Allan Kidd’s story as told to John Volbrecht
Hard times for teachers are not a new phenomenon. I’m a fourth generation teacher, and there were times when my great-grandfather taught during the Great Depression, where they didn’t get paid. They got a choice: they could quit, take an IOU, or take store coupons. He took the store coupons and kept on teaching at Jackson High in Michigan.
It seems like for the past ten years teachers have had no pay raises, no step increases (which are small pay bumps for each year of service), and have had their benefits cut. The inflation increase, which would allow teachers to keep up with the rising cost of living, has actually dropped every year since I’ve been teaching. There has not been any increase in pay for a number of years. Thus, every year inflation is eating away the actual buying power of our salary. I am paying several thousand dollars per year more for health insurance that covers much less.
I think, Should I just quit? But I think of my grandfather, and his loyalty to his school. Then you look at the newspaper, and some people are making big money off education–textbook publishers, private charter schools, lobbyists. So why are we, year after year, being asked to make sacrifices? Our salaries are frozen–I haven’t had a step increase in 5 years, I have only had one adjustment for inflation, and the health insurance is going up and up every year. I get highly effective ratings, but my base salary remains the same after many years. All this, while there are record highs on Wall Street?
You don’t go into this to get rich. On the other hand, the trade off is stability–not having to worry about whether not you will have health insurance, pay the bills. The precedent of the attack on teaching goes back 100 years.
I’m not necessarily saying I’ve got it worse than they did back then, but those cuts were comparatively very modest. And the respect level, even if the compensation was there, has diminished.
When I grew up, we had physical education everyday from kindergarten to tenth grade. When I taught in Japan, they had physical education about three times a week. Now, it’s once every four days, or for a period of nine weeks. I think this is impacting the whole nation–more and more people are having to go on disability, because they haven’t been given an education in developing healthy exercise habits. Art and music are being cut. More and more time is being spent in English class on mandated activities, so much so that it’s hard to find an opportunity for students to read a book. The balance isn’t there, either–so much of the reading is skewed toward western civilization. I’ve seen some of the test prep at all levels, and I see the problems–the reading is shallow.
I don’t have a standardized test for Japanese, but that’s a double-edged sword. For the subjects that do get tested, you get money and resources. But, those teachers get heavily micromanaged. Teachers of the arts, music, foreign languages, and consumer sciences are just on the periphery. Their budget is so strictly limited.
You hear a lot of bad stuff about kids these days, but I think it’s because so often, we don’t ask the kids to make a contribution. That’s how I came to be the advisor of the Recycling Club. Back in the era of the one-room schoolhouse, students had ownership of their school building.They stoked the fires, they swept the floors, they kept it in good condition. The students in my club now, they volunteer, they pick up the recycling for the whole school! That’s not a small job. The club was founded by students ten years ago. They came to me and said they were starting it, and I told them that was great, they should let me know if they needed assistance. They came back thirty minutes later and asked me to head the club. That was ten years ago, and here we are. Every Friday, they pick up the recycling all around the school–it’s a dirty job. There are about 100 different places. This Friday, it was like 44 degrees, and they took it outside and sorted out the metal, paper, and plastic.. Most of the kids were out there in the rain. If it’s 10 degrees, or 90 degrees, they’re out there. It’s student-led, and they make a great contribution.
Kids today deserve more credit. In Japan, Korea, and China, they take education very seriously, but they still make time for students to take care of the school. Think of it–1,000 students cleaning for 20 minutes a day, what we could accomplish, what could be saved, and how it would affect students’ pride in their school.
The money is there. I see kids with textbooks several inches thick, and I think, We don’t need to spend more money on education. We need to stop wasting it.
John Volbrecht is a new Hoosier, having moved to Muncie in June 2016. He is enjoying local culture, and looks forward to future volunteer opportunities.
This story originally appeared in Facing Teaching, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.