Speaking Up

I am watching teachers protest on TV. They are dressed in tee shirts and levis, carrying signs and they are madder than hell!  Things are different since my days in the classroom but the issues are still the same – salaries, class size and respect. Suddenly, I remember my own protest days and how innocent I was about speaking up effectively then. It is almost as though I flashback to the 1960’s and I am watching myself in a movie. 

When I graduated from college, my career choices were teaching, teaching and teaching.

I taught in four different districts and in each, the kids were fine but the system was dreadful. Some things don’t seem to change, although  appearances are very different. When I began teaching 45 years ago. The women teachers had to wear dresses or jackets and skirts and the men were required to wear neckties and jackets. We were very polite but most of us were madder than hell.

I was a true believer in collective bargaining and I went around to the schools and made speeches to other teachers persuading them to join my organization. I was usually asked to leave by the principals because the last thing they wanted was “uppity” teachers. I may have been a polite rabble-rouser but I was brave.

In fact, I was so brave that I was elected to be head of the teacher’s negotiating council. It was my job to meet with the school superintendents and principals and work out the contract for the next year. We wanted things like a raise in pay, lower class sizes and more preparation time. Some things really never do change.

I have always been proud of the fact that, in a paid advisory position, I pulled off the first teacher’s strike in California (Lawndale Elementary District). I think I’d seen myself as a minor John Steinbeck heroine… until recently, when I watched the news and my memory opened up revealing how anxious I was to please.

As I watched the TV scene in 2011, I saw my1960’s  life in my mind’s movie. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

When my teacher’s group of six met with the administrators’ group of six. I was both the spokesperson and the only woman in the group. There were no female school administrators then, though the majority of teachers were women.

On my way into the negotiating meeting, I made it a point to stop and chat with the secretaries about how their kids were doing and girl stuff like new brands of panty hose. When we were all gathered, instead of sitting down and getting to work, the superintendent gave me money for the coke machine; I was told to go after 12 cokes and I did.

See how my innocence sabotaged that meeting right at the beginning? I might have been the most articulate choice for the teacher’s group but I had a long way to go before I broke out of gender roles and could meet those big boys on a level playing field.

Along with many women of my generation, I’ve had to learn to speak up and be heard. If you are interested, you can read about other aspects of my journey in my book, Wise Women don’t worry, Wise Women don’t sing the blues.

That was then and this is now so I am free to see this memory scrap as either a comedy or a tragedy. However, I must ask myself if I’m still trying to please people?

If I’m honest, the answer is yes and no. I’m much better about protecting myself from difficult people and bullies but I can still let my need to please others distract me. Sometimes I talk on the telephone too long and don’t get my work done. Sometimes I accept an invitation I’d like to ignore. Sometimes I choose a platitude over the blunt truth of my belief.

Yes, I’m still a people pleaser sometimes but I know it is not too late to change. It’s true I’m no longer an innocent ingénue, nevertheless, I’m still the star of my own movie and I can speak my own lines. Isn’t life wonderful?

Ask Yourself

Can you speak up?

Are you a people pleaser?

Who is in charge of your time and energy?


One Comment on “Speaking Up”

  1. Maxine Kaye says:

    Right on, Dr. Jane. Your insights are as timeless as they are wise. Thanks for encouraging us all to stand in our truth and “speak up.” You do it so well.

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