Last year, my school district levy failed for the first time in fifteen years. We faced a huge deficit, and large-scale layoffs of teachers were imminent. Administrators and teachers collaborated , and one of the solutions to save money was to offer a retirement incentive of $24,000, to be paid out over the course of a three years.
The incentive worked. Thirty two teachers, or about 6% of teachers district-wide, decided to retire at the end of last school year.
This year, most in the district assumed the number of retirees would be way down, because all those that were thinking about retiring, left teaching last year, in order to take advantage of the incentive.
We were wrong. After the last school district board meeting, the number of teacher retirements approved by the board was….32.
How can this be? What would make teachers retire this year, when last year they could have received an extra $24,000? Our levy passed last May, on the second attempt, so there is no new budget crisis. Since we made large-scale reductions last year, there aren’t dramatic cuts planned for next year.
I had my theories, so I asked around, and my thoughts were confirmed.
What I found was that teachers were fed up with the attacks on their profession and public schools. They felt disrespected by politicians and community members. They were used to dealing with students who didn’t always show the respect they should have, but when they heard family members and friends say — through the Issue 2 battle in the fall — that they should “get a job that was for the whole year, not just nine months,” they lost faith. They lost the passion to continue doing the job they had loved for so many years.
Even though Issue 2 was defeated, the toll it has taken on teachers is evident. We get into the profession because of the noble work we can do for children, not because we consider teaching a great way to earn a buck or two. Issue 2 caused people to change the way they think about teaching. It’s a job now, not the rewarding career they used to know.
These retirees are not “bad teachers.” These are not washed up teachers. These are my colleagues and friends who have inspired me through my 13 years of teaching. These are people who I have learned from and who have helped me grow as an educator.
More significantly, it’s a sad situation for the students in my district. They are losing role models and teachers with extensive knowledge about the subjects they teach. They are losing teachers who have a wealth of experience to draw upon, to make learning meaningful. They are losing caring individuals, who have known students’ families for years, and have taught older siblings and even their parents.
Moving forward, I’m worried. I worry about the morale of teachers in my building, district and the state overall. I worry that many good teachers will retire, rather than face the barrage by outsiders who don’t understand the nature of public schools and what we deal with every day. I worry that my children, and the other children in my community, will miss out on having the opportunity to learn from these wonderful and talented veteran teachers.
Thirty two of my colleagues will box up their personal items this June. They will have some cake and a few laughs, as they reminisce about the things they experienced throughout their careers. They’ll make jokes about how they never have to attend another in-service or proctor another test. It will be a bittersweet farewell in so many instances, as I consider how much my colleagues, my students and I will lose, with the departure of these exceptional educators.
By Dan Greenberg, Sylvania Education Association