Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Letters To Governor Chris Christie

Many of you have been following the drama in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie has been waging a verbal war with the New Jersey Education Association and other educational groups in the Garden State. Christie wants concessions from the unions to close New Jersey's budget gap. In doing so Christie is using some of the tactics he used as a federal prosecutor. But the tactics used to put the "bad guys" in jail usually don't translate to reconciliation and consensus building. One of my "jobs" these days is to help edit and collate my Dad's correspondence. I want to share two letters to the Governor from two teachers, both union members, both committed educators. I've made the editorial decision not to disclose their names. Their eloquence is something that deserves to be shared with a wider readership.

The Honorable Governor Chris Christie
Governor’s Office
State Street
Trenton, NJ

April 20, 2010

Dear Governor Christie,

I am a teacher. As such, I have worked with all kinds of children, those who are bright and hard working and those who struggle to find success. Those who speak English and those who families speak a language different than English. I have worked with children from traditional homes and the homeless. Those children whose families fill their lives with rich experiences and activities and those whose parents are so overwhelmed with life that they have no time for anything else beyond survival. I have worked with children who are healthy and those who have severe medical issues, those children who are socially and emotionally well-adjusted and those who can’t cope with the world around them. I have taught kindergarteners and high school students how to read and write to the best of their abilities. I have dealt with the death of one of my first graders and the illnesses of my students and colleagues from sick buildings. With all of these diverse experiences I now know why it is that you hate teachers so much.

You see, there isn’t a teacher alive who hasn’t dealt with you in their career. We all know your secret. You are the 5 year old who shoves other kids around on the playground. You are the 8 year old who steals others lunch money. You are the teenager who pushes the weak kid into the locker or who flushes their coat down the toilet or the ‘cool kid’ who insults and humiliates those around you. You are the child who relentlessly picks on those who don’t, for some imagined reason, live up to your ideal of worthiness. Governor Christie, you are a bully!

I don’t say this lightly. You’re not a physical bully. You don’t punch or kick or provide physical harm. You sir, are a verbal bully defined by teasing, taunting, public humiliation, sarcasm, insults, name calling as well as spreading gossip and malicious rumors. With a bully it is never about the issue at hand, in this case, a salary freeze. It is about getting others to bend to your will. It is about making you feel self-important. A bully needs to intimidate others, break down their self-confidence and isolate them. You will not do that to me sir! We don’t tolerate bullying in today’s public schools!

Yes, I am a teacher and I am the target of your bullying behavior. You have called me names and insulted me. You have attempted to humiliate me and have been sarcastic about my behavior as a teacher. But the thing is, I know the truth! I know that I have done an incredible job as a teacher influencing the instruction of children for 33 years. I know my skill at my job has had a profound influence on the future of hundreds of children and families. I know I have no reason to apologize or feel badly about a salary that reflects my 33 years of experience and my BA degree, MA degree plus more than 45 credits beyond that. I know that my salary was frozen for 2 years while we negotiated. I know that my salary increased by less than 2% when we finally came to a settlement. I know that I have worked hard and earned and contributed to my pension every single day since I was 22 years old.

Yes, I am a union leader and member. I served as President of my local for 16 years, as a member of the NJEA Executive committee for 9 years and a member of the NEA Board of Directors for 6 years. I worked collaboratively in my district to resolve problems and provide “Great Public Schools”. I fought for clean and healthy school buildings. Many times I had to protect staff members from political interference and patronage, much like you did as the state Attorney General. While I didn’t hire, evaluate or fire staff members, my job was to make sure that due process and law was followed if someone had a problem. I know that in districts where there is a strong union, teachers feel free to be creative problem solvers and develop high quality educational programs for the students they serve.

I am a voter in New Jersey. I will vote yes today for the school budget to protect the programs and staff our children need to get a first class education. I know that as a contributing member of this society we call New Jersey, I will continue to pay more than $9,000 in property taxes this year. I will volunteer time and contribute to charities and continue to make New Jersey flourish as a vibrant state. I know that the economy of the entire country continues to struggle and that it has impacted on New Jersey. I know that I am not to blame for this happening. I know about ‘shared sacrifices”. I will be doing just that when my property taxes go up and I don’t receive my property tax rebate. I will share the sacrifice when I have to contribute more to charities that will no longer have state support in order to provide needed services. I will share the sacrifice when there isn’t paper for the classroom or books in the library or guidance counselors for the students in my school district.

Governor Christie, I don’t want a governor who is a bully. I want a man who can work with others. I want a governor who doesn’t look for someone who shows weakness but someone who appreciates the strengths that others have to offer and bring to the table. I want a governor who is inclusive rather than exclusive and an isolationist. I want a governor who makes others feel good about what they have accomplished, not someone who looks for others to fail. I want a governor who is meticulous with his facts and doesn’t use public forums to spread rumors and misinformation. I want a governor who is thoughtful when he speaks and not someone who resorts to name calling. I want a governor who knows the difference between the big issues and the small issues and who doesn’t blow either of them up out of proportion. I want a governor who can diffuse a situation instead of throwing gasoline on the fire and making it worse. I want a governor who is a statesman and a leader and not someone who is a prosecutor treating the world around him as criminals.

I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. I will not allow you to discredit me, intimidate me, or threaten me. I am a teacher. I am a union leader. I am a voter. I am a part of what makes New Jersey a great state.


And below, a second letter to Governor Christie.

To The Honorable Chris Christie,

I am the enemy. I never realized this until your election to governor. In a few short weeks, you have made this fact explicitly clear to me. A large portion of your budget address was about my profession, and how we have caused the problems this state now faces. I want to thank you for opening my eyes to this fact. However, I am not sure I understand how I am the problem or how I have caused the state to be in such debt.

I have been teaching in our public school system for 9 years. I started at $36,000 a year. My college roommate started as an office worker at an accounting firm for $75,000. It was the same year. He told me he mostly made copies and plugged numbers into a computer. I was designing lesson plans, teaching classes of 30+ students, some of whom had problems with drug abuse, crime, and depression. After nine years experience I made $52,000 last year. I would like to point out that this is $8,000 less than your “media relations” person. You know, the 25 year old who runs your Twitter and Facebook accounts. My college roommate? He makes double what I do now. We both have bachelor’s degrees. But what do I know? I am the problem.

You tell the people of New Jersey that we teachers get a free ride on the pension “gravy train”. Well, I contribute to my pension. It has been deducted from every paycheck I have ever received. Thousands. You do not contribute to my pension even though it is legally and contractually required. You have lied to the people of New Jersey and your refusal to pay the pension just puts off the inevitable. Leave the problem for the next generation, I suppose. I also paid over $6,000 in property taxes. It’s convenient that you leave us to be blamed for property taxes when we pay just as much as everyone else. You and those who attack us seem to forget that. But what do I know? I am the problem.

During my time as a teacher, I have volunteered many late hours….volunteered. Although you seem to think all I care about is me, me, me, I have coached girl’s powder-puff football for nothing. I have chaperoned school dances, plays, and fundraisers. I have worked the concession stand at football games. I wasn’t paid for any of this. I have bought hundreds of dollars worth of shirts, cookie dough, pizzas and countless other items I didn’t really need because I wanted to help support my students and their activities. I have “canned” at football games to help needy students, stayed late waiting for parents to pick up kids who missed their busses, and bought classes pizzas and breakfast to reward them for their excellence. I cooked a class eggs and waffles once because they brought in over 500 canned goods for our local homeless shelter. I have been in a dunk tank not once, but twice to fundraise for my school. I have taken pies to the face and almost had to kiss a ram, all for my students. My coworker and I once organized a pancake breakfast for a student battling cancer. We and many of our colleagues whom you demean were at school at 4:30 in the morning to prepare pancakes for a school of over 2,000 students. We raised over ten thousand dollars for that student. I never asked once, “What is in it for me?”

You have declared open season on teachers. You have made us the bane of New Jersey’s existence. I know, I read the comments on the and Press of Atlantic City websites. Teachers are lazy, overpaid, underworked. We are whiners. I guess that is what I am doing right now. You have made it okay to bash us. Some of the public are rejoicing that my colleagues will lose their jobs. Until you opened my eyes and opened their mouths, I never realized what a terrible person I was.

When I decided to study education in college my mother warned me that I had better not teach unless it was a passion. She told me if I just wanted summers off I wouldn’t last. She was a teacher herself. She said I could get paid better doing other things. She told me my efforts would not be appreciated, that it was only a matter of time before politics made us the enemy again. I didn’t listen. Teaching was a calling for me, and I thought that even though I wouldn’t be paid a lot, at least I would have good benefits, a pension, and job security. What a fool I was. I thought I was doing the right thing, helping kids, improving society. Turns out the whole time I was none of these things. I was the enemy. I was the problem. My own government has forsaken me; my own community would like to banish me. For the first time in my career, I am questioning my decision, feeling my passion diminish.

Thank you for showing me the light. My only hope is that the next generation does not see the light, and does not listen to you, because if they do there will be no more problems like me, there will be no public education. You will have won your war against the middle and lower class. You will create a society where the rich get educated and the poor do not. But then again, what do I know? I am the problem.

A 2007 Nominee for the Governor's Teacher of the Year Award

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