Feeling The Pain Of Furloughed Teachers

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - September 30, 2009
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I have been watching the Hawaii State Teachers Association bargaining story and, like everyone else, I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad the final agreement appears to be something the teachers and the state can live with. I wouldn’t call it a win-win situation by any means, because it is clear that in this economy there are no winners, only survivors.

First, some disclosure. My sister is a teacher in the public school system. So, yes, I tend to see teachers as noble and wonderful and dedicated human beings. With human faults, of course, but the faults for the most part are far overshadowed by what these people do for our kids every day.

If my sister is typical, and I think she is, then teachers spend a lot more time with their students than is required in their contract. I know that when the bell rings at the end of the school day she does not pick up her things and run out the door. She is there, helping her kids, talking to them, still teaching. Her classroom is like a clubhouse - kids come to hang out and connect and, hey, at least they’re not out on the streets or cruising the mall and getting into trouble.

I know that on her “days off” she often is still “on.”

I know that she provides “my kids’ (as she calls them) with snacks and needed supplies. She is not a rich woman, just a very generous and caring one. I wish I were more like her, but then I guess I would be a teacher, too.

So I have a feeling 17 furlough days will mean very little to my sister and many of her colleagues when it comes to time spent teaching or helping kids. If she remains true to form, I suspect she will continue to make herself available. The only difference is, she’ll have less money to buy those little extras for her kids, and she’ll spend more time helping them play catch-up for all the classroom time they miss.

She’s not complaining. It’s not her style. And I’m not complaining on her behalf. I think the economic reality of our state and our country pretty much dictated the outcome of this collective bargaining. I’m simply stating fact. A teacher - a real, dedicated, caring professional - almost always puts students first. And that attitude often puts teachers at risk of being taken for granted.

I would like to make a plea on behalf of our teachers that we not take them for granted. Sure, it’ll be hard on parents as well. Finding day care for the children on the off days is a new little kink in our plans. It’ll be an added expense for many and another headache for already overburdened working families. But we have to remember that this is hard for all of us.

I do have a thought, though, about one way we can help show our support for the teachers and our schools. There is a charity that’s recently come to my attention that can give our schools a boost. It’s called DonorsChoose.org, and as you can guess by the title, it’s an online charity that connects you, the giver, with individual teachers who need supplies for their students. The site is area specific, which means the dollars you give stay in Hawaii. Many of the requests come from high-poverty areas, and the beauty of this charity is that you can see the results of your contribution almost immediately. The requests are varied, and some will break your heart.

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