ToquiNotes: Kicking the Education Can Down the Road and Showing Little Respect for those Who Teach

By Jeff Toquinto on January 27, 2018 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

I remember my public school years fondly. In fact, one of the things I really thought I was going to be was a teacher. In particular, a history teacher.
 
That all changed in high school when my very straight forward counselor told me – at that time – getting a teaching job in the field I was considering in this part of the state would be tough. At best, I was told it was going to be a long wait.
 
The counselor was correct. A few of my friends who did go that route, spent years substituting before a full-time position became available.
 
Why did I want to become a teacher? It was because the people who taught me were the most influential people in my life outside of my immediate family. They were the ones I looked up to, confided in and, most important, learned from.
 
Even back then, my counselor let me know if I planned on a career in the classroom I wasn’t going to get rich in dollars. The same counselor did vouch for the benefits of teaching the lives of youngsters. He said that would make up for any shortfall.
 
The counselor was correct. People teach for the love of making someone learn; at least the vast majority do.
 
That was 30 years ago. The only thing that’s really changed in the scenario is that it’s a little easier to find employment if you’re qualified. Teachers are a sought after commodity in most fields. Outside of that, people still go into teaching for the love of it and go in knowing that if they stay in the classroom they won’t get rich.
 
That’s okay. Let me emphasize again teachers aren’t working today to get rich. If you think that’s the case, you probably don’t understand the drive of most. And their issue at this very moment that has some wanting to go on strike isn’t about the money.
 
The possibility of a teacher strike is real. Not – once again – because of the money, but other issues that loom much larger. Even with a proposed 1 percent raise, recent absurdity in the coverage offered educators through PEIA is going to make getting on a level ground financially a hard thing to do.
 
Why, can someone explain, does this state continually take our educators for granted?
 
Sure, there’s been a lot of talk about the money involved and funding at some appropriate level would be better, but if you think talk about teachers walking out is over money you’re missing the point. The big bone of contention now is PEIA and issues with proposed premium and deductible increases that make a paycheck even smaller that’s at the very top of the issue list. For years, PEIA was the one carrot educators had and now that is also being screwed with.
 
We expect educators to do one of the most important jobs in society, yet there’s nothing to allow them to even keep up with increases in the cost of living through raises. Add to that the likelihood of substantial hikes on the benefits front and whole bunch of new hoops they have to maneuver  through to keep insurance deductibles from even going higher and you have what you have right now.
 
Teachers have been pushed to the limit. I would imagine a 1 percent raise coupled with increases in benefits will likely result in a pay decrease. That's just more pushing to the limit.
 
State leaders talk constantly of the importance of education. They talk about making West Virginia competitive with surrounding states. They talk about the value we place on teachers and those who make the future possible.
 
There’s sure been a funny way of showing it.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the state’s finances aren’t exactly booming and haven’t been for some time. But if you want to fix the state’s economic woes for the long term instead of hoping for temporary fixes through money made available through a resurgence in coal or natural gas, the place to invest is in education. It should always be that way.
 
Quality educators are the most important resource we can produce in this state. Instead, we’ve devised a plan to show it is okay to leave for a better teaching job elsewhere. We’re going to let it be known if you don’t have an inheritance or spouse pulling down a whole lot of beans with a job featuring good insurance it’s probably best to get a degree in something else or simply look for work in another field where pay and benefits are better.
 
I understand the complexities are much more detailed than how I spell it out here. I’m not an accountant or fiscal expert and to pour through the state’s financials would be a time-consuming exercise in futility. Yet in the simplest terms the state can – and should – make this right.
 
About the only benefit educators can count on is time off in the summer. I know I’d like to have it, too.
 
Yet, as much as I wish I had some time off in the summer I also have seen lights on in Alice Rowe’s room at 10 p.m. on a Monday or talked to Don Burton on a Thursday night while his wife Kym is busy grading papers the entire evening. I have more than one friend that is an educator that is always doing work after hours and on weekends and have watched them do work in my own vehicle while going to a weekend or evening event.
 
Would you like that tradeoff?
 
Here's more. There are more teachers than you can imagine dipping into their own pockets to provide items for the classroom. They did it when I was in school and they do it today.
 
Think that’s not the norm for most? It is, and it has been for decades.
 
I’m never been a proponent for striking by educators because the job is so important, but the state has put the teachers in a fiscally troublesome corner. If a strike happens, I wouldn’t be surprised and the state has no one to blame but itself. And I’d support it. At this point, I think you’ll find a whole lot more people supporting their cause than being against it.
 
You know what? They may just have a whole lot of other public employees in West Virginia from workers with the Division of Highways to State Troopers and more that just might join them. They’re in the same boat of being asked to do more with less and seeing their paychecks decrease as their benefit costs rise.
 
It’s a shame. Actually, it’s an embarrassment.
 
The state’s kicking the education can down the road. It doesn’t appear as if anyone plans on picking it up anytime soon.
 
Editor's Note: The empty hallway at Bridgeport High School is shown above, while educators at Johnson Elementary are shown from a few years ago making the most of having a lack of necessary space by utilizing the hallway.


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