Guest Editorial: Our Teachers Deserve More

by Dennis Kelly and Rick Reynolds on September 29, 2005

Why are our schools facing potentially disastrous labor conflict? Take a moment to look beyond drama surrounding the Board of Education and the Superintendent and get to know what is going on with all the other people who actually do the work in the schools. Beginning teachers in San Francisco earn $40,310 per year. The median household income in San Francisco in 2002 was $58,621. Housing prices can start at fifteen times a teacher’s salary and a one bedroom apartment rental averages $1200.

In this city $40k starts to disappear quickly. After the rent has been paid, student loans take another chunk out of teacher’s paychecks. After all, credentialed teachers need a Bachelor’s degree and one or two additional years of study. Add in the cost of other essentials
Of course our example doesn’t even take into account many of those beginning teachers with children of their own. Most teachers take their jobs home with them. Their days at school are matched by their work at home. That makes the pay even less acceptable.

Then there is the established fact that teachers reach into their own pockets to buy supplies, pay for field trips, add enrichment to their classes. Compare the pay to the responsibility and see if we can justify the failure to properly pay those responsible for caring for and guiding children to positively contribute to society.

Elementary school teachers are almost entirely responsible for keeping track of the education of about thirty children. Many teach two grade levels in mixed classes. Most teach classes of students with mixed aptitude levels that make lesson planning a challenge. Elementary school teachers are arguably the most important teachers in a child’s entire education. For new teachers, the stress of guiding a bunch of kids while learning to be an effective teacher can contribute to ulcers. It’s distressing that these teachers who are responsible for our children_s education at the most critical time in their lives have to spend nights worrying about making ends meet instead of worrying about why Johnny keeps trying but can’t keep up in class. And the possibility of being laid-off hangs over their heads at the end of the school year.

Teachers are at the top of the educational food chain; to others in schools it seems that they have it made. Many jobs in education that have an effect on children_s education don’t necessarily involve standing in front of a classroom and teaching daily lessons. The people who support and enhance the classroom are in even more precarious situations. The secretaries and clerks, custodians, and cooks perform work that our children need. Without support staff, students aren’t fed, bathrooms aren’t cleaned, records aren’t maintained, and special-education needs are not met. All of these jobs are important and most definitely affect the education process. Any disruption in the services provided by these people distracts teachers and students from focusing on learning.

The first educators to be endangered when funding shrinks are the paraprofessionals, also known as ‘paras’. Paraprofessionals are key support staff; they are the ones who work with students in the classroom assisting teachers in countless ways. Teachers and parents rely on paras for assisting special needs students, providing translation for English language learners, running a school’s computer lab, and serving as campus security. Many students helped by paraprofessionals are considered “at-risk” (in danger of dropping out or failing). Losing an at-risk student almost too often means finding a new welfare enrollee, criminal or inmate. Each of those possibilities cost society more than the paraprofessional who could have helped a student become an auto mechanic, computer programmer or police officer.

None of these SFUSD employees has had a raise or cost of living adjustment in the past few years. Many have lost their jobs as the State plays games with education funding. Talk of strike and work stoppage is difficult for school workers. They are accustomed to thinking always of the children before themselves. But, if the people in the schools can’t afford to work here, then the work does not get done and the children suffer.

Mr. Kelly is the United Educators of San Francisco president, and Mr. Reynolds is a parent of an Aptos 7th grader and a parent advocate.

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