I’m Sorry I’m a TeacherBy Alan Haskvitz
Alan Haskvitz is a member of the National Teachers Hall of Fame and has been recognized many times as one of the nation’s most successful and innovative teachers. Accounts of his students’ accomplishments have been featured in books, periodicals, and on national radio and television. He is a classroom teacher with experience at every grade level and every major subject area.
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For over 45 years I have enjoyed making a living teaching. It hasn’t been easy or lucrative, but it had its rewards, one of which was a secure retirement plan.
Now, after reading the recent California Little Hoover Commission Report that recommends that public school retirements be reduced, even for those who are already retired, and the actions of the Wisconsin Republican Party in accusing teachers and their pensions and bargaining rights as mainly responsible for that state’s financial situation – I am sorry I became a teacher. I honestly didn’t mean to place so many states in danger of going bankrupt.
I also realize now that I am sorry to have chosen education as a career for other reasons. I am sorry that my wife may have to work until she is well beyond 70, enduring the rigors of 12 hour shifts as a nurse. I am sorry that I may become a burden to my children because my retirement income won’t cover the cost of extended care. I am sorry for those students I encouraged to become teachers, and for having told them to ignore the glow of the better paying professions.
I am sorry that the government is punishing me for being a civil servant by taking away over 60 percent of the Social Security benefits I had paid for during years of part-time work in the private sector to help put two children through college. I am sorry that, if I outlive my wife, I won’t be eligible for her Social Security benefits because I am a public servant.
I am sorry that the vast conservative media has chosen teachers as a target of loathing and hatred.
I am sorry that the right-wing politicians and conservative think tanks work to convince the public that education would work better if all schools were private.
I am sorry that the producers of Waiting for Superman didn’t travel a few miles farther to see my school and talk to the parents and students. I am sorry that the writers of the movie didn’t get a chance to see what is really happening in America’s schools.
The bullying of educators, using misleading facts, is rampant. Most recently, Wisconsin teachers, fighting merely for the right to negotiate as a union, were accused of causing over seven million dollars of damages to the state capital building and grounds. The media spread that lie and never followed up with the fact that the damages never were properly assessed.(1) Sorry to say, but this is just one example of the media’s bullying of teachers. When is the last time the public learned that 145,100 public school teachers were physically attacked and that 276,000 were threatened with injury?(2) And they say the press is liberal? (3)
I am also sorry that, as a teacher, I did such a poor job of teaching students to think for themselves, allowing the fear mongers to drug their critical thinking skills. I worry that I have done a poor job of teaching my students not to ask for proof when an organization says it offers fair and balanced news reporting.
Until today I never stopped to look at what my decision to become a teacher had cost. I wrote a letter to one of the commissioners on the Little Hoover Commission expressing how my decision to become a teacher had cost my family dearly and telling them that their findings made me sorry I had become a teacher.
The response was hardly unexpected. The secretary of the commissioner I wrote to responded by writing that teaching is a valued profession. But it’s apparently not valued enough for the commission to advise the California legislature not to leave the teacher retirement plan alone. After all, the budget has to be balanced and God-forbid there is a tax increase. Sorry to say, their recommendations, if followed, would result in extensive court battles, legal costs, and the possibility that teachers would continue to be the scapegoats whenever the economy is troubled. By the way, sorry to say, not one member of the Little Hoover Commission is a teacher or educator, and the commission is dominated by big business members. The findings of the Little Hoover Commission are not unexpected given President Hoover’s legacy.
I left the financial world after tiring of the constant manipulation of the general public in order to add to the company’s bottom line. I am sorry I didn’t fight my temptation to help others and instead stay in the corporate world with a secretary, parking spot, executive dining room, paid-for college courses, free health care, my own office, and a chance to continue to hobnob with the movers and shakers of the world, from Richard Nixon and king maker Asa Call, to Ronald Reagan. At age 22 I had my own upscale apartment in Los Angeles and a racing Cobra. Life was good and the pension plan was lucrative. I paid nothing into it. The company was going to move to a beach community and I would have been a made man. All I had to do was ignore my desire to help others.
Sorry, but I couldn’t resist; I entered a teaching college and, now, over 45 years later, I have a lot of apologies to hand out.
I know that my fellow teachers have spent decades teaching our students about the evils of bullying and to not tolerate it. The theme “Don’t be a Bystander” is one of our major lesson plans. And yet, I am sorry to say, we are now the ones being bullied. Perhaps it is time for us to join together and write letters, make phone calls, and express ourselves to our elected officials to let them know that there are millions of teachers who vote, and we won’t want them to be sorry.
[Read another essay on this topic: Lesson for Teachers: Why Elephants Protect Each Others’ Calves or What Loss of Union Representation Can Mean by James Wayne]
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