December 17, 2012

Teaching For The Money

Because I wanted to post a cat picture, and this was highly relevant.

How many teachers do you know? How many teachers do you know who got into teaching because it paid well? How many teachers do you know who got into teaching because making a difference in kids lives and doing something worthwhile was important to them?

I know several teachers and not one of them got into it because it would make them rich. Sure, regular vacations was appealing, especially to those who want kids (making it easier to have a career and kids). But my teacher friends figured they'd have about enough to get by - maybe their spouses would have higher earning careers so they could afford the kids they wanted.

My teacher friends paid their own money to go through a credential program in order to teach the children of their communities. And they do it while paying down the loans they took to get their Bachelors and their credentials (and some their masters), making just enough money do do so and pretend to be middle class, and if they put in enough time they'll get a nice teaching position in a school close to their homes and have their loans paid off and be able to lead nice, modest lives.

But what is the first thing on the chopping block every time we have budget issues? Teachers. School supplies. Even the number of days our kids are in school. And how does this help? It gives teachers fewer earning days a year, lessening their salaries by hundreds or thousands, which means they have less money to spend on their kids or their classrooms (a lot of teachers use their own money to buy classroom supplies), less money to spend improving our economy. It also means parents of kids have to spend more money on daycare or more time bribing others to watch their kids or take more time off work (days they don't earn money) to keep their kids occupied. Each day a parent doesn't earn money is less money the family has to spend on the economy, and each paycheck that goes to daycare is less money on other things. How this will help our economy in the long run is something that I've yet to understand.

Politicians have all but accused teachers of not being altruistic enough when they protested budget cuts. Every year hundreds of teachers (whole school systems) receive layoff notices, putting hundreds of people out of work. Many of these teachers regain their jobs or find new jobs in other districts, but the stress that ensues means they stash away any extra cash they might have, stopping it from reentering the economy. Politicians stop just short of saying our kids' education isn't important, teachers should just be happy to be influencing the next generation, and there are more important things than school. 

But what happens when these same teachers lay down their lives - literally - for their students? What happens when teachers hide their kids from a gunman, saving them, and lose their lives for their efforts? All we can do is call them heroes. But in 6 months when we're still having budget issues these teacher's colleagues will be on the chopping block. Again. Because we have no other way to thank them. 

Perhaps it's time to start rethinking our values as a country. Maybe the second amendment isn't as important as the value we place on education from a young age. Maybe a defense budget isn't as important as widespread physical and mental health care. Maybe we should commit to short term sacrifices for the long term good. Or maybe I'm just a liberal woman who doesn't know anything.

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