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Not wasting a serious crisis

WASHINGTON — My sainted mother was a public school teacher until she married my father and immediately, as a married woman, was forced by local Massachusetts rules then in force to leave the classroom. (My own grade school teachers included Miss Galvin, Miss Harrington, Miss Donahue, Miss Keohane, Miss Condrick, Miss Loud … you get the picture.)

One happy adult memory is a lunch with my then-90-year-old mother in the leading Italian restaurant in our hometown of Weymouth, Massachusetts. The world-weary expression on our waitress’s face, herself already a grandmother, brightened immediately when she recognized my mother from more than 60 years earlier: “Miss Fallon,” she announced, “You were the best teacher I ever had. Remember me from the Jefferson School … Marie?” My mother did in fact remember and later unsentimentally recalled Marie’s losing encounters with the eights table in multiplication.

In addition to my mother, my only sister was a public school teacher. My only daughter was a teacher. After leaving the Marine Corps, I, too, taught high school history. I agree with former Democratic Texas Gov. Ann Richards who, before seeking and winning public office, had been a junior high school teacher. She said, “Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I’ve done.” Republican presidential candidate and former Sen. John McCain echoed the same sentiment when he argued that a good teacher should not be paid less than a bad congressman.

Former White House Chief of Staff and later Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shrewdly noted, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” meaning, “the opportunity for us to do things you could not before.” The current national and international crisis has closed schools and required parents to share confined indoor space with their children for hours and days on end.

All over America, mothers and fathers who had not thought much about it have been forced to confront, understand and appreciate what the American public school teacher does every day of the school year: manage, inspire, organize, discipline, inform and educate not one or two children but 30 children, all day long — some, sadly, with the attention span of a fruit fly.

While safeguarding people’s health and providing treatment to all afflicted are our overriding priorities, it may also be time for us Americans, beginning with parents, to recognize just how demanding, difficult and indispensable the work of the public school teacher is and that a school teacher deserves to be paid much more than the median salary, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $58,230 for an elementary school teacher in the U.S. Recalling McCain’s rule, a congressman — bad or good — is paid $174,000 a year.

There is not a school board or state legislature in the country in the spring of 2020 that would not be overwhelmingly urged by parents everywhere to support a major pay increase for public school teachers.

And while we’re on the subject of salaries, all those captains of industries, such as the airline CEOs, who’ve been pocketing multimillion dollar salaries and who are now coming to the taxpayers tin cup in hand to secure a public bailout, are now effectively public employees and should not be paid more than a good — or bad — member of Congress. It only seems fair, if the public pays their salary, that the public is able to set the pay scale. But first, let’s agree to pay the teachers a helluva lot more.

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To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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