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No apple for these teachers

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Esther Cepeda
February 24, 2011
— Raise your hand if you're disgusted with the Wisconsin school teachers who selfishly left thousands of school children and their parents in the lurch to demand protection of their contractually guaranteed goodies.

Those professional educators and role models called in sick and even picked up fake doctor's notes during rallies to avoid trouble with school administrators while on their field trips to Madison to protest.


The teachers were cheese-brained for walking out of work, denying schooling for four days to the very students they profess to care so much about -- even after the head of the state's largest teacher's union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, asked them to return to their classrooms.


I'm a former teacher, current teacher spouse, parent of public school students and infuriated that these teachers so blatantly perpetuated the myth that educators are spoiled, entitled crybabies who don't work as hard as others for their salaries and -- as the stereotype goes -- care more about their paychecks than they do their students.


I've been in the trenches at election time when struggling school systems try to move heaven and earth to convince voters to approve referendums that would allow a few extra pennies of their tax bill to fund schools.


You go door-to-door and ask people to support the schools and the first thing they spit at you is that if the teachers weren't paid so much for only about nine and a half months of work, the schools would have more money.


And does it hurt that they sort of have a point -- which is why the nation's eyes are on Wisconsin.


The Badger State has a $3 billion two-year budget deficit and spends about $5 billion per year on education, about 80 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits. Mirroring the rest of the country, the system is breaking under the costs. And as painful as it is -- and as much as I revere the unique contribution teachers make to society -- there's no question that sacrifices are necessary.


Gov. Scott Walker's proposed reform would allow state employees to negotiate wages up to a ceiling that would trigger a referendum, and require workers to contribute almost 6 percent of their pay to their pensions -- most pay less than 1 percent now. Workers would also be required to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums, roughly double what they contribute now but still about half what workers in the private sector contribute.


I agree this is a financial hit. But to anyone who is lucky enough to work 50 weeks a year, isn't guaranteed a cost-of-living increase, pays out the nose for employer-based medical insurance and might make a little more money but has to save it all in order to have a retirement fund, this state worker revolt looks really bad.


Plus, as a teacher, once you get back to your classroom, what do you say to students who might have seen protesters on TV waving signs comparing the state's governor to Adolf Hitler?


What heated denunciations will your students have heard about you during the time parents scrambled to find adequate child care so they could get to the job where calling in sick is not an option? If their parents are lucky enough to be employed, that is.


What average person, now, will take seriously the very real crisis of teacher retention? Half of all lower-paid, untenured new teachers -- many of whom who put in nights, weekends and holidays to provide the very best educational experience for their students -- burn out and leave teaching within five years. It's difficult to consider their issues after seeing close-to-retirement teachers angrily storming the capital to keep what's theirs, financial realities be damned.


It kills me that decades of defending teaching as a noble profession --undertaken not for the summers and long holidays, but for the desire to educate children -- are so easily eroded by the TV spectacle of teachers, holding sometimes misspelled posters, storming the capital.


The Great Wisconsin Teacher Walkout of 2011 might have won the hearts of TV and Twitter pundits eager to make insulting comparisons to the ongoing democracy protests in the Middle East being waged by citizens with few basic human rights. But in the court of public opinion, it is a failure.


Esther Cepeda's e-mail address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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