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Fred's Views


Passing the Torch

Somewhere every thirty to forty years, the torch is passed. Somewhere someone is retiring and someone (hopefully) comes along to replace him/her. And so it is with me. I have officially retired from my job of almost 35 years. It would be normal for someone to reach this point full of mixed emotions, but I must be honest. I have been waiting for this day for 35 years. Of course, I always pictured things somewhat differently. I always assumed that I would be financially secure and that my children would be gainfully employed and busily obsessed with providing me with grand kids. About the only assumption I made which is, knock on wood, still true is that my wife and I enjoy good health.

My wife won't be retiring just yet, a fact that annoys her no end, but is the result of a financial commitment. My retirement at this time is also as a result of a financial situation: either I go now or lose out on an early-retirement inducement. The down side to all this is, of course, that she expects me to have the house spick and span and supper on the table. She also wants all of those little chores that have been piling up for 35 years to be completed, preferably by the end of the week. For my part, I feel I finally can do what I want, when I want. Reality is somewhere in between.

It would not be fair to say that I hated my job. It would not be fair to say that my job was tiring or all-consuming. In fact, my job has given me a lot of time and opportunity to develop and maintain my web sites among other interests. But it has always been a job, not a vocation or a career. If one were interested in "a career", one should not go into teaching or into "government" work in general. There is very little chance of advancement, no recognition (by your peers or management) of your abilities, and no hope of financial rewards for a job well done. Teaching should be a vocation, a calling. The biggest reward is the effect you have had on another human being's life. To be honest, I feel that I am an adequate teacher, that I can convey knowledge and explain away difficulties; but I have never been overly concerned with the impact I might have on another life. I work with adults, so I can get away with being more detached. But the best teachers, like those portrayed on Boston Public are vitally concerned with each student's life.

In Canada, while teachers are still considered to be among the low of the low, many are paid adequately, if not well. My impression is that teachers in the U.S. fare much worse. Not only do they not receive the respect they deserve, but they are paid far less than others with similar qualifications. In Buffalo, for example, teachers who teach in Buffalo are expected to live in Buffalo. I won't pretend to know all of the details, but I certainly can't see the logic behind this subjugation. Why would it make any difference where a teacher lived? What right has a school board to control a teacher's private life in this way? How many parents would put up with an employer who told them where they could live? Such disrespect runs rampant throughout Canada and the U.S. There is still an underlying belief that any work other than hard, manual labor is undignified or unworthy. There is still a belief that "mental work" isn't real work. There is still a belief that a teacher's day begins and ends when the kids arrive and leave school. Too many people have no idea of the hours and hours that most teachers put in marking schoolwork, preparing lessons, meeting parents, attending meetings and taking courses. I taught high school for two years, and I could never find the time to prepare my lessons well. I really had no time for myself - or my wife. I will admit that my job for the last 35 years has not made anywhere near the kinds of demands on me or my time that most teachers endure. I have been lucky. And I am in a very small minority. But even with my lucky situation, my job was much more taxing than appeared on the surface. While I did not have to prepare lessons every day, I still had a great deal of marking, I still needed to revise and devise new courses and learning materials. I still had to attend some of the most boring and disorganized meetings ever.

Teaching should be a vocation. When "Seven of Nine" (Jerri Ryan) dropped out of warp permanently, she landed on Boston Public. She was a lawyer. A lawyer that made many times as much money as a teacher, despite having only a year or two more education, if that. But she was dissatisfied, something was missing. She went into teaching. She gave up her career and her financial success to answer the call. However unrealistic that may be, it is the stuff that the best teachers are made of. Unfortunately, as long as teachers teach for the satisfaction that comes from seeing young minds grow, they will continue to be paid substandard wages, they will continue to be unappreciated and they will continue to be unfairly treated.

In Ontario, we are facing the prospect of a real teaching shortage, especially at the post-secondary level. While there are still many trained teachers who have been unable until now to find teaching jobs, this situation will soon change. While salaries may still be high enough not to deter would-be teachers, the working conditions and the continuing attitude of the government and some of the population, make teaching a far from ideal - or even noble - choice at the moment. Current government thinking is to "punish" teachers by making their jobs more onerous and less stable. What is needed, of course, is a way to encourage teachers to do better and to provide them with the tools of success. When success is recognized and rewarded, everyone strives to be successful. When positive results are not recognized, initiative and commitment decrease and failures increase. We need positive incentive, and we need it now.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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