Residents’ misperception of teaching profession saddens educator

To the editor:

When I read the recent letter to the Call from the Oakville graduate bemoaning the amount of vacation time and public money benefits that teachers receive, I did not feel anger at him or those who share his thoughts.

Rather, I feel sadness at the shared disconnect that residents of our district feel the life of a teacher carries little trouble and worry, short work days and two months off in the summer — all at the taxpayers’ expense.

I am a father who has a child attending Mehlville Senior High School and another who will enter Hagemann Elementary School in two years. I am also a teacher, though not one in the district.

I don’t give a second thought to paying money to a doctor to keep my children well, paying a dance teacher to help my daughter learn how to dance or going to certain restaurants that may be more ex-pensive than others if I wish to celebrate certain moments of my children’s lives with a fine meal.

I am sure most of us spend more money on the extras, not the necessities, for our children than what our taxes pay toward supporting schools. Yet why is there a need to be highly critical of the institution and those working in it because the law asks us to help support these institutions? Aren’t they more important than the previous expenditures listed above?

After graduating college, I worked the following year-round jobs before choosing education as a profession to pursue: warehouse worker at a landscaping supply company, waiter and a commercial sales representative for a Fortune 500 company.

From my experience, I can say none of these jobs are as hard as teaching.

Most year-round jobs require little effort beyond the time you punch out; teaching demands that many sacrifices are made before you come into work and after you leave. It truly is a 12-month job squeezed into 10 months.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most people with advanced degrees will make nearly $2.5 million in their earnings lifetime. Teachers will never remotely approach that. Sadly, some district residents will try to make the argument that the retirement system will make millionaires of the district’s teachers.

The unfortunate reality is that a recent survey done by the National Education Association found that 33 percent of all new teachers entering the profession leave it after three years. That number escalates to 46 percent after five years.

Take the U.S. Department of Education’s 2005 examination of departures.

Thirty percent of teachers left in 2003–2004 because of retirement, but 56 percent left citing job dissatisfaction and a desire to find an entirely new career. This is not a job that people stay in because they get a certain amount of time off.

Your district’s teachers are not asking for sympathy. They, as well as I, are grateful that we are working in a troubled economy in a situation to do something meaningful and impactful in the lives of young people.

Perhaps rather than bemoan the resources that are needed to go into our children, we must remind ourselves of the old business adage when it comes to cutting corners, being bottom-line minded and focusing on numbers and not the human element.

This proverb was forgotten in the high-rise offices of many investment banking institutions before the global economic meltdown that has crippled our economy for years. You get what you pay for.

Paul Coffman