As an urban high school teacher, I’m ceded the moral high ground in most encounters with people in more highly compensated fields; invariably, they tell me how much they admire what I do. Although they rarely say so explicitly, they regard my work — the students — as difficult and cannot imagine themselves in my shoes, just as I can’t imagine rushing into burning buildings as a firefighter.
These same people frequently characterize my employer, the Los Angeles Unified School District, as an unmanageable failure. There’s some truth in that, but our schools’ mission is far more difficult than critics understand. If it were easy to educate children raised near or below the poverty line, most from homes in which English is not spoken, then L.A.’s public schools would produce better results.
Still, despite its shortcomings, I feel a deep affinity with the district, in whose schools I was educated. I feel far less connection to United Teachers Los Angeles, which represented my father before me and to which I pay nearly $700 a year in dues. Cynics say UTLA is the union that the LAUSD deserves — ineffective and one-dimensional — and they’re not wrong.