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Eric Sheninger Headshot

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

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It is a greater work to educate a child, in a true and larger sense of the word, than to rule a state - William Ellery Channing

All across the country, education is under attack on numerous fronts. No matter where you look, educators are to blame for the economic woes in many states. This is extremely puzzling to me, as it is well known that this downturn in our economy was a result of misguided, unregulated, or greedy practices of the private sector. Educators then became the scapegoats as a message of "shared sacrifice" swept the country.

How this makes sense to anyone is beyond me. Consider that the average starting teacher salary in NJ is around $40,000 and may approach $85,000 after 25 years of service, nearing retirement. So now, as states cry foul about their unprecedented budget gaps, educators are made to look like kings and queens because of their pensions and health benefits. Isn't it funny how everyone made fun of educators for choosing a profession that paid so little when the private sector was raking in the cash from the late 90s through 2006? Like virtually every educator in our country, I didn't go into this profession to become wealthy. I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of students and hopefully inspire them, like so many of my teachers did me, to be life-long learners and pursuers of dreams.

Recently NJ was the latest state to pass landmark employee legislation curtailing the collective bargaining rights of state employees, including educators. It was an extremely sad day for me personally, as I saw my grandmother and parents, retired educators who dedicated themselves to helping all students learn, have their pensions targeted by politicians who have never stepped foot in a classroom. Is this how we now treat people that made one of the most important decisions of their lives to make less money in the field of education as opposed to more lucrative positions in other lines of work? How do we not value the work that these retirees did for our schools and children to help catapult our country to such an elite status?

What concerns me even more is how the work of educators is being devalued to the point that no one will want to pursue one of the most rewarding careers available. More than ever, the field needs passionate individuals who have the drive, patience, and character to work with students that have diverse learning needs. As the seemingly relentless attacks continue, the incentive to become a part of the noblest profession decreases to a point that might be irreparable.

One might ask why I refer to education as the noblest profession. My answer stems from the fact that education is what makes all other professions possible. Take a minute and think about other career paths -- doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs -- and ask yourself if any level of education has had a impact on that person's ability to perform and succeed in those jobs. I think your answer would be a resounding yes. It is time for the negative rhetoric, demonizing, and punishment of the education profession to stop. If anything, we need to work harder to establish education as one of the most esteemed career paths as other countries have done. We have to treat those people who are, or were, in the classrooms with respect and dignity. In my opinion, blaming teachers for economic turmoil caused by others will continue to have an adverse effect on the quality of those entering the profession as well as a domino effect on every other profession. I see something wrong with this picture, do you?