My Turn: Teachers deserve a living wage

Posted: Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fifty years ago this spring, I made a commitment. I made it, I thought, with my eyes at least as wide open as a college senior could prop them. I committed my life to a career as an educator, confident that while teachers in 1959 were staring up at a financial ceiling above which my classmates - the doctors, the lawyers, the plumbers, the garbage truck drivers - would spend the rest of their comfortable lives.

Despite that ceiling, my dream included the belief that society would some day progress to a moral ground where our youth is at least as important as the rubbish we ship weekly to our landfill, and that in time teachers would be paid commensurately.

Apparently my vision was clouded over with a misplaced faith that the 1959 ceiling would one day become a firm foundation upon which teachers could stand with pride as we encouraged our charges to dream with their eyes wide open and to pursue their own visions, their own lives with zest and gusto.

Tragically I stand here, mere months from the conclusion of my half-century dream, disillusioned and - quite frankly - angry that instead of our ceiling becoming more reachable, it has risen to the point where now it is clearly out of sight.

Part of my dream was that, upon the conclusion of my half-century of faithful dedication and service to our young, I would be ushered out with a pat on the back and a hearty thank-you for the part I've played in launching nearly 8,000 students on their ways to successful lives. I never dreamed that instead of the pat on the back, my colleagues and I would be dealt a firm boot in the rear and an offer to work extra days at less than minimum wage.

So I end my career and my dream on a fiduciary note that rings out two messages loud and clear: 1) You and your fellow teachers are, and always have been, the least valued professionals in our world; and 2) Our children are not our most treasured resource, and the people who nurture, love, teach and, in many cases, parent them daily are not thought to be worthy enough to be part of the American Dream.

Please, reconsider how important your children are and how worthy their teachers are of receiving a competitive, professional, or at the very least, a living wage. It may be too late to do anything for me, but you can help salvage the dreams of my fellow teachers - and the dreams of your priceless children.

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