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Editor’s note: President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., addressed his father’s campaign rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday night, instructing young conservatives “to keep up that fight, bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.”
His remarks prompted many responses by teachers on social media.
Kristin Karnitz is not a teacher (she is a customer service account manager and mother from De Pere, Wisconsin). But, counting many educators in her family, she penned an op-ed in defense of the profession, an edited version of which appears below.
During President Trump’s rally Monday night in El Paso, Donald Trump Jr. took to the podium. I caught a clip of his speech that made my heart stop momentarily, then pound with the rage of a boxer hitting a punching bag.
“Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth,” he said.
There have been many, many moments during this administration that have broken me. But this one, for some reason, hit me particularly hard. Maybe it’s my mood, maybe it’s the endless winter weather, maybe it’s something I ate. Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our education system was being attacked. I felt sick.
I come from a long line of loser teachers. I am the granddaughter of a loser teacher. The niece of loser teachers. The cousin of loser teachers. The sister of a loser teacher. The friend of many loser teachers.
Once upon a time, I wanted to be a loser teacher too. But when I approached that point in my college life to choose that track, I bailed. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t selfless enough.
I wasn’t loser enough.
You see, being a loser teacher requires a stamina that I recognized fairly early that I wasn’t cut out for, at least when I was 20 years old and trying to navigate my future.
I think of the loser teachers in our country, and what it takes to be them. Though not a loser teacher, let me take a stab at educating all the non-teacher ‘winners.’
Summers off is a myth. Many teachers work second jobs, or teach summer school. Most of this is to supplement their income. And a chunk of that, their own money, is reinvested into their classrooms. When budgets are tight, and a first grade teacher needs a rug for her kids to sit on at group lesson time, she buys her own. Many teachers keep a stash of food in their cabinet that they bought on their own, to sneak a granola bar to a young one who came to school that morning without breakfast. A hungry child has a tough time learning. And I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t see many teachers driving around in a Mercedes convertible with all of their summer free time.
Short work days? A school day may be around 7 hours for the kids. Loser teachers are there well before and after. They are spending evenings writing lesson plans and grading papers. There are staff meetings, extracurriculars they lead, presentations and continuing education classes that are required to maintain their jobs and licenses.
The responsibility of a loser teacher extends far beyond standing in front of a classroom sharing a lesson. Teachers are expected to wear more hats than most of us could ever dream of putting on.
Teachers are not just educators. They are counselors. I had a teacher in middle school who reached out to students that exhibited signs of depression. He met one-on-one to guide them and extend a hand. I know, because I was one of them. And almost 30 years later, I will never forget that day he sat me down and put a reassuring hand on my shaking one, and helped me navigate that dark place.
Teachers are not just educators. They are surrogate parents. There are so many kids from broken homes and unstable situations. A hug from a teacher may be the only time a child receives a gentle touch of love that day. A word of encouragement or a high five in the hallway may be the only direct acknowledgement a child receives that week. A pair of mittens may find their way into the locker of a student that would otherwise have cold hands on the playground and walk home. They discipline. They nurture. They help young minds grow in an environment that may be the only stable place a child has in their lives.
Teachers are not just educators. They save lives. In a world where active shooter drills are now practiced regularly in our schools, teachers need to be on alert at all times. They are the protectors of these young lives. When the unthinkable happens, some have made the ultimate sacrifice.
They have taken a bullet for children that aren’t even their own. Can any of you non-losers say you’d do the same?
So just to summarize today’s lesson here: Teachers are not just educators. They are everyday angels among us. They deserve our support, our respect and our unyielding gratitude.
Teachers encourage students to embrace kindness, and to avoid name calling, so I will take a lesson from the great educators I’ve had throughout my life, and resist countering this ridiculous attack with meanness. It is taking every fiber of my being to do so. But I had good loser teachers who would want me to take the high road. So in honor of them, I will.
Instead, I raise a glass to the loser teachers in our country. May we all strive to attain your level of loserdom. Our nation is in sore need of more wonderful, amazing losers like you.
Sign up for short education highlights twice a month from PBS NewsHour here.
Kristin Karnitz lives in De Pere, Wisconsin. She works full-time as a customer service account manager and co-parents three active kids.
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