2011-04-29 / Letters

Defending Teachers

Dear Editor,

Some daily newspaper readers purchase the paper for the hard news or the insight of the journalists. Some buy it for the puzzles and the frills. Many subscribe for the sports. However, few buy it for the insults. An article in the April 13, 2011 edition of the Post compared the salaries and pensions of a teacher to that of a grocery worker. Having proudly been both, this journalist feels entitled to comment:

The comparison of earnings and pension payments to grocery workers with that of teachers has to be the ultimate insult for the teacher, not the grocery worker. Unlike a grocery worker, a teacher must invest a fortune in tuition (usually in the form of loans) and time to qualify for her job. The grocery worker can start part time in high school enabling him to earn a paycheck four or five years earlier than the teacher and not start in debt. The difference in earnings, grocery worker with a five year head start is not that great. The teacher’s pension is better. However, they both get a decent health care package upon retirement.

Let us examine the path to teaching: Four years of undergrad, one year of a Masters’ program, another 30 credits above the Masters’ and periodic course requirements are mandatory for teachers to earn their license, keep it and attain the highest salary after serving the required number of years. By today’s college tuition fees, teachers must invest a minimum of $120,000 plus the time to be a teacher, most of the tuition must be repaid as student loans starting the minute the teacher gets her degree. Does any of this apply to a grocery worker? The only professions to which teaching comes close in terms of cost are lawyers and physicians (and, oh, the remunerations). It is a fact in NYC that a teacher is aware he is trading high salary throughout his career for a secure job and a retirement including pension and health coverage. With the cost of living so high in the city, without health benefits, a teacher would not be able to support a family. Only now that the profession and the professionals have clearly deferred being compensated on the job for compensation in retirement at the time of a budget deficit are politicians pointing to the teacher retirement package as outrageous and unsustainable. Only now into his third term is the mayor marionettist promoting LIFO through his puppets, Black and Wolcott.

Within the last year, teacher bashing become the l’engouement du moment of many politicians who would best acquiesce to tax payers (which children are not). Politicians are whittling away at teacher salaries, benefits, pensions and union representation until there is no dignity left in the profession. Is this because teachers are taught and expected to not to fight back? How many college students will be willing to invest the time and treasure in their education with no job security in their future?

Let us clarify misconceptions with regard to teachers and teaching: That rubber rooms are depicted as pervasive rather than the rare exception in NYC teaching is the fault of the unions and the politicians who have allowed this practice to flourish. However, rubber rooms get much of the media attention despite the fact that their very existence offends every prideful teacher under contract. That teachers work only 6 hours and 40 minutes a day is another push button issue when many work closer to 9 daily hours plus arriving early and leaving late to school on a daily basis. In so far as having the summer off is concerned, it took me as a teacher in a rough school, six weeks of my summer ‘vacation’ for my to stop shaking from the duress of the school year. The emotional investment in teaching is real and mentally exhausting.

A wholly transparent way of demeaning the teaching profession in NYC is the appointment of first a non academic to the post of chancellor over 1 million students, then a former elementary school teacher. How obvious does the mayor have to be to send the message he and only he is calling the shots when it come to el-hi education. If not, why doesn’t he hold a talent search to hire the best and the brightest? It seems, according to the mayor anyone could be schools’ chancellor in NYC even a grocery worker.

That a teacher should work longer hours is another issue being examined? Exactly how many hours can a single individual speak in a louder than normal voice in a large room to an audience of anywhere from 32 to 45 students four or five times a day and follow up the talking with visits to each students’ desk annotating corrections and speaking encouragement to each one? For those of you who think teaching is a snap, try it some time for real, not for one day but for one month or for 10 months and for 35 years.

Discipline in the classroom, a can that has been kicked down the road by chancellors and administrators alike for decades retains same guidelines that existed fifty years ago, a time with a lot less violence. A teacher can not raise his hand to a student. However a student can strike a teacher or another student during multiple incidents and only get suspended. A troubled child can destroy the learning environment yet little is done to show the disruptive child and the class that learning is valued over impotent administrative decisions.

There is no denying the reality of budget deficits on the three levels of government. However, tough times never before equated to teacher bashing. They never promoted getting rid of the longest serving in the profession for a new inexperienced teacher. They never dared refer to a new teacher as ‘great.’ They would never have the audacity to compare a teacher’s livelihood with that of a grocery worker.

You could call this obscene comparison comparing apples to oranges: the teachers getting the apples, the grocery workers getting the oranges and the newspaper who compared the two professions getting the dunce cap.


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