Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Bad Things Happen to "Bad" People

It’s funny what the human mind can remember and what it chooses to forget.  Why do we tend to remember all the bad – and not so bad – things that happen to us, but we forget many of the fun, exciting or positive events in our lives? I don’t know the answer to this question.  I suspect it’s because when bad things happen to us, we fail to look for the reasons why, and we seek retribution or compensation. 
I truly believe that the general public supports most – if not all – of the cuts to education (and the additional burdens placed on teachers and administrators) because almost everyone has at least one negative school experience – that, for whatever reason, they cannot let go.  Here’s what I mean.  How many times have you heard someone tell a story about a teacher who “hated my guts?”  No? What about a “worst teacher ever” story?  Then there are those people – adults, professionals – who claim that a math teacher “ruined Algebra” for them.  Maybe, lurking in your own cognitive recesses is an English teacher who made the words Romeo and Juliet comparable to "root canal" and "taxes".  When you close your eyes, you can still see that PE teacher who looked the other way while the entire varsity basketball team beamed you with the dodgeball balls while the cheerleaders looked on and laughed. 
Sadly, these “bad” memories stay with us, while the memories of kind, caring and dedicated teachers quickly and easily become distant or forgotten memories.  You think I am wrong?  When was the last time you listened to a story about a band teacher who stayed after school until 6:00 for four weeks to prepare for the Christmas concert (oops, Winter Holiday event)?  Where is the story about the dedicated baseball coach who threw a 100 extra batting practice balls to you, even when his elbow ached (and while his wife waited for him at home, holding off dinner for the fourth time that week)?   How quickly we forget the 5th grade teacher who bought extra folders, paper, glue and pencils so one of his students would not be embarrassed because their family could not afford them.
Apparently, politicians operate under the same anger-filled and amnesic mindset.  We – teachers – are the bad guys, the whipping boys of a poor economy.  Politicians are looking for a “bully” to punish in these poor economic times.  They want their pound of flesh and don’t care whose hide it comes from. 
You think I am exaggerating? Consider the latest attack on teachers – this time from the district level.   District X (again the names have been changed to protect the innocent and my job) recently decided to “amp it up a notch” and turn teacher against fellow teacher in the latest round of "spending cuts."  Who/what is the target?  Teacher bonuses.  According to District X’s budget negotiation team, unless a handful of teachers give up their “bonuses” the district will be forced to fire x-number of teachers!    
What?  Wait a minute.  Slow down.  Teachers get a bonus?  Well, sort of.  Since the mid 1990’s Florida State Statute has required school districts to reward “top-performing teachers” (based on teacher evaluations and student performance).  Over the years, the E-Comp, STAR and MAP programs have all been legislated (and amended) by the state to give “merit pay” to a small number of teachers.  Under the current system, District X "anticipates" having to award  $1.8 million in “bonus money” to exemplary teachers. While that amounts seems quite large – especially in today’s economic climate – let me put that figure into perspective.  That is the total amount budgeted by the district.  It does not represent total dollars given to teachers.  It does represent all the taxes the district must pay back to the state and federal government (i.e. withholding and FICA taxes).  To the average teacher, this “bonus” amounts to approximately $1,000 after taxes.
A thousand dollars might seem like a lot of money, so let me put that tidy little figure into a “corporate perspective.”  The excerpt below was copied from a recent Wall Street Journal article*:
During the first nine months of 2009, five of the largest banks that received federal aid — Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — together set aside about $90 billion for compensation. That figure includes salaries, benefits and bonuses, but at several companies, bonuses make up more than half of compensation.
Read that paragraph again.  That’s 90 BILLION DOLLARS from five companies that just recently received “bailout money” from the federal government – taxpayer money from you and me!  According to the article, Goldman Sachs paid its employees “an average of $595,000 EACH” in bonuses.
Here’s the kicker.  The truth of the matter is District X does not even know – yet – how much money it will receive from the state.  It also does not know how many teachers will be eligible for a “bonus”.  And finally, our state legislators – with much pomp and circumstance –recently touted a new bill (soon to be a law) that eliminates teacher tenure and the “traditional salary structure” and replaces it with a plan to – you guessed it – reward “top-performing teachers” (i.e. give them bonuses) who have excellent evaluations and outstanding student performance.  In short, District X must retain this money to be in compliance with the law.
Telling the public (and reporting it in the press) that eliminating teacher bonuses is the only way to save teacher jobs is just another example of the on-going efforts to turn public favor away from teachers and make us the bad guys.  And why not?  As I said before, everyone has at least one negative school and/or teacher experience.  George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.”  Apparently, Shaw had one or two Dodge Balls kicked his way, or perhaps his math teacher “ruined Algebra” for him.  Based on his prolific writing, I’d say he had one or two teachers who COULD DO and DID.


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