Earlier today, and for most of this week, I've been really fired up about some things, so while this post may go down in the annals as the reason why one doesn't drink wine and blog, I am still compelled to write...as this has been one heckuva week.
I am the daughter of two public sector employees (a teacher and a nurse), both are retired now, but they did not retire early, nor did they retire to riches. They live a comfortable life after careers of taking care of others, but they are by no means wealthy and living the high life.
It hurts when I hear some say that because of collective bargaining, they were able to retire with excessive benefits and have now become a burden on society. I get angry because my parents, while comfortable, are not living off the fat o'the land. They do not cruise the Bahamas, or go on annual vacations to Europe, or have a home in the mountains and another at the beach. They live moderate lives that they have earned. They worry CONSTANTLY about the cost of health care and in some cases fear that they are just a few steps away from being a financial burden on their children.
I am a public sector employee, a school teacher, as are most of my friends, and I have been for almost all of my adult life. I do not have a "part time job" as a public school teacher, and while I earn enough to make a comfortable and reasonable living, I am by no means wealthy. And let me add, that even though I am a community college instructor, this is, by no means, a part time job. Most of my teacher friends are sitting at home tonight grading papers and planning lessons for tomorrow, even though their official work day ended several hours ago.
I understand that unions have problems. In fact, I have not always belonged to a teacher's union, and only do right now due to local issues (and by local issues, I mean issues related to the college where I teach and where I teach only). There have been lots of times in my life where I did not agree with the union line, with union politicking, with the policies of unions to protect their membership at all costs which inevitably leads to the union defending some pretty indefensible teaching. I would be among the first to admit that there are people in my profession who shouldn't be. They embarrass me. I wish they would quit.
However, that there are some weak teachers does not mean that all teachers are weak. In fact, the vast majority are quite good, working in deplorable conditions, with meager supplies, who make due in order to teach kids. None of us feel overpaid.
However, it angers me when I hear some sectors of the media say because am a teacher, and because of teacher unions, I am a burden on society due to the "unreasonable salary with health care benefits" that I earn. My salary, some claim, outweighs the value of my work. It hurts when I hear some political pundits decry teachers because we have "part time jobs," and because "those who can, do; and those who can't teach." Teacher unions have their faults, but I would defend an individual's right to join a union 'til the end.
But it's not just about me this week.
I have students who rely on financial aid. Let me tell you about Ricky. Ricky has severe cerebral palsy...think Stephen Hawking type cerebral palsy. He is in a wheel chair. He cannot walk. He can barely talk. He relies on an aide in the classroom who takes notes for him. Then he goes home, has a friend scan his notes into a computer so that he can read them in large print because he also has a vision impairment. He has a paper due next week. I know he started it this weekend because it will take him 10 hours to type a paper that will take my other students 2 hours (at the most) to do. However, what I know now is that Ricky is super smart, but he needs help. He really needs someone to help him to write the essays that he has in in head, but that he cannot physically write himself. My tax dollars help Ricky, and people like him. I trust that someday Ricky (and other students like him) will do great things, but I also know that Ricky may not get the chance to do the things he is capable of because budget cuts will stop paying for his aide, as well as for other assistive devices he needs to use. Ricky is not a burden to society. He is a gift. He works harder to learn than most of us have ever had to. I wish all my students had the motivation that Ricky has.
It pains me that if state budget cuts to disabled students continues, Ricky won't be able to finish his education.
I could go on and on about the vets who are in my class who need services that they aren't getting, about the number of classes being cut at all levels, about the teachers being laid off, about libraries closing. I have friends who are cops, who literally risk their lives, trying to keep mine safe, even though their budgets are being cut. I have friends who are fire-fighters who save our houses and our communities from danger. I have friends who are lifeguards, and trust me, their daily lives are NOT like an episode of Bay Watch.
I get what the other side is saying...we need budgets, we spend too much on some things. I know how nobody wants to pay more taxes. I get it all...all I'm saying is that in this time of pain for all, it's really important to not minimize the important work that public employees do...for the public. The vast majority of us are the middle class. We are not burdens on society. We are not wealthy. Most of us are just getting by, trying to raise our families, and in fact, most public employees are more than willing to take furlough days, pay cuts, do what we have to do, need to do to sacrifice for the greater good.
We'd all just like a little respect is all.