Friday, July 20, 2018

Why Teachers In Low Tax States May Have No Choice Other Than To Leave Their Profession

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Graphs tell the basic story of why so many are bailing out of teaching (From Money magazine, August, p. 66)

The news ('I Didn't Really Have A Choice', MONEY,  August, p. 62, by Jennifer Calfas)  that dedicated teachers around the nation are ditching their jobs because of low pay and dwindling benefits is not something this country can afford.   But as the graphic shows, is quite understandable given the squeeze our national economic model has put on these stewards of education. Those like Mallory Heath, presented as one example in the piece (among several) -  who had to leave her job as an English teacher in Arizona's Chandler School District  - because she realized she couldn't even afford to go to the ER for a medical emergency.

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Mallory Heath - had to quit teaching after a health wake up call.

In 31- year old Mallory's case, her moment of truth arrived one night in October, 2017 when she was unable to speak  for 12 minutes.  She couldn't write or talk as she usually could and her words came out jumbled and nonsensical. Reading about her ordeal in many ways reminded me of the speech aphasia Janice experienced in the fall of October, 2016 - triggered by a TIA (transient ischemic attack). Fortunately, I was able to quickly discern from her rapid finger pointing - at a note tacked to the fridge - that she wanted to go to the Memorial Hospital stroke unit. I phoned 9-11 immediately and within a half hour she was in the ER stroke unit - being cared for- and with neurological tests run,  Plavix  (blood thinner) given subsequently.

Mallory subsequently found out  her aphasia was migraine-associated, and we learned (p. 64):

"Amid the  terrifying episode, Heath chose not to go to the emergency room. She knew she couldn't afford it."

Further, quoting Heath in the article:

"I realized, how often do I put my health on the line because I just don't have the funds to take care of myself""

And so:

"Almost a year later Heath has left the profession she calls her identity."

In many ways this Hobson's choice in respect of a coveted career was foisted on her by her state, which opted for low taxes as opposed to paying teachers and other civil servants. Arizona is but one of a number of states in Reepo land - including West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, North Carolina and others - going the lower tax or tax cut route. So they were unable to properly pay their first line of civil servants - educators.

 As reported in The Nation, July 30-Aug. 6,  p. 22,  "without the Oklahoma income tax cuts implemented between 2009 and 2016, there would have been $356 million available", e,g. to cover higher teacher salaries and enhanced benefits.  Further: "Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina and Oklahoma are among the  states that passed income tax cuts rather than restore spending on classroom, despite all four seeing huge drops in per pupil spending over the past decade."  In Arizona alone, where Mallory taught, "K-12 funding fell by nearly 37 percent" between  2008 and 2015.  Of course, this is disgraceful, and unworthy of any nation - or state- that claims to put its children first.

The MONEY article featured talks with a half dozen teachers who left and their reasons, including years long salary freezes, second or third jobs taken to make ends meet and classrooms "filled to the brim with students amid teacher shortages and dwindling funding".


"As pay fell or grew stagnant, their costs for health insurance rose. Meanwhile, a public employee pension crisis left teachers concerned about attaining a financially stable retirement."

In respect of the last, I had already (Feb. 13) cited the parlous condition of Colorado's state pension fund (PERA)  from a Sunday Denver Post  piece which observed:
"PERA is barreling toward its second funding crisis in a decade...Any attempts to water down a proposed reform package could leave the retirement system that 1 in 10 Coloradans depend on as a replacement for Social Security in grave financial peril. "
Adding:  "PERA has only 58.1 percent of the money it owes in future retirement checks."

But a potentially more toxic dynamic appears to also be at work as expressed by another teacher (Brian Steinberg) in the Philadelphia School District.  According to Steinberg "It's not just the pay, it's a profession that should be treated almost like doctors, but we're treated like babysitters."

The takeaway from his comment is that even if many teachers now abandoning their profession might be prepared to put up with all the stress and strain from the meager remuneration - the lack of respect is the killer. Why work and slave all hours of the day (and night) when you can't get a scintilla of respect from the larger society?

Much of this, obviously, is because of the ignorance and myths spread about teaching - i.e. it's a cushy job because it ends at 2:30 p.m. or whatever (in any case "not 8 to 5"), not  processing all the indecipherable homework, test papers, reports and other assignments that must be marked. But since our society is replete with dummies who know nothing -and many take after the top know nothing - this is a byproduct.  By contrast the more educated and intelligent citizens of Germany accord teachers proper respect, and demonstrate it with concomitant pay and benefits.

Another piece of idiocy has to do with myths surrounding "long" summer vacations and the great unwashed mass of Americans believing teachers just lollygag in the Sun every day or watch TV soaps while gobbling Twinkies.  No remote consciousness of the educator workshops, specialized training courses (e.g. in physics and chemistry)  or volunteer activities teachers undertake  - OR the temporary jobs in retail, fast food  etc. to try to make ends meet.

But  I suspect another more malign aspect is at work, driving the disrespect and lack of pay, benefits in Trumpdom, especially.  That is,  the entrenched anti-intellectualism which has been an abiding feature of U.S. society almost since the year dot.   I appreciated this backward strain even more on coming across some personal notes  (again unearthed by Janice in communication with other members of penned by a teaching ancestor, Jacob Brumbaugh - ca. 1898.
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My 19th century ancestor Jacob Brumbaugh, who was heralded as a "great teacher"  in the local (Philadelphia) press- once he reached the college level.

He wrote that: "I don't believe I received the respect I deserved teaching, until I became a college teacher."

Which is kind of counterintuitive , given that college teachers, professors, depend on high school teachers to have properly prepared the students who end up within their hallowed ivy walls.

Much of the nation's anti-intellectual strain has been documented in Richard Hofstader's book, 'Anti-Intellectualism In American Life'  Hofstadter delves into the reasons that intellectuals – mainly on the Left – are detested with such verve by the American Right. The reasons often aren’t pretty, or even comprehensible,  and in fact are often downright puerile and smack of envy, i.e. that the Right simply lacks the brainpower of the nation’s liberals. 

As recently as four years ago, this was revived with the Righties' attacks on Neil deGrasse Tyson in the news 'Cosmos' series.  The attack arrived in a despicable article in a National Review story by Charles C. W. Cooke entitled “Smarter Than Thou”. Therein, Cooke whined about “the extraordinarily puffed-up ‘nerd’ culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States.” 

This was soon followed by a contribution from Fox host Greg Gutfield who, during one panel exchange, burped out- regarding Neil Tyson:

"I hate this guy! I remember hearing Chris Hardwick on a podcast talk about Neil deGrasse Tyson and he was just salivating. White liberal nerds love this guy so much, he could defecate on them like Martin Bashir’s fantasies and they would dance in the streets.”

So clearly, if such contempt could be held for an astrophysicist like Tyson, how much less respect do you think these knuckledraggers (and most of the nation enthralled by FOX News) would have for secondary school teachers?

The good news for Mallory is she landed on her feet, having recently started a job (p. 67) as a literary curriculum specialist at Pearson Education - a multinational corporation.  Working for a corporation may not have been her ideal gig but it "will keep her close to the profession she loves".

That's more than can be said for many others who continue to leave, and find they have to enter totally different careers, e.g. bartenders, nurses, auto mechanics, to survive.

Such departures may become more common as credit card debt rapidly increases (cf. 'Consumer Spending Rise Has Dark Side', WSJ, 7/ 16, p. B1) now having risen $24.6 billion in May, or nearly double  relative to a month earlier. This according to a Federal Reserve Report. 

No matter how much some will insist "Well, if they really loved teaching they'd find a way",  in the end financial reality will catch up even to the dedicated holdouts.  No one, after all, wants to be hounded by debt collectors or forced to declare bankruptcy.

See also:


"Trump voters were the target before they were Trump voters. The prerequisite for expending energy on such an initiative was an analysis of the fears, appetites and intellectual wattage of the targets. These are the people who could be seduced into bad mortgages, Jimmy Swaggart, Colonel Sanders, cabbage patch dolls, Mitch McConnell, the Kardashians, and styrofoam.

It's the soft, muddled collective anti-intellectual center that made success possible. Yes - something sinister did get into the minds of, if not millions, the smartly located thousands. The soft spasmodic brain is now at the head but it was put there by the soft spasmodic guts of the country being fed whoppers. Even the expression - red meat - speaks to this. Feeding his base, "red meat." Disgusting imagery for a metaphysical reality."

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