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12/24/98 The Parking Lot
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09/17/98 Dollars and Sense

Dollars and Sense

Typically, I don't respond to opinions published in the Letters section of The Acorn. It seems unfair to use this space to pounce on the defenseless. Today, however, I will make an exception. The letter that changed my mind? "Thumbs Down on Teacher Raises." As some of you know, I have a vested interest in the well-being of our teachers, but I'm writing this column because so does everyone else.

On a typical day, our parents will see their child for three to five hours. This includes the time that said child is anesthetized by the t.v. On that day - be it during summer school or winter school - the child's teacher will see him or her for sometimes twice that long. Let's see. If A = B and B = C and C is less than the square root of pi and a train leaves Boston going south at 50 miles an hour... It goes to reason that teachers are half-responsible for raising our children. Last time I checked, that's a pretty important charge. At least up there with trash collector.

Our teachers wouldn't instruct summer school if they didn't have to. Imagine playing chauffeur to 20 kids in the in the heat of July. Now imagine someone proposing that we cut your gas money. That's summer school. Teachers do the summer school thing because their wages prevent them from enjoying the little things in life -- like paying the mortgage. And when they've got a deadbeat husband who is still trying to "find himself" after 28 years on the planet and clinging to the idea of writing-as-a-living, it's even worse. If a teacher can suck it up after nine months of tending to the egomaniacal needs of our children and actually want to teach summer school, we should let them do it in their pajamas.

The person who wrote the letter to which I am responding shall serve as Exhibit A. If our kids spend their days with properly educated, sufficiently motivated teachers, they might not grow up to refer to a superintendent as "president of teachers" or use adjectives when they need adverbs. But I'm not hear to pik oN peoples's grammer. That is the fate of those who suffer my presence in the daytime. I'm here to address the values of a society. [Enter patriotic election music...]

Our kids represent the future. I could puke having to say it because we've heard the cliché a thousand times before, but evidently the message hasn't kept. It is in our best interest to create competition for the vocation of teaching. We need to invest in this resource the way we do in Stealth Bombers and Shaquille O'Neills. If you have been in the grade school trenches, you know that it would be impossible to compensate our teachers for the work they perform. Most of us would finish the day dribbling on ourselves in the corner, our faculties damaged forever. But some people can do it. The only question is why do they do it?

As far as I can tell, they are driven by a phenomenon that science doesn't fully understand. They answer to a cosmic whistle that only a teacher can hear -- the teacher whistle. They have a gift for helping children think. They are able to turn tears into smiles, questions into answers, adjectives into adverbs. They want to help raise our kids because they think they can make a difference. And in one man's humb -- well, in one man's opinion, I think they are right. Teachers attend the same universities as engineers, doctors, and "professionals." They assess the same multitude of paths available to them and, in some freak happenstance of nature, decide to go into education.

The question we should ask ourselves is, How long will this "making a difference" thing hold out? How long before these teachers take their degrees elsewhere? Many great teachers already have, only we don't know about it because it wasn't on the news. That takes a more visible kind of death, one with blood and guts and sex whenever possible. Teachers aren't dumb. They know that they could double their salary in real estate. But there is that whistle whispering softly in the back of their minds as if God has singled them out from the sane people. They are, unlike mainstream America, driven by a motivation other than money.

Well, I'm tired. If you made it this far, you're a real champ. Or you've got nothing to do. Perhaps I'm wrong in writing this column. Perhaps the person who wrote The Acorn sees something I don't. After all, we live in a world that slays 5,000 acres of its own rain forest on a daily basis. Seeing that rain forests provide 40% of the world's oxygen, that's like training our heart to stop beating. Or smoking filterless Camels. Or asking O.J. to carve the turkey at Thanksgiving. (Notice how I manage to plug the environment no matter what topic I'm writing about.) In such a world, maybe it's logical to shave a teacher's pay. In fact, we could snub these whining teachers altogether and let our kids roam the street during the day. They can just teach other. Besides, they've already got a t.v.

Like my first-grade teacher used to say... What did she say... I can't remember. She was dressed like a slob.


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