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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

entry arrow12:50 PM | Who's Going to Teach?

I was sporadically watching an episode of Boston Legal today. In one of the featured cases, Helen Choi, a special education teacher, is being sued for the wrongful death of a student in her class who had died from an allergic reaction to peanuts.

Her lawyer Shirley Schmidt, played brilliantly by Candice Bergen, gives this closing argument which made my hair stand on their ends, because I just felt it sooo much:

Lawsuits are about allocating burden. For example, we want our cars to be safer, so we hit the manufacturers with a judgment that makes it more cost-effective to install the airbag. The problem here, as Ms. Bixby correctly states, is we have more and more special needs kids going into our public schools, combined with an unprecedented escalation in auto-immune diseases, autism -- the peanut allergy alone has doubled in recent years.

So, who do we heap this responsibility on? Who else? The teachers. The average annual starting salary for a teacher is $32,000. For that, we ask them to teach, police, provide emotional and social guidance -- at some schools, they actually have to clean the toilets. Now, let's throw in healthcare.

This teacher -- she works 65-hour weeks. In addition to her actual classroom duties, she teaches sex education to the older kids, she teaches a standardized test the school mandates in order to qualify for funding under the No Child Left Behind Act. She spends another ten hours a month meeting with parents. She supervises extra-curricular activities, goes on overnight class trips, cleans and disinfects toys, coaches. She teaches fire drill safety procedures, healthy eating habits, she's certified in CPR, first aid, and food sanitation.

She's so overextended that when her own father had to undergo a life-threatening medical procedure, she couldn't be at the hospital. So she called on her cell phone to see if he had lived. Which he hadn't. She then turned away from her students, so as not to traumatize them with her grief, which as a teacher she was expected to internalize.

She has no savings ... no house. And today she's being sued because, without her knowledge, one of her students snuck a bite-sized candy bar containing traces of peanut into her classroom. Now she's being publicly blamed for the death of a child whose parents had the means to implement a multitude of safeguards. They implemented none of them except -- a teacher.

Is it any wonder half our teachers are quitting the profession outright within five years? Never mind who's going to handle the epi pen. Who's going to teach?

In the show, the jury finds in favor of the defendant.

I, too, feel the pressure of teacherly efforts, the way we go beyond our duties and our resources just to teach a class well. (Heck, I spend my own money just to get many activities going, because I just get told "There's no budget for that.") I, too, feel the pressure of not being appreciated enough, especially by terrorizing parents who complain about the grades of their underachieving children who remain unmotivated despite one effort after another. (What do you do to somebody who would rather not study?) And actually, if I get even half Helen Choi's monthly salary, I'd be so comfortably rolling in dough, which is sooo sad. Sometimes I think I just want to quit. But I don't. Sometimes, I think I'm just being masochist. But like what Shirley said, "Who's going to teach?"

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