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October 23, 2008

Teaching Teachers A Little Respect

Joan Marie Aquilino

Teachers, what do I say? I'm sorry you didn't get everything you wanted? I'm sorry you didn't get it the way you wanted? At this point, not so much anymore.


Teachers, I admire most of you. I think most of you are gifts to our youth but . . . I say this from a place of a parent that raised a teacher and also from a place of a parent who spent as much time inside schools volunteering as she did in her own home.


I’m sure there were weeks and even months when I put in way over 40 hours and I never got paid for any of it. I did it for several reasons, love of children and also support and admiration for their teachers. Think about those volunteers now when you refuse to do any extra work yourselves. Are you showing them respect and appreciation? Is this only about you, or do you also respect and care about your students and those that give so much to help you?


Teachers, right now I'm very disappointed in the way some of you are behaving. You teach Character Counts, but it seems some of you have forgotten what you are teaching.


I've conducted many public meetings and seen better respect from people fearing the loss of their property rights, not just 45 minutes. You were asked to follow the rules which were, hold your applause until the end, follow the time limits and to leave the room quietly so the meeting could continue. Not one of those rules was followed.


To speak to an adult audience as if they are 2nd graders did nothing for me personally in getting your points across. To teach your class and the way to negotiate a contract requires different skills. Over all, it appears you expect the respect you aren't willing to give.


Here’s an example using 100 teachers. Twenty-Five percent of you should be elevated to sainthood and given halos for your dedication and commitment to a most worthy profession; twenty-five percent of you should reevaluate if this is your cup of tea. The last fifty percent falls somewhere in the middle, most in the dead center of adequate, many working your way up the sainthood ladder. Before you take offense, is this not how you evaluate the students and even their parents?


Obviously the 45 minute planning time isn't the real issue; but, as with all things, it's been brought down to a matter of whether or not to provide 45 minutes the way the teachers want it. It's a power play of sorts; and – honestly – what is wrong with that. Someone has to be in charge and since the Board of Education is the one entrusted with the money to run this system, they win by default. At this stage, if they would cave-in, I’d lose total respect for them, also.


One of the things I've always talked against with our Board of Education and the teachers is that they use our children to get what they want. I am perfectly aware that you teach my children. I don't need to be reminded of it each and every time you want something. To use children as a bargaining chip is wrong on so many levels. The students should never be part of any of this battle. This is a battle between employee and employer, not the customers, who in this case are the children.


If you want to fight for your wages, benefits, etc., do it on the merits, not because you are holding children hostage and you won't do for them if you don't get such and such. You have a captive customer in this case because the law requires children to be in school and most parents aren’t equipped to home school.


Try this one on for size. Two parent household where both equally love their five children. One is the majority wage earner and the other is the majority caregiver. The wage earner is struggling for a new position, yet sacrifice is needed. After both discuss the situation, the wage earner decides he will go for it, but it's a freeze on salary for the next two years, thus making things a bit tighter.


Does the caregiver throw a fit and refuse to cloth and feed the children because they are in disagreement? Or do they take the cuts in other places that won't adversely affect the children? Of course, it doesn't make the huge visual impact that hungry and unkempt children would make, but it's what is best for everyone.


Let’s say that the teachers union took this example and used it this year. Okay, the teachers wouldn't have gotten everything they wanted, but when contract negotiations start again – that is when you remind everyone you were the good guys last time. You’ve lost that ability now.


The lesson needed to be taught and learned from all this is to leave the students and parents out of your employee/employer battles. You've been hired to do jobs. Do them to the best of your ability. And when it becomes impossible, then it's time to move on. Don't hold our children hostage.


We all make choices in this life. Yours was to be a teacher. You make a living wage. You have excellent benefits, and I don't know of any occupation that doesn't put in way more hours than they get paid for. Keep in mind this is not – in most cases – a year round job. You have time off to further your education, which is paid for – by the way, or to obtain part time work. Once again, your choice.


If you didn't pay union dues and constant contributions to party funds, etc., your living wage might be easier to live on. Yes, you buy things for your classrooms. My own daughter has spent literally thousands of dollars, and I've emptied out my closets of their childhood books and games to give her, also. I've used personal money and items for my own jobs. I also put in 60 to 80 hour weeks when I'm only being paid for 40. It's just what people do.


Start your negotiation for next year by saying: “we put our students first and made the choice that was in the best interest of teaching, so we now start fresh and here are our wishes.”


In closing, yes, teachers are very special people, doing a very special job. Please consider some advice and put the children first. This is the lesson you taught me and I learned it well. And I thank you for that lesson. Good luck next year.


’til next time…


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