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Columnist can’t make teachers feel inferior

Let me introduce myself since you obviously do not know me. My name is Kevin Trobaugh and I have been a teacher in the South Harrison Community School Corp. for 21 years. Although you have never spoken to me or visited my classroom, you felt your job gave you the right, in the May 22 issue of The Corydon Democrat, to insinuate that I, along with each and every teacher in the South Harrison school corporation was lazy, overpaid and underworked. Thank you for pointing that out to me.
In the 21 years I’ve been working, I probably failed to notice that I was lazy, overpaid and underworked because I was teaching classes in English, French, computer science, speech, newspaper, mythology, yearbook or theater.
Did you know, Mr. Whipple, that my students have, over the past few years, developed and maintained a Web site about our school and our community? Check it out sometime. These kids do great work: By the way, don’t miss the Historic Harrison County section. It has been acclaimed both in-state and nationally. In addition, I was named runner-up Indiana Computer Teacher of the Year. But I’m sure you didn’t know that about me because you never bothered to ask.
If I wasn’t in the classroom, Mr. Whipple, I was at a rehearsal with my students for a play, musical, cabaret, marching band program, winter drum line show, winter guard show, or community theater performance. If you couldn’t find me in the classroom or at a rehearsal, perhaps I was on the volleyball court or soccer field where I was coaching my students, or maybe I was presenting the great things the students of our schools do to other school systems around the state that wanted to copy our programs.
If not there, did you look to see if you could locate which faculty, curriculum, textbook or professional development meeting I was in? If you couldn’t find me there, Mr. Whipple, did you look in the classrooms of I.U.S., I.U.-Bloomington and Indiana State, where I attended classes so I could learn new skills and new information which I would be able to bring to my students?
Did you look for me in Europe, where I’ve taken students for several years as a way of giving them a new insight on the world? No, Mr. Whipple, you didn’t look in any of those places because you think teachers are lazy and overpaid.
You never asked me about the scholarships that the teachers in the South Harrison schools have helped students win. Last year, the graduating class of CCHS earned nearly $500,000 in scholarships. I’m sure that the educators K-12 that these students had were a major reason these scholarships were earned. You never asked me about the colleges I’ve helped them get into, the jobs I’ve helped them get, or the new experiences they have had in my classroom.
Did you know I have to buy some classroom supplies with my own money and that I’ve purchased clothing for a student whose parents had abandoned him? Did you know I’ve helped suicidal students find a reason to go on living? Did you know I’ve been a surrogate parental figure to kids whose parents were in jail, on drugs, dead or who-knows-where? What do you say, Mr. Whipple, to a senior who tells you that, in four years of playing sports, participating in activities and just being a kid, that neither of his parents has ever bothered to attend a single event? What do you say to him, Mr. Whipple, when he wants to know why they don’t love him? When a student shows up in class having spent all night stocking grocery shelves because his father is laid off and he doesn’t know where his mother is, can you make writing an essay fun, Mr. Whipple?
How dare you insinuate that I don’t care about my students? How dare you insinuate that I am only interested in money?
You didn’t even bother to mention that part of my “free time” in the summer is preparing new lessons for my students next fall. Yes, I may be sitting on my deck in June, but part of that time I’ll have a Prentice Hall textbook about English literature, a notepad and a highlighter nearby. If I need a break, I’ll probably be reading another book about coaching soccer.
By the way, Mr. Whipple, did you know that I coach soccer because I wanted my students to have a chance to enjoy the activity? I was never an athlete and had only a minimal understanding of the game, but I read books and studied videotapes so I could do the best job I possibly could as a soccer coach and represent Corydon Central High School well. But no, Mr. Whipple, you didn’t know about that because you didn’t bother to ask, and you never asked because you assumed that all teachers do nothing after the school day is over or during the summer.
Well, that’s just not true, Mr. Whipple. In fact, although you were the one who insinuated we, the teachers, were lazy, overpaid and underworked, weren’t you the one who didn’t bother to ask us about what we do? Weren’t you the one who simply spewed a few numbers without knowing the whole story? Did you really do your job before you wrote your article? Did you spend even a day, much less an extended time, in the shoes of a classroom teacher? Or, Mr. Whipple, were you lazy and therefore underworked and overpaid for what little work you did on the article?
In your article, you offered a list of what you called “Exhibits” to attempt to prove your point of view. At first, I felt your “Exhibits” resembled the legendary P.T. Barnum’s museum. Very little of it was true and the only purpose of its existence was to make money. At least, however, the visitors to Barnum’s museum were entertained. Your words, Mr. Whipple, were not entertaining. They were venomous and were designed to sow seeds of discord.
Your aim was to set one group of citizens against another with your words. Your intent was similar to the classic Nazi philosophy, “A lie repeated often enough, loudly enough, eventually will be taken as the truth.” You were certainly loud enough, Mr. Whipple. A headline with photo attracts readers to a newspaper column. That is especially true if there is only one newspaper in town. But I will not let you go unchallenged. I will not let you repeat your lie without standing up in defiance.
I will confess that, at first, I was angry at what you had written but I didn’t think any purpose would be served with responding publicly. I reflected, however, on the words of Pastor Martin Niem’ller on a poster displayed in my classroom and I realized I would be hypocritical to my students and myself if I did not respond. In his life, Niem’ller fought against the Nazi regime in Germany. His words, however, must still be heard today:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Therefore, I decided I must write this letter telling you, Mr. Whipple, that your article of May 22 was not valid and that you have no real understanding of the day-to-day activity in our schools.
This week, during a student’s senior speech, she quoted former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” I have always told my students in the classroom and in the various extracurricular activities I have led that I expect to learn from them just as I expect them to learn from me. Well, I am going to learn from that senior in the class of 2002. Mr. Whipple, you do not have my permission to make me feel inferior about myself.
While I know that the work I do makes an impact on my students each day and that their education will last a lifetime and be passed on to their children, I also know that the work you did, for May 22, 2002, ended up in the trash can of my home on the very same day it was published. Mr. Whipple, if anyone in this county is overpaid and underworked, it is you.