Veteran teacher responds to letter’s criticism

Oh, my, Barbara Paris. Your letter made me hitch my overalls up a notch with each thumb and take a stand with your April 16 letter in the Public Forum. As an elementary teacher for 35 years, I feel I have a right, as well as an obligation, to impart some knowledge to you and any others who may feel as you do, that teachers need to “EARN the raises.” (And you may call me Terry, Mrs. Ed, Ms. Ed or Mrs. Edmondson … makes no difference to me as long as you are listening.)

I am not sure where to begin, but I think I will start with teachers’ 12-month salary contract. You state, “teachers are in the classroom maybe eight months out of the year, what with vacations, holidays, school breaks, summers off, etc.” Teachers report for duty during the first week of August and check out the last week of May. Those are our “contract days.” Many of us are working long hours before and after what our contract requires, at home or school, making plans and getting units/lessons ready in July for the August onset.

Our salary is divided into 12 months and in the two months we have “off,” most of us are taking classes (at our own expense) to either attain our master’s or doctoral degree, taking college classes (at our own expense) for the eight hours needed to recertify our teaching license every five years, teaching summer school, or actually having a family vacation! (Yes, many of us have families of our own!) And many take on a second job just to make ends meet.

On days students have off during the school year, many of those days, (not holidays), teachers spend having in-services to receive instruction on how to better educate and meet students’ needs. During our duty days, we come in early and leave late — no time cards involved as that would go into overtime that would be insurmountable. We are the ones that are there for the morning greetings and at the evening programs after school to support the students whose parents couldn’t make it.

We use our own money to buy hats, coats, gloves, supplies, food, incentives, books, etc., etc., etc., for students so no child feels less fortunate, or goes home unfulfilled. Even if I wanted to calculate the total dollars spent by teachers in one year for these items and so much more, I would not. We do it for one reason only: We do it because we care.

And then there are the hours of grading papers, making plans, worrying about the students’ home lives and what we can do to make it safer or better, educating parents with phone calls, notes, etc., to keep them informed of what is happening in the eight hours we spend with their child each day (except for our 27-minute lunch time) as opposed to the limited time parents have with them. (I apologize for the run-on sentence. I could still go on and on!) Thank God for that quality time parents have while teachers are on vacation shopping for jeans and overalls to add to their extensive wardrobes, avoiding students who may see and greet them on a first-name basis!

No one in education went into the field for the money. We knew from the outset that it would not be a lucrative paying job. The changes I have seen in 35 years of teaching in the economy, attitudes, respectfulness, trends, clothing, etc., have not really been changes at all. They are all pendulums that I have seen go back and forth, with the causes and cures only being renamed.

And, lastly, to your statement, “unfortunately, too many of today’s teachers are not deserving of raises, just as they are not deserving of respect,” I take great exception. Across-the-board raises, as opposed to pitting class scores as the relevant factor affecting pay raises? Teacher trenches are not like professional sporting venues. Teachers don’t have agents working to get individual teachers higher wages and trades to better their worth. We work as a real TEAM, supporting each other with one major goal: to prepare ALL students for their future in whatever walk they choose. We don’t ask for your respect; we EARN it. And if you want to throw in a belt to hold our Levi’s up, I guess that could be called a “bonus.”