Ex-Marine turned teacher: "Stop demonizing me and my profession."

That’s the pull quote that a recent Washington Post column uses as a headline for a link to a must-read piece. I love the juxtaposition of “ex-Marine” and “teacher,” so I’ve kept the headline. There are not very many teacher-haters who will also look down on an ex-Marine and think that he’s a wimp.

As we have permission to reprint the entire piece, I will do so here:

By Matthew Swope

I am a teacher. Year 10. High school physics. I am a professional educator in a field that demands professional credentials, continuing education, skill and knowledge based licensing exams and background checks including fingerprints so I am deemed responsible enough and safe enough to work with children. I’m a mandated reporter of physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.

There, now I’ve established my bona fides and authority to speak knowledgeably on the subject.

Oh, wait, I have to knock out the ones who claim I’ve only ever taught. I served in and was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps. I then spent six years carrying a badge and a gun and worked a beat as a police officer in a city of 180+ thousand people. I’ve done other things than teach.

When I was a cop, if crime went up on my beat they didn’t blame me for not working hard enough. They brought in additional officers to beef up the presence and manpower. They did dispassionate studies of data to identify problems, communicated the results to me, and let me help decide how to address them. They swarmed identified problems with social assistance and community programs, assigned undercover officers to work from the inside, provided more funding for Women’s Protective Services and Children’s Protective Services, brought in the narcotics and gang task forces to assist, assigned volunteers from the DA’s office and City Council to spend weeks riding around with me as observers so they could see what I was up against, and provided me with medical aid and psychological care (mandated after certain stressful incidents like shootings) and never, ever, accused me of not working hard enough or being a good enough cop. Instead, they identified poverty, drugs, poor or absent parenting, and legitimate mental illnesses and disabilities as the root of the problem.

I was provided the proper equipment to do my job and it was regularly serviced and updated. I was provided continuing training in the mental and physical duties of my job.

I got tired of seeing kids as victims or criminals and went back to a school to try and help them from the other side of life. I became a teacher. I took a $24k per year pay cut for this privilege. I saddled myself with 20 years of student loans. I spend in excess of $1000 a year of my own money to provide equipment and student supplies so I can do my job effectively. I take every student in my class, whether it was the year I am doing inclusion teaching or the year I have the AP kids. I turn none away nor should I. As an American citizen, It’s my task and privilege to educate everyone who comes through my school’s door. I make progress with every student but that progress cannot always be measured by a standardized test. I feed some of my kids. I’ve bought them clothing. I’ve visited them in juvie, hospitals, hospices and at the graveside. I’ve been praised, cussed, disrespected, honored and ignored by parents and administration.

I lead my department, my campus academic competition team and my students. I follow my principal and superintendent. I’m responsive to parents.

I love kids and teaching.

I’m tired. I am not respected. I am underpaid.

I am not responsible for what happens outside of my 45 minutes a day with your child. I only accept that responsibility for my own two children.

Please help me do my job for your child and community. Stop demonizing me, my profession, and my fellow teachers. See through the deceptive manipulation of the reform movement and high stakes standardized testing. Don’t buy into the propaganda about teachers unions and how evil they are. Don’t listen to political hacks like Rhee who are only in it for the opportunities to gut the profession and privatize it for the wealthy to plunder profits from.

Let me teach. Allow fellow professionals and administrators to evaluate me fairly and help me if I don’t meet expectations. Listen to me when I speak for I am a professional and I am in it to do the best job possible with the kids I am given.

Help me. I want to help you.

Let me make it clear that my situation is not exactly the same as Swope’s, though 95% of it does fit. In particular, Swope is correct about the general public and most politicians, but I am happy to say that I don’t feel disrespected by the parents of my students. Not all communities are so lucky.

Categories: Teaching & Learning