Thursday, May 26, 2011

What Drives Teachers?

The full out onslaught on teachers is alarming for a number of reasons. Firstly because I like the teachers I’ve encountered as a parent and also those I’ve met in other circumstances. Secondly, some of the rationales behind the teacher bashing doesn’t have any substance.
For example, State Sen. Anthony Williams, in an online chat on in August of 2010 says:

Sen. Anthony H. Williams:
Of course I recognize that some citizens with good schools in a poorly run school district want to keep the district chugging along. And I recognize that this has nothing to do with the NAACP. That is why they should not have been a party to the lawsuit. Profit is in the eye of the beholder. I've driven around many school district buildings and viewed quite an impressive array of automobiles. Lets not talk about who's profiting. My point is that a failing school regardless of a for-profit, charter, or traditional public should not remain open.

Notice the crack about the cars. He doesn’t say what school district building, whether it was a school or an administrative building. But he does make a judgment about people based on what they drive, and on how they are spending their money.

Teachers at public schools are public employees, which is one reason why they’re being bashed so much during an economic downturn. However, it does seem worth mentioning that State Sen. Williams is also a public employee, and that he makes more than the average PA teacher. In the last year that I can find such data, 2009, State Sen. Williams drove a state supplied Mercury Mariner Hybrid, costing $644 per month. State Sen. Williams pays for the time the car is used for personal reasons (see “Fewer in PA take state vehicles,” by Mario Cattabiani, Philadelphia Inquirer 31/4/2009). That’s in addition to his salary. Teachers don’t get extra money for a car to drive for school related purposes.

It is, however, never good to make assumptions. Take those 35 parking tickets that Sen. Williams didn’t have to pay (“Ticket-fixing probe shows city still has 2 sets of rules ,” by Paul Davies, Philadelphia Inquirer 6/13/2010). I’m sure there was a good reason for that. State Sen. Williams also has the luxury of correcting the record. This past month (4/28) the Inquirer’s “Clearing the record” had a note that a story published earlier that week implied that Sen. Williams owned or was driving a Cadillac Escalade. A Williams staffer contacted the paper to say that it was not his car and he was not driving it. The initial article, which mentioned the Cadillac Escalade, was the impetus for this post. I remembered Williams’s crack about the cars by the school buildings and intended to write about his use of a Cadillac while being snarky about teachers’ cars. A little research showed the correction, and his 2009 use of the Mercury Mariner Hybrid. So, there you go. He doesn’t own a Caddy. He got to correct the misconception. Where can teachers go to clear up the record of their car use? Maybe some of them have spouses with good incomes. Maybe they borrowed a car for the day. Maybe they choose to eat oatmeal, soup, and ramen noodles and spend their money on cars. Point being, they’re being slammed without a chance to reply.

When I drive through my local schools’ parking lots there might be some nice cars there; I don’t know enough to recognize makes and models. What I am sure of is that there are some great teachers in those schools and I don’t care what they drive. And I don’t like reading about people bashing teachers with little basis and no real evidence behind their comments.

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