By Sean Gray
(Editor's note: Yesterday, MichCapCon posted a story about the Michigan Education Association listing a poll in its recent member magazine showing that a larger percentage of teachers nationwide list their political views as "conservative." The remarks below are the views of one such teacher from Michigan.)
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "Wow, you're a public school teacher, and a Republican/ Conservative?" That's not something you see every day." Or, "You must feel out of place there."
I customarily offer: No, there are actually quite a few, but we're just not very vocal.
I believe the Michigan Education Association is representing the views of their members... that is to say, their VOCAL members, which is partly why only three of 114 MEA endorsements went to Republicans. Why are Republican teachers far less vocal about their political preferences?
After over 20 years of public school service, in districts across the region, I have observed and personally experienced intimidation, name-calling, isolation, contempt, booing in the halls, and the like. It's been a lonely experience at times. Even many good-hearted Republican teachers will avoid and isolate out-spoken Republican teachers due to the fear of 'guilt' by association.
And since the out-spoken teacher can't find much relief from the intolerance and attacks by some of the other teachers, along with a genuine fear that their career may be in jeopardy, he/she simply submits to silence, pays their dues, puts their nose to the grindstone to work hard at educating, contributing and making a positive difference in the lives of students.
So, the MEA, with legitimate conviction and a clear conscience can endorse 97% of Democratic candidates because they can honestly say: Hey, this is what over 97% our members are SAYING [read: being vocal about what] they want in political leadership.
But it's not necessarily true. What is more likely true is that some teacher's views regarding public education are encouraged, highlighted and honored, while other views are discouraged, kept down and even punished, creating fear.
The fear seems to help sustain a political dominance cycle. Republicans fear, so they stay silent. Democrats hear no opposition to their views, so they assume friendly ears and speak more boldly.
But the problem is that the representation for conservative members hardly exists. Too often the conservative watches helplessly as his/ her union dues support candidates who do not support his/her views, as is evidenced by this latest round of MEA endorsements.
During the first week of school this year, at a professional development [PD] meeting, we were put into groups to talk about student topics. As I often do, I spoke out and offered my thoughts and, as I often do, felt alone.
A teacher from the PD group later met me in the hall and asked my name. When I told her she said: Oh, Sean Gray, that makes sense [by what I said in the meeting, apparently]. So you are the conservative teacher, with the tone of: 'so you're the sole conservative on campus...' But before I could offer my customary line of 'there are actually quite a few, but we're just not very vocal' line, I spotted a teacher and close friend coming towards us and, eager to greet him, I turned to the teacher from my PD group, shook her hand and said: it was a pleasure meeting you, and offered a kind goodbye.
The teacher and close friend I was eager to greet? Another Conservative teacher.
And I remember thinking to myself: Is this how liberal/ Democrat teachers feel all the time? Because for the first time that week I didn't feel so out of place, it felt a bit more like home.
Sean is a high school science teacher at a school district in metro Detroit, published author and candidate for Washtenaw County Commissioner.