Insult to injury for under-appreciated teachers | AspenTimes.com
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Insult to injury for under-appreciated teachers

John Colson

Thinking back to my days in public school, and the battles I had with most of my teachers and administrators, I tend to wax nostalgic about the ones who showed me respect and friendship, and wish for eternal damnation for the ones who treated me like a pariah because I wore my hair long, my jeans on the scruffy side and sported a glazed, faraway look in my eye.Such thoughts don’t come up much, but every now and then when I’m working on a story about local schools, a stroll down the hallways can bring it all back, good and bad, the wasted time and the times I was wasted. My job requires that I read all sorts of dry stuff to keep current on the trends and events that affect my “beats,” change my understanding of the world, alert me to events or actions by supposed guardians of society that actually are destructive of said society, that sort of thing.”Bleaaahhh!” you say?I can’t argue with that reaction, since a lot of this stuff is either so boring or so depressing it makes you want to step in front of a fast-moving semi.On the other hand, keeping up with the times and crimes usually gets my juices flowing, my brain teetering at the edge of outrage, and that’s a good thing. Mortality can be a tricky concept, and I find it invigorating to remind myself I’m alive and part of the world.And sometimes nuggets of pure gold come pushing up out of the desert sands of my reading material, like a column in the most recent edition of American Teacher, by Ed McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers.Teachers, as most residents of the United States should know, are among our least-appreciated worker group. They put in incredibly long hours, are at the bottom of the ladder of pay scales (somewhere near journalists, I might add), and at least half of all students hate their teachers’ guts at one time or another, just on general principle.It’s a tough row to hoe, this garden of young minds, and in middle and high school it only gets worse with the addition of raging hormones, troubled egos and complex social groupings.But in terms of smoothing the road to the future, there is no more important job that I can think of. That’s why it was troubling to read McElroy’s rather somber assessment of the current state of teacher pensions.It seems that teacher retirement benefits are currently being viewed as “a financial time bomb” and “a death spiral for districts,” in the words of a USA Today editorial. This is because teaching staffs mushroomed in tandem with the much ballyhooed baby boom, and a lot of those teachers are nearing retirement age.According to McElroy, a lot of school districts are being advised to do as corporate America is doing and “roll back public employee benefits.”The underpinnings of this crisis are deep, messy and impossible to outline in detail in a mere column.But I must point out that all this pressure should not be viewed as happening in a vacuum. It is very much a part of the same framework in which the upper tiers of the corporate world rake in billions while merging companies, outsourcing labor, slashing payrolls for the lower echelons and dumping their promised retirement benefits on the back of the federal taxpayers, the majority of whom are watching their annual incomes fall in real dollars with every passing year.Teachers, it seems to me, once enjoyed at least the protection of being government employees who were protected by their unions and by the fact that government is not as cutthroat as the private sector.But that is becoming a bygone myth, as our government falls farther into the hands of those who believe religiously that what is good for business is good for America, a convenient belief for them as long as they are on top of both heaps – business and government, that is.It would be easy at this point to rain down condemnation on President George Bush and the Republicans, whose party most nakedly pursues the vampirical piracy that is sucking our nation dry. But the fact is that the Democrats are not much better, and the derisive label that denotes this sorry state of affairs, “Republicrats,” is far too close to the truth.It’s a truth that too many of us, teachers included, are learning pretty late in the game.John Colson can be reached at jcolson@aspentimes.com


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