This I Believe

David - Salt Lake City, Utah
Entered on August 16, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

This I Believe

I believe in Education.

I believe in the importance and power of a good public education. That’s why I chose to begin a new career of teaching Science to Middle Schoolers – after spending over 30 years as an Engineer.

And I thought I worked hard in Engineering! Based on my Engineering experience, I thought I was organized and could present complex subjects in an understandable fashion. But I’ve never worked harder than I have as a Teacher! And I’ve never needed to be more organized than I have to be now as a teacher. I consistently worked more than 50 hours a week as an Engineer, but as a Teacher – especially during my first year – I put in significantly more hours (for a LOT less money) than in industry. In Corporate America, if you have to make a presentation, you generally have a few days’ or weeks’ notice. As a Teacher, you have to make a new presentation every hour – with only 5 minutes between each class to catch your breath for the next! And then at the end of the day, you get to prepare for 6 more presentations the next day. In industry, the audience generally WANTS to hear your presentation. In a public Middle School, the students would most likely rather be outside (running, playing, getting into trouble) or inside their homes (engrossed in their televisions, computers, cell phones, iPods, or GameBoys). So you have the added challenge of making a difficult subject interesting and fun for 30+ hyperactive, talkative, pre- or recently post-pubescents.

I received a good public education – for which my parents paid dearly in terms of income, property, and sales taxes. I believe that education is one of those important items that governments should tax and provide for – for the benefit of the whole of society. I am more than happy to pay my fair share of taxes for this critical investment in our future. I realize that the better educated the younger generation is, the better off they will be financially and the better they will be able to provide for the needs of the older generation and for the care, feeding, and education of generations to come.

But I also believe that the costs of education should be allocated fairly. In Utah, citizens pay among the highest state taxes per taxpayer of any state in the U.S. But because the average family size in Utah is significantly larger than average, we spend the LOWEST per pupil in the Union. I believe that we should reconsider the State and Federal tax credits and benefits which reward excessively large families.

I further believe that if the Federal Government is going to mandate significant additional costly requirements on the States’ schools (in terms of the testing and performance standards of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act), then the Federal Government should adequately fund those mandates. The NCLB requirements should be revised to be more realistic and not the current unrealistic formulas for failure that they are (i.e., 100% of students – including the economically disadvantaged, all ethnic minorities, and those requiring Special Education – performing to grade level by 2014). If school’s are not performing to standard, they should be provided with additional funds to HELP them increase that performance – not deprived of funds (as is currently the case for Title 1 schools) and forced to provide transportation for any student who so requests to a better-performing school. The goals of NCLB are good (increased performance as measured by standardized testing), but the current financial arrangements are hurting rather than helping schools meet these goals. Already in California, students have demanded transfer to better schools, but the other schools are so overcrowded that they cannot accept the requested transfers. Better performance by all teachers and all schools are indeed worthy goals, but any such increased performance is expensive. Governments and taxpayers should be willing to adequately fund these goals.

Most people agree that teachers are not paid what they are worth. Most of us know that there ARE some bad, tired, or burned-out teachers. These teachers SHOULD be removed and replaced with more qualified, experienced, and enthusiastic teachers, but that will not happen with the current wages that teachers are paid.

The School District that I work for just eliminated a significant benefit (the ability to trade unused sick leave for some health insurance coverage after retirement). Because of this, over twice the usual number of teachers retired early last year rather than lose this important benefit. These valuable experienced teachers will be replaced by new green teachers. (I can call them green now that I have a whopping three years under my belt.) I’m sure some of the new grads will be great career teachers, but many will burn out early or change to higher paid alternate careers within the first few years. The early retirement of those good, experienced teachers is a serious loss. I believe it was short sighted of the School Board to eliminate this important benefit without considering the longer term costs and negative effects on the students and their education. [Others believe that the Board carefully considered this move, and it was a deliberate and carefully calculated attempt to save money – replacing older higher-paid teachers with newer, cheaper ones.]

My point in discussing these difficult political and financial topics is that if we agree in the value of education, we should agree to pay for it adequately. Saying we support public education is not enough.

I hope you believe, as I do, that a good public education for every student is important – critical, in fact – to a healthy, growing, financially viable economy and society. Let us agree for the sake of our future generations to truly appreciate the dedicated teachers we currently have and to consistently improve our current school systems by funding our teachers and schools fairly, adequately, and equitably.