Standing by the temporary fencing, I squinted at the wreckage of where I’d once spent most of my waking hours. My old portable at Carter-Riverside High School, where I’d taught for 17 years, was now in a trash and scrap metal heap waiting to be hauled away. In my head, I tried to figure out how many days I’d taught there: 180-some odd days times 17 equals … well, a helluva lotta days.
For the past few years, I’ve watched in amazement as practically a new high school was erected behind the old one. Inside those new buildings, students and teachers will be making memories. And while I wax nostalgic for my old digs, those portable eyesores that are no more, I don’t begrudge the teachers getting to work in brand-new classrooms. Today’s teachers more than deserve that because the past few years have been pure hell.
First of all, because teaching is hard, period. Not everyone can do it. I’ve seen many first-year teachers bail after a few weeks or even days. But also, it’s been made even harder by the constant pressure to raise state-mandated test scores. Back in 2013, the last year I taught, for the first time I saw teachers breaking down crying during English department meetings because of the relentless pressure to up student test scores.
These tests may have a place, but currently their outsized role is greatly diminishing the pleasure of teaching and the joy of learning. Not to mention putting a target on the back of public schools, so as to make it easier to defund them and help charter and private schools thrive.
Then COVID came along. Teachers had to learn on the job how to do instruction online with all sorts of daunting challenges — students who didn’t have a parent at home to monitor them or good WiFi connections.
Then it was, well, COVID again. When schools went back into session, some parents objected to masks.
In those early days, there was an honest debate to be had about requiring masks in schools, but that’s not what happened. All over the country, we had parents getting fed disinformation about masks and “freedom” by the usual suspects in the right-wing outrage machine. It made for some ugly confrontations where administrators and teachers were threatened.
Mask disinformation was just the beginning. Next, the outrage machine stirred up the totally fictitious Critical Race Theory (CRT) scare of 2021. Why white students are so privileged to not be exposed to the unvarnished truth of our country is never really explained. If you argue there is no systemic racism in America, you arguing the point makes it so. Why did this reaction against nonexistent CRT in public schools come after the Black Lives Matter protests? The same reason we saw Jim Crow laws after Reconstruction or the rise of Republican conservatives after the Civil Rights gains in the ’60s. For every three steps Blacks make, white reaction forces them to take two steps back. And in 2022, we should all be better than that.
As if anti-mask and anti-CRT protests were not enough, the old book-banning mojo got going. My former state representative Matt Krause put out a list of 850 books he wanted school districts to check. That was a brazen attempt to intimidate teachers and stop them from doing their jobs. In some locales, people are demanding cameras and microphones in every classroom to catch any teachers not toeing the conservative line. Little wonder so many hard-working educators are facing burnout. According to the Texas American Federation of Teachers, about two-thirds of teachers have thought about leaving the profession this past year. I’m only surprised it’s not 100%.
In my desk waste basket are the campaign fliers from the March 1 primaries. I’d like to burn them all, but its toxic smoke would undoubtedly destroy everything in its ugly path. All the Republican politicians do is brag how they’re well to the right of Attila the Hun and that Donnie or Teddy loves them best. Plus, they promise to ignore BLM more than the other guy. Reveling in their reactionary politics, they care little for the damage they have and will continue to cause, especially their hateful war on trans students and their families.
A friend of mine in Fort Worth ISD administration told me about a teacher who was one of the best young instructors she’d ever seen. Her room was decorated with eye-catching paraphernalia, and her classroom was filled with eager students who wanted to learn. She was exactly the kind of teacher we need now, yet one day she shared with my friend that she’ll probably have to quit the job she loves because of all the pressures on teachers now.
And this just in: Gov. Greg Abbott, without a hint of irony, has announced a task force to investigate Texas’ teacher shortage. I won’t mince words here. Good teachers are leaving because their jobs have been made a living hell by right-wing crazies. If Abbott really wants to improve teachers’ lives, stop using public education as a beachhead in the culture wars. Treat educators with respect and stop the constantly inflamed and hate-filled right wing from harassing them. And give them a bump in pay, too. Believe me, they’ve more than earned it.
Fort Worth writer Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue taught ESL at Carter-Riverside High School for 17 of his 26 years in the teaching profession.
This column reflects the opinions of the author and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Columns will be gently edited for factuality and clarity.