Hawaii Teacher: Fighting For The Integrity Of The Human Mind

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

Editor's Note: Susan Kay Anderson teaches English at Pahoa High School and Hawaii Community College on the Big Island. She has taught in island schools for nearly two decades. You can read her reflections on teaching and her commentary on our educational system here on Tuesdays.

My mother worked as a teacher.

I saw, up close, the battles she and other teachers went through, just in order to keep their jobs. I witnessed the hard work, dedication, and mistreatment of teachers. I also saw their joy and enthusiasm. They hoped working conditions, salary, and academic freedoms would improve in the workplace 30 years down the pike. That’s why they taught their hearts out to us.

We moved around a lot. I attended a different school nearly every year, so I have observed many different schools, teachers, students, and communities.

As a whole, the majority of American teachers are women. To me, this has been the reason we allow teachers to be scapegoats for high school drop-out rates, poor literary skills, and high prison populations. Child neglect and its myriad of problems, falls on the backs of teachers.

Teachers occupy their jobs on a daily basis. Their livelihood is in a crux, a crossroads, in the history of the world. Teachers fight for the integrity of the human mind. It seems like they are being punished for this.

The current system is overburdening teachers with testing mandates due to the Bush era’s No Child Left Behind law, which is still in place. Private testing companies and state middle managers are reaping the benefits of Race To The Top funding. This is teacher torture. I have witnessed teachers who have been mistreated by the administration, staff, and my co-workers as workplace bullying escalates to the point of producing permanent damage.

This column will not claim to represent the views of all teachers. It is, of course, homage to my teachers; my lifetime of teachers, in and out of the classroom.

I know this column is a risk to my current employment and that I could be fired for speaking out, as all teachers fear. No, nobody will come knocking on my door, call me into the principal’s office, or send me an email saying You’re Fired, but it will come in other ways, through “evaluation” of my “performance” or lack of evidence to “reflect” on my “practice.” Poor student test scores, missed meetings, too many sick days, not following my Pacing Guide/mandated lesson plans, and any other of the myriad ways that could be pointed out as being a bad teacher starts the paperwork, the ball rolling, to recommend termination to the higher ups.

Who will take my place? Someone starting out, someone cheaper, more than likely a substitute teacher; someone who is much cheaper than me, someone who desperately needs the work just as much as I do but will be guaranteed not to open their mouth.

More about Susan Kay Anderson:

Anderson has taught in Hawaii schools since 1995. A 2010 National Poetry Series Finalist, a Big Island poet and educator, she teaches English at Pahoa High School and Hawaii Community College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Oregon-Eugene, and a master’s in English Literature/Creative Writing from the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Anderson first worked for archeologist Paul Cleghorn in 1993, and then began substitute teaching for the Windward District. She was hanaied by the Walter Liu/William Dozier family in Waimanalo/Kailua, supporters of her endeavors. Anderson began studies for her teaching certificate at UH Manoa (Secondary Education and Special Education) in 1999. Having grown up attending Title One schools in the Mountain West and Alaska, Anderson also attended Gymnasium in Germany, visited high school in Finland on an A.F.S. summer exchange, and attended Germany’s Tuebingen University for a year. She received Student Conservation Association stipends to Alaska and Colorado, an Oregon Young Writer’s Award, a Jovanovich Prize, and a Ragdale Writing Residency.

Anderson currently studies with poet Tom Clark, attends workshops given by writer Tom Peek at the Volcano Art Center, and meets frequently with Virginia Brautigan Aste whose memoir, Please Plant This Book Coast To Coast, she co-wrote. She blogs at: Hawaii Teacher Detective.

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