Governor Christie Speaks about K-12 Education (NH, June 8th, 2015)
How dare you? Do you know who does seem to get paid a full-time salary for a part-time job? You do, Mr. Christie. Please remind your constituents where you are during this conversation. It’s NOT in NJ, is it? Exactly how much time have you spent in NJ this year? Last year? Are you giving back your salary? Because that would be “a victory for the taxpayers”, as you are so fond of saying.
This is such a highly offensive conversation. I recognize the satire in the original speaker’s questions, but Governor Christie? Feel free to follow me for a year. Follow my colleagues. I am not “off for four or five months a year”. ln fact, my summer “break” this year is from June 23-Sept 2. That’s not four or five months; it’s approximately 10 weeks. Secondly, during those hours after 3:30pm and during the summer? I’m often working. I plan, I attend PD on my own time and my own dime, I email parents, I teach PD, I purchase supplies, I update our class webpage, I speak with students over email and social media, I grade. I grade a lot, Mr. Christie. A LOT. I just finished grading a set of almost 80 poems. I have 80 3-4 page self-evaluations to read and grade. I will have almost 100 exams to grade in the next few days. I have to complete the data analysis for my SGO. But I guess I have to make time to get all of that stuff done from 8:30-3:30 while I’m teaching and interacting with students.
And that long summer break you talk about? Not really a break. I will spend most of my summer working in order to continue paying my bills. I will also do the following:
- take classes for my advanced degree.
- teach other teachers and informal educators at the “Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” workshop.
- plan for my new schedule- next year I will change my freshman focus and take on two new senior units. That means rereading books, drafting assignments, writing assessments, setting up our online spaces, finding resources, planning Skype sessions with experts, rewriting my syllabi, co-planning with colleagues, and much more.
- complete the summer-long Roots & Shoots Turning Learners into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education course offered by the Jane Goodall Institute.
- organize and sort my thousand+ book class library (most of which I have purchased myself and continue to supplement on a monthly or even weekly basis).
- read at least a book a day in order to be able to share new and exciting books and authors with my students next year.
- pre-plan the first National Honor Society outreach with my student leaders so that they are ready in the fall.
- organize and set-up my classroom, prior to the first teacher work day, as I will have meetings and mandatory professional development in the days leading up to the students’ first day.
- meet with my state board for NJCTE to plan our fall conference, fall outreach, and spring conference in order to bring more PD to my colleagues who teach English across the state.
- complete my presentations (yes, multiple) for the NCTE National Convention in the fall.
I don’t know about you, but that seems packed to me. And many of my colleagues have similarly packed breaks, with professional commitments and learning engagements that run through the entire summer. Why? Because during the school year we are in the building for 7, 8, 9, 10, maybe even 12 hours each day. Then we bring work home with us to continue working on late into the night. Please understand- I love my job. I love my students with a fierceness you obviously don’t understand. I can’t imagine not teaching every day, reaching out to students and guiding them. But I abhor the politics that now surround my profession. And I’m tired, we are all tired, of teachers being the sacrificial lamb at that altar of some politician’s attempt to climb to the top.
We are tired, Governor, but we keep working. We keep inspiring, motivating, and teaching our students while doing all of the other “stuff” that comes with teaching. Do you or your wife ever email your child’s teacher and get a reply that same night? That’s a teacher who is working outside of contracted hours. Have you had a child sit with a teacher during lunch, before school, or after school for extra help? That’s outside of contracted hours. And do you know what? Most of us do that almost daily because we love our jobs and our students more than we hate the system we are stuck in.
So no, I do not want to work longer hours for no pay (or less pay), as you suggested in your rant. Do you? And how dare you suggest that when 24 hours ago you “won” the appeal allowing you to skip pension payments for MY pension? My check gets smaller every year, I am not permitted to cash out my pension and invest in my own retirement, and now you think I should work longer days and more days in the year? Perhaps teachers should just work for free. We don’t need homes. We don’t have families to provide for. Right?
The good news is that I do agree with you on some points, Mr. Christie– many of our schools in NJ are doing well. In fact, we have some of the best students, schools, and teachers in the country. Consider my school, which is ranked #1 in the country. It’s right here in central NJ but it’s a school you have never acknowledged or visited during your tenure in office. That saddens me. That’s not fair to my students or my colleagues because you continue to say our students are not succeeding when outside sources disagree.
You and I also agree that some schools in NJ struggle. They do a disservice to the students they serve in some cases. That’s a fact that we can all recognize. Schools in Asbury Park, Camden, and Newark absolutely struggle and it’s wrong; the students in those schools deserve the best education possible. But guess what? All three cities you named, Mr. Christie, are state-controlled and/or monitored districts. Isn’t their “failure” a reflection of your tenure in office and your leaders and not the teachers in the trenches?
Also, the schools that are ranked the lowest in our state are ranked the highest in a few big categories. Where are they ranked #1? In poverty, Mr. Christie. Study after study has proven that the biggest hurdle for children is poverty. We will never “fix” a single school until we start to fix the cycle of poverty.
Also, stop citing that community college statistic. The vast majority of community college attendees are not traditional students. In fact, the mean age of students at Mercer County College, about 20 minutes west of me and the community college serving the Drumthwacket area, is 22 years old. This is true across the state! These non-traditional students have been out of high school for a number of years so yes, they might need remedial classes. Could you walk into an Algebra II class or a college writing class tomorrow and succeed without a bit of review? I doubt it. I doubt most adults could. Let’s be real- we all watch adults struggle to answer questions on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”! It’s not because they can’t do the work but rather because they haven’t done a trigonometry problem in a number of years. Mr. Governor, that statistic is nonsense so please stop using it.
You are not a teacher, Governor Christie. Stop speaking authoritatively about all the things wrong with schools and what you would do to improve them. It’s insulting to those of us who work with our students every single day. It’s insulting to the teachers you had, the teachers your children have, and the taxpayers in this state who trust their children to the care of schools each day. You talk about teachers standing at the front of the room and lecturing to students for hours at at time and that tells me just how out of touch you are. I haven’t seen desks in rows with a teacher lecturing in the front of the room for many, many years. That has not been a best practice for decades! Oh wait, you know when I see that? When my students have to take the PARCC test! I see it when schools force their teachers to use a scripted curriculum, often endorsed by the state, in order to encourage increases in test scores. Stop mandating nonsense like PARCC and let us teach our students. We know more than you do, I can promise you that.
You know where else I see those dreaded rows? In charter schools. In fact, I see that in your friend Eva Moskowitz’s Success charter schools, where students are routinely humiliated and the teacher turnover rate is astronomical. You know what I do not see in her charter schools? Students with disabilities and students with behavior issues. Charter schools like Success usually achieve their test scores because they do not serve our neediest populations, while our public schools do.
Mr. Governor, I implore you to take a step back and listen to yourself. Listen to your constituents. Listen to the nation. You are tearing down our teachers on a daily basis and we are tired of it. We are exhausted. Eventually most teachers won’t have the energy to fight anymore or to teach anymore. Maybe that’s what you want, but it’s not what’s best for the future of this state. You might plan to flee New Jersey and head to Washington, DC the first chance you get, but I’m here for the long haul. Maybe you should start seeking out great teachers (they aren’t hard to find) instead of berating us, demeaning us, and embarrassing us. What will you do when no one wants to teach anymore?
-Sarah Mulhern Gross is a National Board Certified Teacher at one of the nation’s top STEM schools. She has been named Teacher of the Year, NJCTE Teacher of the Year, and NCTE Secondary Teacher Award winner. She is a contributor to The New York Times Learning Network, Scientific American, The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, Edutopia, and more.
*Edited 6/11/15 at 5:08pm to reword the charter school paragraph as the blame for not serving special needs populations falls on the schools and the way I worded it before was flippant. I also clarified that I am speaking specifically about Eva Moskowitz’s Success network of schools, which Christie supports.
I rarely talk about politics on social media (for good reason), but I’m making an exception here. Today the NJ State Supreme Court ruled that the state of NJ is not required to make the full pension payments promised as part of a 2011 pension reform law. That same law requires teachers to make larger payments into the system and to pay a higher percentage of their healthcare costs.
I understand that the pension system is underfunded and probably unsustainable at this time. But I also know that I am a vested teacher (10 years in) who will rely on my pension come retirement. It’s not a bonus, it’s not a reward- it’s deferred compensation. It’s deferred compensation that I was promised when I signed my first contract.
I did not go into teaching for the money; I don’t expect to be rich. But I expect to be able to survive. My pension is supposed to replace some of the money I could have made if I went into the private sector instead of the public sector. When Chapter 78 was passed I gladly paid more into my pension and health benefits each year in order to sustain the system so that current retirees could get their checks and so that I can get mine someday. I also expected the state to uphold their part of law, making some large payments into the system. Today the court decided that I have to continue making larger payments but the state does not need to make their payments.
I love my job. I’m passionate about my students, my content area, and lifelong learning. But I’m also exhausted. I work 3 jobs at any given time in order to be able to afford to live in NJ (just like many others). It’s not like me to say this, but I’m smart. “Too smart” to be a teacher, I’m often told. I laugh, telling those people they don’t know what it takes to be a teacher! But I’m starting to think that if I was smart I’d be doing something else. Something where the money is more reliable.
I could have chosen to go into private industry. Oh, I understand there are problems in the private sector, too. I’m not an unrealistic person and I have a good head on my shoulders. But at least in the private sector you control your retirement planning. Every single check I receive includes deductions for my pension. I can not choose to invest that money myself. I can’t choose to cash out. But apparently the state can. And my governor can announce that this ruling is a victory for taxpayers. What about me? I’m a taxpayer, too. You’ll note there’s no mention, from Christie or the court, of teachers being able to cut back their contributions or cash out and handle their own investments.
I’m terrified that this will signal the death knell for teaching. Why would any college student enter a teacher ed program at this point? Would you? Would you want your child to? Teachers are treated as if we are not professionals, as if we are expendable, and as if we are not taxpayers, too. Maybe instead of not funding the pension we can make cuts elsewhere. Because what will we do when there are no teachers left?
*I hate sharing this, but to give people who don’t know me some context- I’m a contributor to The NYTimes Learning Network, published author in multiple publications, Teacher of the Year winner, NJCTE Teacher of the Year, Governor’s Award of the Arts winner, NJCTE vice-president, PD presenter, National Board Certified Teacher, and much more. I’m currently pursuing a MAT in biology to support the work I do at my amazing school with my incredible students. I’m no fly-by-night teacher, I promise.