By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer
Teachers at Kahaluu Elementary wore T-shirts to school two days ago, but there wasnt much casual about the Casual Friday attire.
The blue-and-white Hawaii State Teachers Association shirts were worn deliberately, pointedly, angrily.
Teachers in the Windward school district wore their union shirts on Fridays and will continue to do so until a strike vote scheduled for March 14 is taken.
Its a dramatic contrast, seeing a caring, nurturing person wearing the colors of protest and contention while helping a child. Its quite a statement.
And it struck me how dangerous the situation is becoming.
Theres something inherently noble about the teaching profession. It is widely held that those who work with children are selfless, giving, devoted. And they are.
Those types are drawn to the profession. And the profession draws out that kind of caring in people.
Its dangerous, however, when self-sacrifice becomes expected.
In every profession, there are the few who are proud to give more than expected the guy who always stays late to clean up, the woman who bakes pastries for the lunchroom, the worker who comes in on Sundays to make sure Monday runs smoothly.
When that kind of devotion is expected, required, mandatory, all joy is drained out of the work. The line between happy-to-help and hard-to-swallow is drawn with attitude, appreciation and personal cost.
Right now, its costing Hawaii public school teachers too much to love their jobs. They are working without a contract, making far less money than theyre worth, and being asked to do much more than their job descriptions. Thats the basic formula for burn-out in any profession.
Teachers are expected to do much more than teach under the current school structure. They have to act as social workers, counselors, health care providers, agents of the court, even fund-raisers and benefactors.
HSTA President Karen Ginoza tells the story of a student of hers who kept coming to school with ukus.
After repeated attempts to contact the childs parents, Ginoza finally had to wash and cut the girls hair herself.
And thats just ukus. Teachers are on the frontline of abuse cases, child custody battles, neglect, poverty, violence.
There are stories of teachers having to find shelter for homeless children, standing in the way of a noncustodial parent trying to abduct a child, or buying a jacket for a kid who has nothing to wear to school on rainy days.
There is great joy in such small and wondrous acts of heroism, but not if its expected.
Not if its demanded by the system that will not in turn take care of the caregivers.
The teachers deserve to be paid like the professionals they are. They need to know they are appreciated. Theyre doing the work of heroes, and Gov. Ben Cayetano is treating them like hired help he can overwork and underpay with impunity.
Perhaps the teachers anger at Cayetanos disregard doesnt show in their interaction with students, but its as plain as the letters on their shirts.
Any time noble deeds are tainted with simmering resentment, theres the danger of losing the best gifts these professionals have to share.
Lee Catalunas column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
[back to top]