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Back to school blues

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-08-18


I think I'm one of the few sports fans in America who believes that spoiled-brat, millionaire pro athletes are underpaid for what they do and that most of them deserve huge raises in their next contracts.

Pro sports are insanely profitable in the U.S., and I think that the athletes who provide the product should be compensated accordingly. This doesn't sit well with most sports fans, of course, who find it perverse that a grown man should get paid millions for playing a kid's game. But the fact is, it's not the athlete's fault sports fans caused the market, and the extreme salaries merely reflect how well their business is doing. If sports fans truly want salaries to go down, they should stop bitching about athletes and start boycotting games. They need to turn off football on television and stop buying jerseys and sports apparel. But they won't. Athletes make millions because they can do what millions of spectators can't, and they shouldn't be criticized for having chosen an extremely lucrative profession.

You've heard the following argument a million times, like I have, the one that comes from the "sad commentary" people, the one that compares pro athletes to schoolteachers. The one which says, in effect, how corrupt we all are for overpaying sports stars while ignoring teachers. The "sad commentary" people love this argument, they love to wring their hands and cluck about this rank injustice and wonder how such a social insult could occur in this age. Their argument drives me insane, because the answer to their question is so patently obvious that only an idiot could miss it. We pay for sports because we value sports, and we don't pay teachers because nobody even the "sad commentary" people gives a damn about teachers.

If we did, we'd sure treat them a lot better. Every politician, every sociologist, every philanthropist, every business leader believes that education is the key to solving many of America's vast social ills, yet no one is interested in helping the people who are on the front lines in America's schools. Despite all the money and attention devoted to education in this country, teachers are still horribly overworked and ridiculously underpaid.

I have a number of friends who teach in the Fort Wayne Community School system, and every September I check in with them to see how the year is shaping up. Invariably I get reports that show almost comically how ridiculous the teacher's job has become.

Try wrapping your mind around this one: last year a sophomore English teacher in Fort Wayne discovered that in her class she had students who read at a second-grade level. More than a few. She also had students who read at a tenth-grade level, a sixth-grade level, and a post-College graduate level. Her challenge was to come up with a way to teach everyone at the same time while also serving as cop, guidance counselor, psychologist, mentor, confidant, and cheerleader.

Sound tricky? I asked her how a student with such rudimentary skills could end up in a sophomore English class, and she told me that it has become so hard to fail a student in elementary and middle schools that teachers invariably pass students on regardless of reading aptitude. This makes the high school educator's task incredibly daunting, obviously, but the teacher I spoke with was determined to improve the language skills of all her students. She could have taken the easy way out and just flunked the lesser students when they couldn't get through Night or Of Mice and Men, but she didn't. On her own time she researched new teaching methods, she discovered materials that were more appropriate (and wouldn't embarrass the students), she innovated the class hour to accommodate all pupils in the wan hope that everybody could get something out of her class. And the following year she would incorporate what she had learned into a continuously evolving method that would better serve the next grade of students.

I'd like to report that the teacher got rewarded in some tangible way for her commitment, but you know that's not what happened. A teacher who cares about her students usually gets paid as much as a teacher who phones it in. I asked her why she didn't leave FWCS for something better she could surely get a job in the rosier addresses at Carroll or Homestead but she said she was committed to teaching in the city. She was a product of the FWCS system, and she felt a duty to reach the students from her hometown. And besides, she had some new ideas that she was ready to try on her new classes.

I asked her how many hours outside of school she devoted to her job and she just laughed. At least two or three a night, she said, some on research, some on availing herself to her students. All told she probably gave away 70 hours a week for the job that continued to pay her so little.

I tried to interview her husband also a teacher, also a good one for this article but he was unavailable, having recently gotten a part-time, night job that he'll have to keep throughout the school year.

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