The Vilification of a Once Respected Profession

Is there anyone else who is sick of being told they are a money-sucking, taxpayer-draining leech?  The amount of misinformation that pops up in comments on newspaper websites, in the press in general, in conversation is head-shaking to me.

After reading Joanna Weiss’s op-ed column in today’s Globe, I decided it would be worth sending to a friend of mine via email. What caught my eye before the transaction could be completed was that – even at 8:17 in the morning – 66 people had already commented on her column. That 66 people were so moved to comment before I’ve had my second cup of Sunday morning coffee fascinated me. And so, I began reading what the general public reaction might be.

About halfway down the list there it was: a disgruntled parent (or so the poster claims) questioning why taxpayers should pay the high salaries of public employees when — and this is paraphrased so be sure to check it out for your own reaction — he/she KNOWS her son’s middle school Spanish teacher who works just 25 hours a week for $68,000 a year before benefits.

People, the 25-hour work week for teachers is just so much BS. I may work 25 hours ON TOP of what I am committed to in the classroom. I get paid what I get paid to work 180 days out of the year. This past week I’ve been on school break – those 5 days DO NOT count toward 180 – go check your school’s academic calendar, it will show you the facts. I work what I work because that’s what my students deserve and that is what it takes to write plans, to evaluate assessments, to remediate. I am not stupid, dumb, or lazy. I also pay taxes and I belong to a union.

I am not seeking more money – although I could make use of more. I am not seeking to pay less than my share of pension, which BTW is 11 percent of my weekly check. And before another myth gets tossed about, that 11 percent is INVESTED by the Commonwealth. The taxpayers DO NOT fund the other 89 percent of my pension. I contribute to my health insurance to the tune of nearly $400 each month. I haven’t had a COLA or other raise in over 3 years…. just like many people in the private sector.

When I began teaching, I worked in a Parochial school. My class size was 30 students. For primary grades, 30 students is a lot – particularly in this era when socio-economic needs are far above and beyond what those of us who went to school in the 60s can imagine.  In general, my school obligations required me to give up at least one or more weekend days starting in March and ending with the last day of school. Not voluntarily — these were events at which teachers were commanded to be present. And for this I made less than $20,000 a year (MEd. plus 10 years experience aside). The greatest benefit of a Union for me was the improvement of working conditions.

Why this perception of public employees and teachers in particular? Well, for one thing, everyone has been in school and thinks they can teach. For those of you who think it’s so easy, please come and spend the day – or the week if you want. My opinion though is that a second, more sinister move is afoot. People such as the Koch brothers and their agenda manipulate the public. I fear that their mission won’t be completed until it’s too late for ordinary citizens to push back. Is this country’s destiny truly to be a haven for the “haves” ?

I came into education as a career changer. I changed because I felt strongly that education is the great equalizer. It is the means by which those who were not born into money and success can work hard and achieve their dream. Teachers – and other public sector employees – provide those opportunities; they keep our communities safe and clean. They provide service for everyone, not just for those who could otherwise afford such services. And we deserve more than continual vilification.