By now, hundreds of teachers throughout the state, most of them non-tenured, have received non-renewal notices. A few tenured teachers also are likely to lose their positions because their jobs have been eliminated. But thousands of older, more experienced teachers have decided to call it a career because they simply can no longer put up with the stress created by New Jersey’s governor and the people who convert his bullying and vengeful attitude toward teachers into state policy.
In other words, it was a good day today to broadcast “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” a 1995 movie about a dedicated music teacher who is fired from the position he held for 30 years after his music program is cut for budget reasons.
There are a few lines toward the end of the movie that say it all. Glenn Holland, the teacher, is leaving and he is talking to his friend, the football coach. He says:
“You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable. I should be laughing.”
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the movie is fantasy. Mr. Holland is given a rousing, loving tribute by his former students, including the governor of the state. The original script has the governor promising never to cut music programs as long as she is in office. Given the $5 billion shortfall in school aid funding for New Jersey and our real Gov. Chris Christie’s refusal to obey the law, the thought that a governor like Christie would actually want to protect music–except for his own children in their private schools–just makes no sense at all. That scene was cut from the movie, by the way.
The truth is most teachers who have been forced out of their schools, either literally or constructively by a teacher-hating administration that is threatening their pensions and medical benefits, won’t receive tributes from an auditorium filled with people, including the governor. If they’re lucky, their colleagues will have a party for them–and that’s nice.
Of course, teachers are not the only employees–public or private—who “wake up one morning and find out, well no, you’ve made a little error there, you’re expendable.”
Everyone who works for a living, either in an enterprise created to make a profit or in a government agency funded by tax dollars, is treated as expendable–except, perhaps, for a small, elite cadre of management that rises above the line workers and is eager to do the bidding of either political or corporate masters. This has been true for a long time in the private sector but has only recently been applied to the public schools through organizations like the Broad Academy that seek to quantify all educational decisions–and render teachers very expendable economic units who do not accumulate value to children through experience. Rather, experienced teachers are considered prime targets for dismissal because they are reaching the top of the pay scale and will cost the state in pensions.
High-stakes testing fits this model very well. In “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” the teacher appears before the school board and tells the members that, if they don’t support the arts and cultural activities, emphasizing reading and writing will be useless because students “won’t have anything to read or write about.”
This was 20 years ago–before Common Core, before teacher evaluations based on testing, before curricular decisions were taken out of the hands of experienced teachers. The school board in the movie was wrestling with how to balance a budget. Now, the over-riding issue is not budget but rather a conscious, deliberate attack on curricular offerings that permit students to think for themselves beyond the demands of standardized tests. Teachers would probably be nostalgic about nasty budget-cutters–at least there was hope that, once money became available, the arts might be restored.
Indeed, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” was written and produced at a time when there was a general consensus public schools were valuable to the society and should be saved. Come to Newark now and see where a politically motivated school superintendent, Cami Anderson, following the diktat of her governor, is trying to wipe out free public education.
To all those teachers who are leaving their posts this year–whether willingly or not, whether out of frustration and exhaustion or the small-mindedness of managers–I offer you, not my condolences, but my congratulations and my thanks.
You worked hard for absurdly low salaries. You often were symbolically and condescendingly patted on the head by people who knew nothing about teaching children. Then you had to face the resentful rantings of idiots like Chris Christie who wouldn’t last a minute in a room filled with five-year-olds–or 15-year-olds. You loved the children because, why else would you have worked so long at an extraordinarily difficult job?
Thank you, guys. I know I’m not a room filled with alumni led by a governor–but that’s all fiction, anyway. You know how valuable you were to the children you served. Don’t let anyone take that away. Certainly not a clown like Christie.
You did make a difference.