New York State's teachers are under assault. It isn't fair and it isn't right-these are some of the most important people in our lives. There will always be unscrupulous politicians who try to scapegoat our teachers and it is really an abomination that this stuff goes on.
It's incomprehensible to me that people think our teachers have it easy and are overpaid for what they do. My wife taught in every grade of our schools and ended up as a full professor of education. I worked very hard as a college professor, but not nearly as hard as she did when she was in the schools.
She would get to work at 7:30 and teach six high school classes a day.She had literally hundreds of students.She'd get home around 5, after all her committee meetings, conferences and drawing up the lesson plans for the next day.She was a hard-working college professor, too, but she had survivor's guilt because no matter how hard she worked at the college level, it paled in comparison to the work she did in grade school and high school. I happen to think that as a class, teachers are the best, hardest working professionals in America.
Think about it: we've all had teachers who have made a tremendous difference in our lives. Mine was a man named Eugene Steiker. When I walked into Joan of Arc Junior High School (J.H.S. 118) in Manhattan, I opted for orchestra class. Mr. Steiker handed me a trumpet and changed my life.
I really wasn't all that good, but I was good enough to have a band throughout high school and college so my twin brother and I never needed an allowance. When I was 14, I saw Pete Seeger at summer camp and started learning to play the banjo. Now, at 70, I still play with my group, The Berkshire Ramblers. That all came from one teacher-Mr. Steiker.
He was my hero and, though he is long gone (I dropped everything to get to his funeral), I've never forgotten what he did for me. I've never forgotten how much interest he showed in me. I've never forgotten his incredible sense of humor.
Everyone has had a Mr. Steiker in their lives. Everyone has had a teacher who went the extra mile to help define them and their potential. Teachers deserve to be honored. They deserve to be paid what they are worth. Remember, we entrust the most important people in our lives, our children, to our teachers.If you think a teacher isn't every bit as important as a doctor-any doctor-think again.
True, there are some not-so-good teachers. It is important that the system have fair rules to encourage those folks to move on. On the other hand, we have to do more to keep the good ones on the job. The more teachers are made into scapegoats, the worse it is for our children as the great teachers say, "Who needs this?" and leave the profession.
My son, Jonas, runs an organization based in New Orleans called Leading Educators. The thrust of this group is to keep good, young teachers in the classrooms. The more abuse that is thrown at our teachers, the more quickly we will lose our best and our brightest. We have to develop strategies that will encourage them to stay.
Of course, we also have to keep our eye on unscrupulous politicians who play to the stereotype and imply that teachers are not as hard-working and influential as we know they are. They're trying to win points with the voters by being divisive.The next time you see that kind of thing happening, I encourage you to call the offending politician on it. Frankly, I give the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, high marks for his good words about teachers. That, in my mind, is what a leader is all about.
Alan S. Chartock is president and CEO of WAMC/Northeast Public Radio and an executive publisher at The Legislative Gazette.