In a recent letter to the editor, the writer started their letter by stating “..this is not an attack on any one teacher.” They then proceeded to attack the entire New Paltz teaching staff by sharing some of the contractual language of their contract. The first two paragraphs stated the minimum amount of time that teachers are required to work. While these numbers are correct, they do not accurately reflect what happens in real life. Many, if not most teachers are at school well before or well after the official “start and end” times on a regular basis. During that time, they prepare the classroom for the day. Others continue the work they did at home the night before, marking papers. Some are meeting with parents who need an early morning meeting. Other are providing enrichment for students who can come early or stay late, either in groups or individually. Others stay to meet with their colleagues on an informal basis, planning how to work together collectively, discussing practice, sharing resources. Some are taking in-service courses. At night, teachers are marking papers, developing assignments, researching lessons and talking on the phone with parents.
During those summers off, most teachers further their education with ongoing professional development, engaging in programs and projects to increase their skill, expand their knowledge base and help to make them better teachers. To maintain a teaching license in NYS, all teachers must take 175 hours of coursework over a five-year period, one week a year. For at least one week prior to school, many teachers, especially but not exclusively those at the elementary level, come in to prepare the classroom for the student’s arrival. They put their room back together after it has been serviced by maintenance, unpack their supplies, do massive amounts of paperwork to get ready as well as be available to meet students who always come in so see who is their new teacher(s).
The writer then goes on to examine the benefits teacher’s receive. This is the local echo of the now national mood to incite people against public employees. This has resulted in a review of this compensation. Studies have shown that when accounting for level of education, public employees, including teachers, make less than their counterparts in the private sector when salary and benefits are considered. In NYS, all teacher must have a Master’s degree in Education.
But this outrage belies a more troubling trend in our public discussion. It is true that public employees, workers who are about the only group left with powerful unions, have a decent wage, for which they work hard by the way!
It is more of a concern that others wish to pull them down rather than say, “Why don’t I have good health insurance, more vacation time, better retirement options, and the ability to have a say in my work rather than be dictated to?” Why do we not seek to aspire to all of us having a better economic life? There is enough money out there. But we don’t have it. Guess who does!
This shift of wealth upwards coincides with the decline of unions since the early 70’s. What has happened in our society is a massive transfer of wealth to the top 2% and within that, the big winners by far are the top one-tenth of one percent. Over the last 30 years, this vast accumulation of wealth--how many mansions can you own?--has led to vast amounts of money being used to legally bribe and buy politicians of both parties. What has resulted is an abandonment of a middle class society. What is now clear, although it has been happening over time, is the creation of an oligarchy, a society that is being run for the benefit of the wealthy. In NYS, since 1990, the top 1% of earners, those earning over % 633,000 in today’s dollars with the average income being 2.3 million, have doubled their share of income, from 17% to 35.3%. The top 5% of all earners, those with incomes from $209,000 up, take home 49.4% of all NYS incomes. The rest of us now share the remaining 50.6%. The bottom 50% of all earners in NYS take home only 9.1% of all income, down from 13.9% in 1990. Moreover, that top 1% pays only 8.4% of their income in NYS taxes while those with incomes from $33,000 to 209,000 pay between 10.7% and 11.0% of our income in taxes.
We, the bottom 95%, are being squeezed. We are being pitted against each other. Who benefits?