Columnist for Friday, 5/18 - Cindy

An Apple for Teacher

So I've been seeing these advertisements lately about teachers. A financial planning firm tells the story of the wealthy businessman who wants to retire at age 40 so he can afford to teach high school like he's always dreamed. And the large banking institution, which really cares about education, willing to let teachers buy homes for no money down. They care. They really care.

I try to keep my heavy-handed political ranting to a minimum, but this kind of self-congratulatory, totally destructive schmaltz makes me want to hit someone's head with a crowbar until I see gleaming pink brain. Home loans for no money down? Translation: we know teachers are stuck in their jobs, and going after their wages is child's play if they try to stiff us. Besides, down payments only really serve to bring down the monthly interest owed, so by offering nothing down the Bank makes *more* money off teachers than people who can afford the traditional 20%. So long as the extra interest is more profitable than the losses taken on defaulted loans, the Bank comes out ahead. End message: teachers are suckers.

And our friendly businessman, who dreams of escaping corporate meetings for the rewarding career of teaching kids? First, he's a fictional character. The odd psychotic pulls this kind of stunt, but 99 times out of 100 the credential program is too annoying to tolerate and a few therapy sessions convince him what he really wants to do is sail around the world. Second, we cannot properly educate fifty million kids on the well-meaning whims of the idle rich. It has the same fundamental flaw as Charity: Rich weirdos are too rare to count on as a permanent solution.

Teachers need to be paid for their work. I mean, really PAID. Not just enough for rent and bus fare and the biannual appetizer at Sizzler, but enough that their profession commands some actual societal respect. Sure, they're supposed to "love" their jobs (this was the Reagan administration tactic: "Only dedicated teachers will work for these wages! You want dedicated teachers, right?"), but doctors are supposed to love healing the sick and you don't see *them* driving 12 year old Ford Escorts to work. I want to hear people on the street complaining about the overpaid teachers who don't care about kids, they're only in it for the money. I want to see stressed-out 19 year olds, cramming for their Education 92 midterms, worried that if they don't make the 97th percentile they'll never get their credential and end up teaching GRE Prep courses. I took a few Education classes in college. They let me grade my own finals.

One summer, I met my high school science teacher working on a construction site. He told me that without this kind of extra income, he'd never be able to get by. This man was the former chief biologist for the city of Houston, fired from his job for telling newspapers about the city using Agent Orange to control excess vegetation in a river running right through town. His bosses told him to call the papers back and deny the story, he replied with statistics about birth defects among Vietnamese women exposed to the compound, and in his words, "That's how I got into teaching!" I realize it might be too much to ask that he live in the lap of luxury for being a brave citizen, but perhaps someone with his qualifications could get paid better money for teaching kids than for pounding nails?

I'm no hard-core capitalist. Money can't solve all problems, and it really doesn't buy happiness. But there's something fundamentally WRONG with offering a job that's essential to the success of a society, requiring post-graduate education and absurd time commitments, and not paying the recipients enough to send their own children to college. Let's see, we're looking for people who believe in children, and education, but who are apparently content to let their OWN kids top out at high school. This is where we get the current crop of dumb, myopic teachers who just sort of fell into the profession, the bored spouses of people with profitable jobs, and the few idealistic lunatics. I love the idealistic lunatics, of course, but again, there aren't enough of them to go around.

Do I mean to bash on our teachers? Yes, I do. We all had a few great teachers growing up. Some were the kind who really spoke to the students, and taught by inspiring a real interest in the subject. Some were the hard assed kind who assigned three times as much work as anyone else and demanded perfection. But now think back a bit further to the teachers that taught before and after those classes. The tired-eyed math teacher who assigned only the odd numbered problems, so the students could copy the answers out of the back of the book. The beloved but doddering English teacher, whose obsession with grammar would lead her to flunk the Great American Novel for two misused commas and a run-on sentence. The babysitter/Art Teacher, born for no better purpose than to provide an effort-free elective period for the kids who couldn't hack the rigorous time demands of Yearbook.

Some real wages and some honest competition, and these people would be straight out of a job. And these are the teachers who are royally screwing things up for those who would LIKE to teach, but are fundamentally offended at the low pay, the lack of real advancement, and the gauntlet of bureaucratic bullshit required to get their foot in the door. For years teachers have been like the town hussy, giving it away for a smile and a thank you. Oh, they LOVE their jobs, and they do wish they were paid better, but really, the choice to teach is a noble profession and they wouldn't give it up for the world. Enough with these sluts. These people need to become professionals. They need to be WHORES.

They need to walk into that classroom ready to provide as little education as they can give for the most money they can get for it. Sounds frustrating, but it's how you sell anything *else* in a capitalist economy. You want literate kids? For these prices? No, for these prices you get kids who can't read the warning labels on their factory equipment. Willing to pay a little more? Ok. They can learn algebra for that. Trig will cost you though. Calculus is free, but the union gets a percentage of their salary if they become an engineer. We like your little Suzie, but business is business.

Now in theory, there are already entities in place to bargain collectively on the behalf of teachers. But have you ever SEEN a teacher's union in action? They spend about five years idly threatening to strike, then they get really fed up and hold a one-day symbolic walk-out. If this doesn't bring the state to its knees, two years later they strike. For up to two whole weeks, school days are shortened by an hour, and the teachers' elaborate lesson plans are carried out by substitutes. Then, an angry coalition of soccer moms write letters to their congressman about disrupted carpool schedules, and all the teachers are given fifty more dollars a month. "Victory!" proclaims the teacher's union. "But there's still progress to be made..."

Oddly, the teamsters don't have this problem. Everyone bitches about the lazy union guys taking fifteen minute breaks every half an hour, and how impossible they are to fire. Yet mysteriously, there isn't any real national hand wringing about how our trucking institutions just aren't getting boxes delivered from Point A to Point B. And the cool thing is, they don't even break people's legs any more to get their contracts approved. It doesn't hurt that they just might start up again, but after successfully muscling into all corners of America's infrastructure they no longer really have to.

And teachers could totally follow this model. There's a shortage of teachers, and they have access to everyone's KIDS. They're sitting on a gold mine of potential extortion! They don't even need to threaten violence: they have a whole generation of minds to completely screw up. Not garden variety "why can't Billy read" misteaching, but imparting genuinely maleficent information. Teach little Billy that the Constitution was written by Otto Von Bismarck in 1918, and that the salt in sea water comes from "a million years of fish crap." The hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the opposite sides plus four. Required literature? George Orwell's seminal work: "Lace II". War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Which One of You Bitches is my Mother?

The parents whose kids aren't paying attention anyway might not care, but the control freak busybodies who show up at city council meetings sure will. And those are the ones you really need. We might have to whack a couple of the vouchers-will-solve-everything crowd, but they're asking for it anyway.

Basically, it boils down to power. Teachers have it, they just don't USE it. They aren't just wanted, they're needed -- but at the prices they ask, you'd think it was all just a hobby. I've given up expecting the rest of the world to wake up and pay them what they're worth. The world knows how to play the capitalism game, and isn't about to give out mink coats when a bunch of daisies will do the trick.



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