2008-04-10 / Letters to the Editor

Teachers need your support

As a teacher, I feel the need to respond to letters regarding teachers and the state of our educational system.

First, teacher contracts and unions do much more than just "protect" and "limit the restrictions" on teachers. Teachers care about students' learning conditions and want students to reach high standards. Teachers' unions fight to help students learn better. Limiting a union's ability to negotiate important items such as class size, health and safety, student discipline, specialists' caseloads, and qualifications for employment will hurt students.

Teachers are in the schools everyday and see what is best for students. We should have more say, not less say, in important issues facing our schools. Collective bargaining is the only avenue available to public schools teachers to express our ideas and take a stand on what are the best methods to educate students. Teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions.

The idea that learning will improve if teachers' salaries are be based on students' test scores is flawed. What about those teachers who work in our lower socioeconomic areas? Or those teachers who work with students in special education? Based on standardized test results, students who receive special education or who come from a lower socioeconomic area are usually "lower-performing" than students who are "more privileged." Should teachers be punished for taking on the "more challenging" students? Will our good teachers in these areas switch positions to work with the "higher-performing" students?

How should I be paid for being a health and physical education teacher? In physical education, my students and I work on character development, sportsmanship, teamwork, respect, physical fitness, and the development of the skills and appreciation needed to maintain a physically active lifestyle. In health, my students learn about the growth and development of their bodies, the importance of proper nutrition, how to protect and improve the environment, how to be a wise-consumer, how to recognize and handle their emotions, and how to prevent disease transmission. In adaptive physical education, I work with students with both physical and cognitive disabilities. We work on balance, core strength, relaxation techniques, and improving overall fitness levels. This just scrapes the surface of what my students and I do during the year. There are no standardized tests that measure what my students learn and the lifelong effect that all teachers have on their students.

It is no secret that teachers are among the lowest paid professionals. There is now legislation in front of the general assembly that would further limit teacher's pensions and health care. I became a teacher to help better the lives of children, to enjoy what I do, and to know that I make a positive difference in the future. I did not become a teacher to become rich, but I did expect affordable health care and a secure retirement. Based on the public perception of teachers and the proposed bills, I am scared about the outlook of my professional and personal future.

Think teachers are overpaid? For the sake of argument, let's just pretend that teachers act as babysitters (everyone knows teachers do much more than just baby sit). If a teacher got paid $5 an hour for each of the 25 students he or she teaches, for every hour of the school day that they teach, for every day of the school year, that teacher would earn more like $100,000. And that's just for babysitting at the low rate of $5 an hour. A top-step teacher in my district earns little more than $60,000 a year. Even with benefits, that really doesn't seem like that much now does it?

The assertion that teachers are not held responsible for their performance is false. As a teacher, I am continuously evaluated by other teachers, department heads, and principals. My school requires progress towards continuing education and completing professional development training in all areas of teaching. Not one teacher in my school is exempt from these requirements regardless of years taught or degrees earned.

I urge you to bring pressure on the General Assembly not to pass bills that will hurt teachers. Restricting teachers' bargaining rights, contracts, and salaries will not help to improve student learning.

Tim Smith Jamestown

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