without reimbursement just to do their job while simultaneously having their salaries cut or frozen, and being blamed for all the ills of society? If there is one, please let me know.

No doubt Arne Duncan, President Obama and other elected officials from both sides of the aisle will release some patronizing, feel good messages this week, thanking us for all we do 'for the children' while simultaneously supporting 'corpucation'... 'for the children'. To them I say, save your breath. Your actions speak louder than your words.