March 18, 2015

I was born and grew up in the Northern Great Plains. During that time, the culture I encountered valued certain professions above others: doctors and nurses, police, firefighters and teachers. Those were considered the noble professions — individuals who had chosen a career of service to others.

My respect for those chosen careers has not waned. Oh, I’ve been made aware of some of the abuses: redundant medical procedures, strikes and union overreaching, for example. But, a society void of committed people to these professions would impoverish us all.

Today, the many politically-motivated attacks on funding for public education has thrust the teaching profession into focus.

When it comes to the excesses of the teachers’ union, mark me down as an opponent. Their “seniority” policies have made it difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers; their work rules are often inflexible; and. their insufficient personal contribution to their own benefit plans are all out of touch with our workforce economy.

But, public school teachers are not overpaid! On the contrary, given their supreme importance to our youth and the nation’s future, they are dramatically underpaid.

And, that is why some of the arguments I have read coming from many governors’ mansions and state legislatures are both disturbing and irresponsibly ignorant.

“Teachers have easy lives because they only work a 6-7 hour day and get a three-month vacation each year!” and “Teachers make too much money!” — are beyond disparaging.

Comments like those are born in ignorance (perhaps, willful). They are also myopic and harmful to America’s future.

Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in the New York Times a couple of years ago, offered an understanding that puts this issue into much better perspective. In a column entitled, “Pay Teachers More,” Kristof wrote, “If we want to compete with other countries, and chip away at poverty across America, then we need to pay teachers more so as to attract better people into the profession. . . . In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher . . . When governors mock teachers as lazy, avaricious incompetents, they demean the profession and make it harder to attract the best and brightest. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.”

Modify the union work rules and require greater contribution to pension and health plans, if you choose — but, stop dumping on the profession.

Doctors and nurses, police, firefighters and teachers remain members of the noble professions. We need more of our most talented young people to choose those careers and we need to pay them greater respect and higher wages in the process.

More on Monday – – –

— Bill Walton: co-Founder, ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Mondays & Wednesdays)