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Editor's Blog

My teachers weren't lazy, incompetent, greedy, overpaid or thugs

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Friday, March 04, 2011]

For over two weeks now I have been reading about the unprecedented peaceful protests in Wisconsin over their governor's efforts to bust public employee unions, particularly teacher unions, and to cut teacher compensation. What I find most distressing about this is that to achieve the goal of busting public employee unions in states across the U.S., nationwide there has been in the media the demonization of teachers as lazy, incompetent, greedy, overpaid thugs. I remember Mrs. Hale from 4rd grade and she was none of these – neither were Mrs. Jones, Mr. Baker, and so many other teachers I had, whose names slip my mind. Now granted, at the time I thought some of them were mean for always assigning lots of homework, but how many kids prefer homework to playing?

For a multitude of complicated reasons that I won't go into I moved very often growing up and as a result went to many schools. I'd estimated that I attended over a dozen different schools from kindergarten through college and as a result I've had too many teachers to count. What I remember from the blur of childhood is how kind, caring, and dedicated the vast majority of these teachers were. What I also remember were the simple well worn cars that so many of my teachers drove. Very often the teacher's parking lot could have passed for one of those bad credit used car lots we have all seen.

Growing up I attended all kinds of schools, both public and private, in so many parts of this country. I even attended Little Wound School in Kyle South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which still stands out as one of my favorite schools. From all of the schools I attended and all the teachers who taught me, I can safely say that teachers don't teach for the money. They teach because they love children and want to dedicate their lives towards helping build a brighter, better educated future.

I am not in a union, never have been and probably never will be; rather I am self employed. Like so many American's, my family struggles to stay in the middle class. I pay self-employment taxes, state and federal income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and I probably pay taxes on my taxes. Guess what, I don't mind paying my taxes because I want the things those taxes pay for. I want well trained and dedicated fire fighters and police officers protecting my town. I want good roads that get plowed after every Maine snow. I want environmental laws and regulations that are enforced to protect the water I drink and the air I breathe. If a disaster strikes my community, I want to know there will be someone there to help us recover. Most importantly, even though I do not have kids, I want the children in my community to get the best possible education.

Quite simply, I want quality dedicated public employees. Yet if we keep denigrating working in the public sector and cutting their benefits, we will not attract and retain the talent we need to provide the services we want. I've never known a wealthy teacher, fire fighter or police officer. I've never seen a teacher driven to work by their own chauffeur. It wasn't public employees who made the credit default swaps and other financial schemes that caused our financial crisis. Public employees are our friends and neighbors; they face the same struggles the rest of the ever shrinking Middle Class face. We need to stand up for our neighbors and their right to collectively bargain and we need to stand up against the corporate greed and tax dodging that got us into the current economic mess. Fire fighters and police officers protect what we have, public works employees maintain our infrastructure, and teachers are an investment in our future.

13 comments:

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Replace Windows said...

We need to stand up for our neighbors and their right to collectively bargain and we need to stand up against the corporate greed and tax dodging that got us into the current economic mess.

seema said...

nice

Casey said...

As the daughter of a teacher and a county employee in Wisconsin, and as a soon-to-be school counselor, I thank you for your words. Some words can hurt us, but yours have reminded us about what we are fighting for and why we can't give up- because the future of our nation depends on it.

Judy Ring said...

Well said! Thank you!

InSolidarity said...

Thank you from one of Wisconsin's future teachers. As you may have heard, our middle class workers, both public and private, have joined together and we're well on our way to recalling our governor. We appreciate the support!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for you blog and support. After reading some many negative comments over the last year lambasting teachers as overpaid, underworked, selfish union thugs, and wondering why I worked so hard for so many unpaid hours trying to help kids, serving on committees, advisory panels, doing extra-curricular work, deep down I know it was for kids, not for the money or benefits, or even thank you's that so seldom came.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I thank you for your comments. You can't imagine how awful it is to be, as you said, demonized publicly over and over. I don't know a teacher who doesn't want the best for his or her students every day, every year. It breaks my heart to see what public education is becoming. We work with humans. We have always tried to meet individual needs in the best ways possible. We have never left children behind. I teach my students the way I would want my own children to be taught. Schools cannot be run like corporations. Again, thank you for your kind words and respect.

Mad Myche said...

Corporate greed and tax dodging got us into this mess? How about personal greed, and wanting to be like the neighbors? They have a nice TV, I deserve one. I can't afford the ones they have so I'll get a low quality one from some other country. Screw the American Laborer. Now my other frugal neighbors saw they can get a big and cheap one too, so there goes more money oversees. Is it purely coincidental that as imported technology and cars has been on the increase and American manufacturing has been on the decrease, that we have extended credit to just about anyone who applies? And that at the same time American prosperity decreases? Government (that would be public employees) forcing financial institutions to give loans to people who weren't credit worthy and subsequent defaults at least exasperated the problems we have.
One big difference between private and public unions is that in tough times the private union has to operate knowing that if would ask for too much the company can just close or move. Public unions do not have those bounds; furthermore, the "end users" of the public union really have no choice in the matter... They can't just choose to get fire protection from another municipality. If GM strikes, I can buy a car from a different manufacturer.

Anonymous said...

God bless you. It's really hard to comprehend how the anti education types were able to elect these folks in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I'm a social worker who works in a prison, and I do AODA counseling with the inmates. Thank you for your comments. Our jobs are tough, and there are so many ways our lives and jobs can be jeopardized. But I like my job, and I like feeling I can hopefully make a difference, because most inmates WILL return to the community. But I'm tired of being typecast as a greedy villain.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments! I am a public school teacher who enjoys my job and the great work other public emplyees do in our state. The park system, roads, police and fire departments are assets which are so often taken for granted.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I'm a 28-year Wisconsin state employee, and seeing articles like yours gives me a boost, knowing there are people who don't believe the rhetoric about public employees. I appreciate your article!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making me feel like a valued person, if just for a moment. I have taught 36 years, and I have never seen so much disrespect for public employees. Scott Walker and Co. have torn this state apart---it can't be good to have neighbor turn on neighbor and friend on friend. He has polarized Wisconsin,and he must go. How long will it take us to recover from one year of Scott Walker?

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