I am losing my favorite teacher this year.
Michael Donnellon is taking a significant pay raise by moving from right-to-work South Carolina back to his home state, Michigan. The rising juniors at Charleston County School of the Arts won’t be exposed to his crass, often inappropriate humor, and I won’t get to drop in on his class to bother him.
We’re sending him off right with a Kurt Vonnegut original screenprint and a large card made by our visual arts department, but the space he’s leaving in our history department is palpable already.
His departure has gotten a few of us thinking about the way we run our schools and what we’ll be missing when he’s gone.
The average teacher in South Carolina, where a “minimally adequate education” is required by law, makes $47,000 a year. In Michigan: $64,000.
Our school is second in the state for academics, right behind Academic Magnet, with which we share a campus. Nationally, Academic Magnet ranks 10th. Charleston County School of the Arts runs in at 457th. The gap speaks for itself.
A few teachers have openly admitted to leaving gaps in our knowledge that standards do not require, and not caring about what happens to us after we pass or fail their classes. But we have, in essence, a staff of teachers who want us to be better human beings and to contribute to society in an intelligent way that makes our voting in the future less of a danger.
One of these teachers is Michael Donnellon, whose commitment to cultivating us to think for ourselves and not like our parents, to remove ourselves from the propaganda of politics and history, and to think realistically instead of mythically, has actually managed some changes.
He pointed out the diversity problem at our school where many hadn’t realized one existed, since a lot of us have come from predominantly white schools.
Beyond that, he illuminated truth in politics, removed the mythical nature from our history to expose the less glorious sides of past leaders and policies, and used far too many puns.
Donnellon made us see feminism without the veiled propaganda of more conservative politics that have made it a dirty word and walked us through the constitutionality of everything from protesting on school grounds to Roe v. Wade. He revealed the intricacies of the housing bubble (which seemed awfully similar to another boom and bust around 1929), analyzed the value of social programs when FDR rolled in, and proved to (hopefully) all of us, that a woman’s role in society is more than “biscuits and babies.”
Honestly, South Carolina is a perfect brew for losing great teachers, and no one was surprised when he decided to make the move. He belongs in a better institution with better pay and a better attitude about education, but our little school is going to hate to see him go. He’s made the kind of impact only a truly dedicated and intelligent person can: He teaches.
And the importance of that should never be undervalued.
11th Grade, School of the Arts