Can’t Win

Flashback a few years: I’m at some kind of reception where I’m standing near the headmaster of a fairly prestigious local private high school. His daughter’s at school at a very prestigious university on the mainland. We’re chatting about her career plans. He says she’s probably going to pursue music professionally, but is majoring in education.

Wait for it . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

“You know, as something to fall back on,” he says.

Fall. Back. On.

Now, I’m a teacher, so I’m used to hearing the F-phrase on a regular basis, mostly from students who disdain the very career that’s going to enable them to earn their business, medical, law, and engineering degrees and make more in a month than I earn in a year. I am not, however, used to hearing it from the head of a school.

Flash forward now, to this past weekend, when I am privileged to have lunch with a former holder of elected office. Very high office. He wants to know why high schoolers nowadays can’t write as well as they could when he was a public school student in the fifties or sixties. I present a few theories which I shan’t go into here, but it’s clear he doesn’t really want to hear what I have to say.

He goes on to explain his theory. Teaching is traditionally a woman’s career (true) at a time when not very many professional doors were open to women, so the best and brightest of them were nurses and teachers. Now that women are free to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople, what you end up with is the lower one-third of the educated class–men and women–taking jobs as teachers, and they’re just not as good at the job.

It’s a good thing I don’t carry my SAT scores in my wallet (heck, I don’t even carry a wallet), because I would have whipped them out, stuck them in front of his face, and said, “Excuse me, sir, but do these look like the scores of the lower third?”

I’m baffled and discouraged. Here’s a guy, the son of immigrants, who worked his butt off for everything he has (including a huge house in the most expensive neighborhood on the island) and became the first person of his ethnicity IN THE NATION to be elected to the office he once held, educated to the gills, just putting a steel-toed boot right in the gut of the profession that helped him to get all this.

When our own educated, elected officials and heads of schools don’t appreciate the office I hold, I know I can’t win. Meanwhile, as I continue to educate this state’s future doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businessmen, I struggle every day not to look at the garbage collectors, bus drivers, custodians, traffic-cone-layers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen and be reminded that each one of them makes more money than me.

I don’t want the world; I just want to be paid what I’m worth.

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