We need to keep good teachers on the job

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 5:00 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 by 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 (JHS 118) in Manhattan, I opted for the orchestra class. Mr. Steiker (he would always be called that) handed me a trumpet and changed my life. I really wasn’t all that good but I was good enough to have a band through high school and college so that my twin brother and I never needed an allowance.

When I was fourteen I saw Pete Seeger at summer camp and started learning to play the banjo. Now at age 70, I still play with my group, The Berkshire Ramblers. That all came from one teacher — Mr. Steiker. He was my hero and although long gone (I dropped everything to get to his funeral) I never forgot what he did for me. I never forgot how much interest he showed in me. I never forgot 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 whole thrust of this group is to keep the good, young teachers in the classroom. The more abuse that is thrown at our teachers, the more 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.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 2/21/12

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2 Comments on “We need to keep good teachers on the job”

  1. Educated in Public Says:

    Good for you. I am so tired of seeing public schoolteachers used as some kind of symbol for what is wrong with government. Those people are trying to deflect attention from their own sleaziness and illicit behavior by giving the angry public an easy target. It is especially disturbing to me to see so many in the news and entertainment fields going along with this fiction. They didn’t all attend private schools, why promote lies?
    Universal public education is what made America great. If there are problems with specific children in specific schools, it seems to me that an elected leader should be supporting the teachers, as they are the ones, probably the only ones, who know what is wrong and what it would take to fix it.

  2. JoAnn Smith Says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I am a teacher because I want to help my students achieve their best and help them determine the skills and talents they possess so that one day they may be influential, hard-working people in our future society. Most of the teachers that I know put their heart and soul into this profession. We do it because one day in the past great teachers inspired us to understand our skills and talents so that we may pass that along to others. The system, though not perfect, is not bad. Granted we can all improve and try new things. Small changes are needed maybe, but that is all.

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