Monday, March 14, 2011

Teachers Take "Reform" Personal--Real Personal: A Colleague's Response to the Luna Plan

I've previously blogged about the attacks on Idaho teachers, who face a massive restructuring of public schools. At this writing, two of the proposed bills in state superintendent Tom Luna's plan have been passed by the legislature and await signing by the governor. That they will be signed is virtually a foregone conclusion.

My colleague next door, Tom VanDeren, penned the following in response to the proposed legislation and has graciously consented to my posting it in this forum. As Tom passionately writes, teachers take "education reform" personal--real personal:

I have been a certificated and contracted secondary teacher in Idaho for fifteen years.  Prior to entering this field, I worked in consumer finance and banking for seven years.  I believe I am qualified, therefore, to be able to offer my opinion concerning the State Superintendent’s plan to “fix” public education in Idaho.

I knew when I went back to school to earn my Secondary Certification that I would be entering a field that would not be as financially rewarding as the one I’d left, but monetary reward was not my main motivation for my desire to become a teacher.  I did believe, however, that if I were to become an educator, I would be able to maintain a standard of living and, at the very worst, never earn less than I had the previous year–provided I worked hard and helped my students succeed.  I also, foolishly, believed that I would be entering a profession that was respected and deemed valuable by both the citizens of Idaho and its elected officials.

I have held my end of the bargain.  My first teaching position was in a small town in Lincoln County.  At that school I taught grades six through twelve, coached football and basketball, directed the school’s dramatic productions, served as the senior class advisor, and volunteered at literally every function that involved students, the school, or both.  According to Mr. Luna, though, I didn’t put the students first because I had the audacity to join the Idaho Education Association.  I moved into a rental house less than one-hundred yards from the school because I apparently was solely concerned with how much money I could make–without any concern for my students.  I fed students at my home and constantly bought meals for players when we traveled because I love money more than kids.  Mr. Luna and his accomplices have made it abundantly clear that they know all about me, my motives, and my teaching abilities.  In truth, they know less about me (and my colleagues) than they do about education, which is really saying something.

I have since moved through three subsequent school districts, moving to larger schools with greater challenges and better opportunities.  I have had countless formal and informal observations from a myriad of administrators, and all of those reviews have been either exemplary or outstanding.  I have devoted countless  hours to helping students improve their test scores, their acting skills, and their athletic abilities.  I never expected any financial reward for that time spent with other people’s children and, of course, did not receive any.  My own children regularly came last as I taught, coached, and helped my students. But I and others in my profession have been painted by Mr. Luna and others of his ilk as money-grubbing, lazy non-professionals who have served as nothing more than leeches on society.  That certainly makes us feel completely unappreciated, no matter how one “weights and measures” it.

At this point in my career I can honestly say that I have never felt as maltreated, disrespected, and attacked.  My future, my occupation, my avocation, and my family’s security are being voted on by people who have openly expressed a distaste for me–without ever having taken a moment to meet me or spend a second in my classroom.  The irony is that I went into education believing I could affect lives and impact the future in some small way.  I knew I would never be wealthy, but I never anticipated the personal, spiteful attacks that have been leveled at me by elected officials, wonderful examples of the Peter Principle, California carpet-baggers under the guise of the Tea Party, and modern-day snake oil salesmen from Idaho Falls.

I hope that the people of Idaho will  seriously consider the ridiculous nature of the proposed “overhaul” of an educational system that Mr. Luna himself touted as being wonderfully successful during his campaign for re-election.  Idaho has ranked no better than forty-fifth in the nation in per pupil spending (that number is now fiftieth-at least we’re better than Puerto Rico!); yet, our students regularly score higher than the national averages on test scores.  This is a system that needs to be overhauled

Empirical data has shown that the basic “ideas” of the proposed plan are 1) not new to Mr. Luna and 2) wildly unsuccessful in instances where they have been implemented.  What does work, and those crazy little things called “facts” back this, is proper funding for education, manageable class sizes, great teachers, and student access to up-to-date materials.  Of those, the only constant that education in Idaho has seen in the past few years is great teachers.  I work with some of the best, most talented, and hardest-working people in the state.  Good thing they’re hard working, though, because almost all of them have to work at least one additional job to make ends meet. 

I personally go to Alaska from June through August (so much for the idea that teachers only work seven months a year) to supplement my income in the commercial salmon industry. I don’t do it because I love the scenery or want to be away from my wife and children all summer long.  My wife, who is a long-time (twenty-three years in the profession) teacher, also has taken on part- time positions so that we may live a lifestyle somewhat commensurate to two college-educated professionals. 

Mr. Luna and others who are mistakenly backing his ill-conceived plan claim to “care for the children.”  How nice of them.  How inconsiderate of them, though,  to absolutely disregard those of us who have always cared for the children.

Tom VanDeren

The two bills that have passed are the revocation of collective bargaining and the pay for performance plan, which currently is an unfunded mandate. 


  1. Glenda -- Please tell your colleage Tom that I'm a fan. Two comments: "I have held my end of the bargain." Yes, yes, yes. We made agreements fairly and in good faith with the people of our communities and the representatives that they elected. What does it say about those communities if they don't keep their promises?

    The teachers-work-9-months line gets really old, doesn't it? I view it as an involuntary layoff! I can't go to work if I want to because the community doesn't send its children during the summer months. I don't have a choice about that. Same with spring break and Christmas break. We get laid off when the community decides it wants to pull its children out of school for a vacation. We don't decide that. The community decides it.

    Thanks for sharing these ideas. Keep 'em coming!

  2. "The teachers-work-9-months line gets really old, doesn't it?"

    Yes, the idea that teachers get summers off and get paid all year is tiresome, misleading, and wrong. I am a seasonal worker. I am paid for 180 (give or take a few depending on the year, state, and/or district)days only. I am not paid for vacations, summer, furloughs, etc.