Teachers are being ridiculed and shamed in an effort to garner the public’s support in stripping away the pension and benefits they legally and ethically deserve. It is not the fault of the people who have dedicated themselves to serving the children of Kentucky, when years ago the governor and legislators decided to “borrow” money from the lucrative teacher retirement system to keep the government solvent and running. Money that had been contributed over the years by the teachers from their own salaries as per the law. It is also not the fault of the teachers that the legislature has not made repaying that “loan” a priority. Prior to that time, Kentucky was known to have one of the top 5 teacher retirement systems in the nation. As decisions are made, the people of Kentucky have the opportunity to right the wrongs committed over the last few years and decades. We are on the brink of either destroying the teaching profession in Kentucky or turning the tides and creating a newfound respect and appreciation for a dedicated group of professionals. The legislature can own the choices that were made in the past. This is about so much more than a benefits package for future, current or retired Kentucky teachers. This is about the future of education for every child in the state of Kentucky. The solution to the budget woes of our state should not be devastating to our education system or to our future citizens. Instead of the easy solution, our elected officials need to look for more creative cuts across the board to cut wasteful spending. Then, we should all begin to change the culture of public opinion regarding teachers and education.
Andreas Schleicher, who travels the globe to administer the PISA Test(a global measurement that studies, compares and then ranks countries against one another, then uses that same data to help schools improve) has discovered during this process, that the most important factor in educational success is not classroom size, not funding and not the inclusion of technology – it is how the community perceives the Profession of Education. In the highest performing countries, teachers are honored and respected as the caretakers of their children’s future. Teaching, in these countries, is one of the highest paid professions. The best and brightest students are encouraged to enter the teaching profession. It is an honor to have a teacher in your family. This is in stark contrast to the climate created in Kentucky where some of our top government officials have ridiculed teachers openly and freely, in addition to threatening to strip away the promised pension and benefits for which we have invested our lives and “sweat equity.” Look at the most successful schools in our own state and you will see that type of culture exists in their communities.
Teaching is not a 7:30 to 3:30 job. It is not a 5-day a week job. It is not a 10-month a year job. It is not a job from which you receive material wealth. After the final bell rings at the end of the school day, teachers are busy making plans for instruction, attending meetings, serving on committees, meeting with parents, grading student work, coaching extracurricular activities, watching videos on how to improve instruction, learning about new technology, reading books on concepts that promise to improve instruction, the list goes on and on. This does not stop on Friday. Many of these activities continue on the weekends and throughout breaks. The two months of summer pass quickly as teachers spend the time in a myriad of professional development opportunities and improving teaching environments while they have their rooms to themselves. There is rarely a day “off” as a trip to the beach often includes collecting items to display in the classroom or use in a lesson. Even watching a movie can spark an idea of something to include in instruction.
Teachers understand the importance of good attendance and that, no matter how well prepared, a substitute that is a stranger – without the knowledge of and cultivated relationships with their students – cannot deliver the quality of instruction as they would. Therefore, teachers choose to come to school even when it would be better for their personal health or easier on their schedule. Their dedication to their craft and their students should be rewarded, rather than publicly condemned as some sort of an attempt to cheat the system to receive more money than “they deserve.” It is a travesty that, in some school districts, a sanitation truck driver can make more than a starting teacher’s salary or when a recent high school graduate can take a trade he learned in vocational school and within three years make $30,000 more than a teacher who has been in the classroom 30 years – yes, even the teachers that trained that student. Giving teachers financial credit for their sick days is a small token toward honoring their time, efforts and dedication.
In his book, “The Power of Positive Leadership” bestselling author and speaker Jon Gordon writes, “The world measures leaders by their results, and this causes many leaders to focus only on the results and outcomes, meaning, they focus on the fruit of the tree and ignore the root. However, we know that if you focus on the fruit and ignore the root, the tree dies. That’s not my opinion. It’s the truth, and we see it play out all too often on sports teams, businesses, hospitals, schools, churches, and families. If you want great fruit, you must invest in the root. If you invest in the root, you will always receive a great supply of fruit. Of course, you should measure your fruit, but you should do so knowing that it’s simply a byproduct of how well you are nurturing the root.”
Please keep in mind that even with all the money and time we spend on developing, administering and grading the state test – the test doesn’t educate the students, it merely assesses their learning. The millions of dollars and thousands of hours invested in the ability to incorporate the latest and greatest technology into our instruction doesn’t educate the students, technology is merely a tool. To make the appropriate investment in improving Kentucky’s ability to provide the highest quality education to our students, you must invest in our TEACHERS.
Beth Stribling, A Proud and Dedicated National Board Certified Teacher
Murray Middle School