The Call-In: Teaching And School Funding

Apr 29, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Time now for The Call-In.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORDUROI'S "MY DEAR")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Teachers are demanding better pay and better funding for their schools. Protests have spread from West Virginia to Oklahoma and this past week to Colorado and Arizona, where teachers went on strike.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: And I think we can say with certainty that it's up to us. It is up to us to fight for our kids and to fight for our state.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We asked you to call in with your stories about what it's like to be a public school teacher in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALL MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER #1: I have a master's in adult education, but I cannot make a sustainable wage.

UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER #2: I have students that are shivering. We're limited on how much paper we can use.

RICK SHAHIN: My name is Rick Shahin (ph).

No. That's what my wife and I - both teachers - told our younger son when he was considering becoming a teacher.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rick Shahin's voicemail caught our attention. He taught social studies for 37 years in Michigan. And we'll get to that no in a moment because it says a lot about how he thinks the job has changed. But first, here's what he loved about it.

R. SHAHIN: For those who have taught, they understand that it keeps you young. You feed off the energy of kids. And it's that feeling that every day you can walk in and make a difference no matter what happened the day before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His wife, Martha Moore Shahin (ph), taught English and Spanish for three decades. It was a career that she aspired to ever since she was a kid.

MARTHA MOORE SHAHIN: I loved to read. I loved the power of books. And I just thought, hey, you know what? I'd like to pass some of this enthusiasm along.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But over the years, they watched as funding and respect for the profession eroded.

R. SHAHIN: The change in status for teachers came about from what was a palpable contempt for what teachers did by legislators and policymakers because most times, you know, parents and teachers are on the same page. They want to do what's best for the children that are in their charge, which is something I think the - people who have never done it don't understand that link and can't understand why it's so vital that it's a people activity, not a business activity.

MOORE SHAHIN: The tax cuts and all the changes in the legislature for a long time almost seemed to demonize teachers.

R. SHAHIN: And it also explains why the schools of education in Michigan enrollment have dropped by more than 50 percent in the last few years. I mean, we hear stories from the universities that this is just not a field students want to go into - I mean, the beating that teachers have taken. Why would somebody go into this?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's exactly the point they tried to make to their son, Nick (ph). But he told me that when he was growing up, he saw real enthusiasm for the profession.

NICK SHAHIN: I was really proud of it. I know every day they would come home, and it would be the question of, you know, how was school today? And I could say, good. How was it for you? And I think it was something that they were both really passionate about, something that they both worked really hard toward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, as we heard from your parents there, a lot of people don't want to go into teaching now. But you say that you had an interest in it. What kind of conversations were you having with your parents about that?

N. SHAHIN: So, at the time, I was about a junior in high school when I'm starting to look at colleges and figure out what career path I want to take. At the time, I was enrolled in some computer science courses in my high school, and the teacher was phenomenal. And I could see that as being something I could potentially be doing, as well.

But it was at dinner one night, I had brought up the subject and said, you know, I'm thinking about potentially going to school to be a teacher. They both just said, no, you don't want to do that. And at first, I thought they were joking - you know, the old, oh, I want to do what my parents do and they say, oh, go do something else. But the more I pushed it, the more they pushed back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you, Martha and Rick, remember that conversation and why you said that?

MOORE SHAHIN: I do, and I feel awful sitting here, having had a nice teaching career that I'm now saying, yeah, I told my kid don't be a teacher. But it's true. We were really seeing all the difficulties that were coming - the privatizing of schools, the charter schools that were opening up and taking money away. We had taken huge pay cuts in our last few years of work - more than 10 percent cuts to our pensions, cuts to our health care. And I thought, you know, this kid's going to do four years at U of M. That's a very expensive education, and I'd like him to do something else.

R. SHAHIN: I mean, in my family, the whole idea that in a community there was, you know - the respect was for clergy and then teachers, you know? It's just like there. And I don't think - for teachers, especially - that respect just doesn't seem to be extended by policymakers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nick, I hear you are graduating from the University of Michigan this weekend.

N. SHAHIN: I am.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congratulations.

N. SHAHIN: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are you going to do next?

N. SHAHIN: I'll actually be heading off, starting at Ford in mid-July as a Ford college graduate in one of their starter positions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you imagine a time when maybe you could become a teacher?

N. SHAHIN: I'm hoping so. I'd hope to see the pendulum swing back the other way. I know my parents have always said, if you want to be a teacher, go work in industry for 20 years first and save up some money before you do it. And if things keep going the way they're going now, that's how it's going to be. And I'd like to, you know, as my father said, help the generations going forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the Shahin family - Martha and Rick, former teachers, and their son, Nick. Thank you so much.

R. SHAHIN: Thank you.

N. SHAHIN: Thank you.

MOORE SHAHIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.