Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Damn the teachers?

Protest song: Julia Masterman High School seniors (from left) Gloria Yuen, Tracy Nguyen and Doreen McNeill play for passers-by yesterday in the City Hall courtyard. The students showcased their talents as a demonstration against proposed cuts to the school district´s arts and music programs. (Yong Kim/Staff)
Protest song: Julia Masterman High School seniors (from left) Gloria Yuen, Tracy Nguyen and Doreen McNeill play for passers-by yesterday in the City Hall courtyard. The students showcased their talents as a demonstration against proposed cuts to the school district's arts and music programs. (Yong Kim/Staff)

IF YOU CAN read this, thank a teacher.

- Bumper sticker

I haven't had kids in Philadelphia public schools in decades. Back then, it was possible to get a quality education in safe schools.

My kids were first in Mann Elementary and then Gompers - quality, high-achieving, integrated schools. My kids left the system when their mother, with whom they lived, moved to Middletown, Dauphin County, arriving a few years before Three Mile Island went into mini-meltdown.

More coverage
  • Parents get legal tips for special-ed needs
  • Best investment? School buildings
  • Mayor Nutter versus The Unions: The unending battle
  • Sandy Shea: Hey teachers: Do the math
  • But that's another story.

    So is the excellent public-school education I got in New York City, where I grew up in a tenement neighborhood and people were poor - no car, no TV, no air conditioning - but didn't act like it. Parents pushed their kids to education because they knew it opened the door to the American Dream. Teachers were the gatekeepers.

    Public education today seems to be failing, not just in Philadelphia, but in New York and in other large cities.

    I don't blame the teachers. They haven't changed.

    My sister was a New York City teacher, and her husband was a New York City assistant principal. My sister has a master's degree, and when she started teaching, she taught - in English. By the time she retired, 12 languages were spoken in her middle school, from Cambodian to Russian, and she had acquired social-work chores with little bearing on teaching.

    I have friends and acquaintances who teach or taught in Philly schools. I believe their dedication to educating their students is shared by the great majority of their peers. Not every teacher is a gem, but neither is every cop - or journalist. Most teachers are dedicated professionals for whom teaching is not just a job, it's almost a calling. And they are being demonized.

    Remember the teachers who used their own bodies to shield students from bullets? Put a price tag on that.

    Teachers have been saddled with greater and greater responsibilities, and stress, in urban classrooms as more and more clueless students arrive without the basics due to poor parenting. Once respected (and maybe feared), teachers are forced into in loco parentis, Latin for "in the place of the parent."

     

    My kindergarten teacher was Miss Doyle. Miss Apsel was my first-grade teacher. I forget second grade - maybe she wasn't so hot. It was Miss Bass for third, Mrs. Rich for fourth, Miss McLaughlin for fifth, Miss Scipione for sixth. Do you remember the names of your teachers? There's a reason for that. They left their DNA on your character.

    Given what we need them to do, our teachers are paid too little.

    Among the 62 school districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia School District places 41st in teacher pay, according to the state Department of Education. Philly teachers average $70,790 a year, which seems like a lot until you look at the $88,899 paid to Lower Merion teachers and the $95,171 paid at Council Rock, top of the list. And there are no metal detectors in Council Rock schools.

    Our school district wants teachers (who got their last raise in January 2012) to take pay cuts of 5 to 13 percent and work a longer day and kick in for health insurance and end seniority, a union core principle.

    That's unjust and unreasonable. Cutting wages while demanding health-insurance payments is a double pay cut. Teachers should no more be obligated to fund the system than US Airways employees are to fund the airline. It is not "greed" to want to keep negotiated benefits accrued over decades of give-and-take bargaining.

    The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has made concessions in the past and is not seeking a wage increase this year. The PFT will probably give a little more.

    But not everything asked of it. It can't. It shouldn't.

    Thank a teacher if you could read this.

     

     


    Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

    Phone: 215-854-5977

    On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

     

    Blog: ph.ly/BykoColumns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

    Stu Bykofsky Daily News Columnist
    Also on Philly.com
    Stay Connected