One of the greatest gifts of teaching is spending the day with other teachers. But even in the department-store enormity of a high school, we all close our doors at the bell and, in essence, work alone. We meet in meetings that no one wants to attend, by the copy machine that no one wants to un-jam or by the mailboxes, that no one wants to look into–all of these situations aren’t the most positive climates for collegiality.
I was fortunate to begin working in the late 1980’s, when Michigan teacher-strikes were winding down and school funding was healthy. The veterans that were there when I started began their careers during the Eisenhower administration, many years before Mitt Romney’s father made teacher’s unions legal.
Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant–I promise!
In 1994, when school funding was removed from local communities in Michigan, things began changing. And slowly, over the next fifteen years of my career, classrooms became larger, supplies became scarcer and the public’s support fell for the premise that teachers deserve a pension for their service (even a pension that they funded out of their own pocket).
My friend, Joe Lupi, and his wife Linda were at the helm of the teacher’s struggles throughout the 1970s in my district and offered me great perspective when I became a crisis chair after our district decided to not truly negotiate, but instead elected to delay negotiations, using a law that allowed them to eventually retroactively impose a pay-cut that went back five months.
In that two-year span I met Rich Miller, an extremely innovative educator in my district that I wouldn’t have met without the crisis. Linda mentioned many times that the years of struggle create the strongest friendships. Instead of nodding to each other in the hallways or over the broken Xerox machine, we were wearing the same shirts, meeting elementary teachers we barely recognized before and fighting for a common cause. It sounds corny, but it was very true–those bonds were strong and still are.
Rich was a dynamo of creativity and energy, dedicating himself to his colleagues and their families’ well-being with the same zeal he poured into his middle school science classes. I had heard about him through my high school students, that wacky, fun teacher that made lasting impressions on their very short-attention-spans.
Rich now teaches in Indonesia. The pay-cuts to his salary, even after ten years in our district, gave him little option but to sell his house and all of his belongings and seek out an international school where he could start anew. It was a great loss to our district and a great gain for his new students.
Rich has kept me updated on Facebook from the other side of the world and has asked me to take a look at a project that he’s involved in now–it reminds me of a Habitat for Humanity idea that seeks to rescue children from terrible circumstances. And with the miracle of inexpensive editing and YouTube, I can visit their lives without leaving my living room.
Here’s how Rich describes this student club–GK:
GK is an Non gov. org. that was 1st established in the Philippines. GK stands for Gawad Kalinga and means care movement. What makes GK special and unique is its holistic community development approach against poverty. GK’s believes that “Poverty is not a lack of resources but a lack of caring and sharing.”
This is not throwing money at a problem but teaching skills and building communities.
At our school. GK is a service club that originally had around 15 middle schoolers, but grew to have almost 50 devoted members, all of them sharing the same passion to break the cycle of poverty as much as they can.
There’s an easy link on this moving video if you’d care to donate or spread the word!
Thanks, Rich, for all you’ve done for my family as well as the families of over 400 teachers in my former district. I know that whatever students are lucky enough to be the recipients of your boundless energy, they’ll remember you for the rest of their lives.