Teachers on Strike in My Hometown

July 28, 2008

by — Posted in Family and Friends, Personal Writing

Picture from here

A couple weeks ago when the VCMA had their concert in Vermilion, OH there were school teachers wandering around the downtown area (the picture above is not my hometown) protesting.   I can’t say I understand completely what they were protesting, but before I go into a rant about the protesting – I’ll give you my understanding from what I got out of it and what others told me.

The contract from the local school district had been changed; previously the school district paid for the retirement of its teachers or supplied a portion of it.  Recently however this had been changed to put the burden on cost to the teachers who will have to pay their own retirement compared to the school district footing the bill.  I don’t even live in the same county as my past hometown, so my diatribe has no bearing other then outside views since my taxes will not be raised, nor will the quality of education my children receive be impacted.

The first thing that comes to mind – welcome to the real world.   I know a ton of people that went into public service or civil servant positions for the retirement.   It didn’t matter what the job was, it just mattered that at the end of the career they received that fat benefits and nice retirement package.   They could be a janitor or they could be a mailman, as long as the benefits were there at the end of the career they would be happy.   I’m so I care about what I do now and though I should be worry, I’m not thinking about the end of my career yet.  No one I know professionally get’s their retirement paid for by their employer anymore, that notion is old and out of date.

If a company in this day and age announced it was going to have an all inclusive retirement package for its employees there are a few things that come to mind.   The first being, what person is going to stay with a company for the 25-30 it takes to qualify for a retirement package – jobs don’t work that way anymore, very few people in this day and age start at a company at 18-20 and retire from that same company.  It’s idiotic and small minded in so many ways, to believe that you will be with the same employer.  The second is how far would a stock drop in a publicly traded company that announced something like this.   In the age of profits and margins an announcement like this would be considered fiscally irresponsible by the share holders.   However our tax money goes out to support all the public servants of our local, state, and federal governments.  Personally I understand the point of unions – but I don’t think anyone should get the guaranteed contracts that union works receive.   It should be dog eat dog and fight for the best value for the dollar instead of bringing down the people at the top and raising those at the bottom.  This is my tax money and the billions that the government could save by not offering automatic benefits are enormous.

There is another reason though I don’t have respect for the protest.  My freshmen year in high school my (then future) band director was up for retirement.   He decided that he wasn’t going to retire and he was going to keep teaching for another 3 years.  The next year was my first in band (other then a brief stint in 5th grade) and David Henry is now the metric I judge all other band directors against.   My senior year was his final year.   In a side conversation with him one day I asked him why doesn’t he just keep going?  He told me and a friend that he lost 15% (these numbers maybe wrong but it’s been 14 years and the intent is still the same) of his pension because he went on and taught the last three years.  He was happy to do it and would have done it again.   However, if he continued for another three years he would lose another 30% of his pension, and that he could not afford to do.

David Henry at the VHS Alumni Band Practice in 2007

Why is this relevant?  Well the teachers I saw protesting were all obviously younger then I am, and I’m not that old at 32 – the most they could be in their career is 10 years and that would still be stretching it.  I’m sure that most of them got into it for the idea of having summers off and the decent retirement package.  Some did it for the pure joy of teaching, and for those I would hope they would have done the job diligently regardless of the benefits at the end of the career.   One of the largest arguments that I’ve heard is that teachers are underpaid.  I won’t argue that, but at the same time almost all of them knew the pay rates before they started.   Feeling bad because they make 30-40k a year is just as bad as feeling sorry that the check out clerk makes minimum wage.  There is no surprises, they knew the scale and the pitfalls going into the game.   They could have done something else if they wanted to make more money.  They should do what they want to do because they enjoy it, not because of the money they make now and in the future.  I don’t see any of the love in teaching in them that I saw in David Henry.

Maybe it’s unfair to compare them to Mr. Henry.  He is one fo the two teachers that influenced me most heavily in my young life, though both of those teachers taught at teh same school district that these teachers are protesting in.   These are just my thoughts, take them to heart or throw them aside as you see fit.

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