Archive for Thursday, June 15, 2006

Local teacher contemplates value of career

June 15, 2006

This year in the Eudora school district there has been a surge of unrest among teachers. Feelings of anger, hopelessness, betrayal, denial and outrage have filtered through the buildings. Voices have been raised with the passion of a church choir singing, "Teachers make more than money. We teach because we love our students/our subject/our community/our future. We teach because we care."

Our concern for society's future has become as an excuse to not pay us for the present. As we have fought this year for the rights of teachers in Eudora, many people have reminded us that we didn't go into teaching for money. As this battle between the school board and the teachers is drawing to a close, I find myself wondering if the profession of teaching is worth the fight.

As a science teacher, it was my pleasure to host a doctor from the community on Career Day this year. I was listening to this doctor talk about how one doesn't go into medicine for money. He said you go into medicine because you want to help people.

There are huge sacrifices in practicing medicine for example, being paged at 2 a.m., lengthy, expensive schooling, and long hours.

Being a doctor is not easy; it requires quick thinking and problem solving. Doctors are highly educated and must continue to seek new methods of practicing medicine. Their education does not stop with their degree. They can be easily sued and must carry huge amounts of liability insurance.

Doctors are responsible for people's quality of life and quantity of life.

For the things doctors do, we reward them well. Doctors are revered. They deserve it. Their help is priceless.

Many of us have had our lives changed by improvements in health care. The responsibilities of a doctor are enormous. For this, they are well compensated.

According to a local doctor, you will not be a millionaire as a doctor, but you will be in the top 5 percent of wage earners.

With the utmost sincerity, the majority of doctors are worth every penny.

As I listened to that doctor, I couldn't help but think of how teaching is like practicing medicine. One doesn't go into teaching for monetary wealth.

We teach because we care. There are huge sacrifices in teaching-- late nights spent grading papers, planning and scheming how to trick the students into learning any number of abstract ideas.

Teachers work long hours putting their personal interests aside. Teachers are responsible for the quality of society. It is our charge to represent, understand and communicate to a wide range of individuals. With this charge comes the responsibility of treating the ailments of society: apathy, illiteracy and narrow-mindedness leaving no child behind.

As with doctors, we must meet each individual where they are, think on our feet and solve problems. Teachers must continually educate themselves and continually prove they are adequate to fill the position they have.

Teachers must learn new technologies and new methods. We must stay in tune with the heartbeat of people a fraction of our age; continually remembering what it was like to walk in the shoes of a 5- to 18-year-old kid.

We are responsible for catching the young up on a cultural literacy we all share as Americans and human beings. We teach people competitive advantages for getting jobs, finding solutions and making money.

For the things teachers do, we pay them poorly.

To quote Frank McCourt author of Teacher Man, "Teaching is the downstairs maid of professions."

A fellow colleague was frustrated because her brother, with his high school education, received a job offer as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant making more than she did as a second-year teacher. I asked what his salary was and I was shocked to learn that it was almost as much as mine and I have three college degrees, including a master's degree.

With my level of education, my students often ask why I teach.

"Don't you want to make money?"

McCourt sardonically refers to ATTO ("all that time off") as the great reward for teaching. This reward boasts an 8- to 10-week vacation, the grand payback for the many 60-hour work weeks during the year.

To all of the aspiring teachers reading this, don't be romanced but this idea. The additional schooling, training, curriculum work and preparation for the coming year will dwindle this time down quickly. What's left will barely give you time to get a part-time job. Even then people will not want to hire short-term help that will certainly quit when the school year starts, especially if the work involves any sort of intellectual skill. Instead, you find yourself working along high school and college students for $6 to $8 an hour just to make a little extra cash. The extra money might just be enough to pay for more schooling or to pick away at that remaining school debt.

No human in any service profession can truly be paid what he or she is worth. If we value our society, we must maintain the instrument that fuels the improvement of society. If we depend on medicine, technology or military prowess to enrich and protect our society, we must value education.

The quality of education in the United States is often called into question. The government insists that education in this country improve. They are continually writing and rewriting laws in these interests. If we attracted the creative, intelligent, caring, dedicated members of our society with a livable, attractive salary, what would happen to the state of education? If the best, brightest, most communicative people were teachers, what would the world of education look like in the United States?

I was told in college that the world of education would change. Teacher salaries are improving. With districts all around raising the bar for teachers' salaries in accordance with the decisions made by the courts, our district refuses to make this leap. As teachers we feel left behind, abandoned and hopeless.

In the midst of this situation, I know this cause is worth much more than the fight. However, we are weary of fighting for a living wage for teachers. It seems the only solutions are to bail out of this district, leaving the community, students and programs we care deeply about behind, or find a new passion and a new career to support our families.

-- Crystal Wood is a science teacher at Eudora High School.

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