Education

Salary Hikes, Free Laptops, and Steelers’ Fans Who Teach

By Anthony Rebora — January 25, 2006 3 min read
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Start packing your bags: This could the year you finally get to go on that cruise. Thanks to brimming revenues and election-year dynamics, in at least a dozen states governors are asking for pay hikes for teachers, with proposals ranging from across-the-board raises to minimum-salary increases and performance incentives. Perhaps the most generous package comes from Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who wants to give teachers a 4 percent raise and a $100 gift card for classroom supplies, as well as underwrite a portion of their health insurance premiums. Still, you might want to wait on those cruise tickets: Some teachers’ union officials say the proposed increases won’t make up for the nonexistent-to-paltry raises in recent years. “This is better, but not good enough,” said Merchuria Chase Williams, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush is hoping that throwing in a free computer might be enough. Faced with an expected shortage of nearly 32,000 teachers, Bush has proposed a $237 million recruitment-and-retention initiative that would boost signing bonuses and perks for new teachers, particularly those in hard-to-staff subject areas, and provide laptops to all public school teachers in the state. Critics, however, argue that the plan doesn’t do much for veteran educators and question the rationale that the laptops will help lighten their paperwork burden. Paperwork “is a real problem and a real drain on teachers,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, “but I’ve always found that every time I get an upgrade of technology, my workload doesn’t get easier.”

The workload of school district translators certainly isn’t getting any easier. As immigrant populations grow in many suburban areas—and as education becomes increasingly laden with documentation—some districts find themselves having to rapidly expand and refine their translation services. The Montgomery County district in Maryland, where students speak more than 140 different languages, now sends letters home to parents in six tongues. In Virginia’s Fairfax County, student handbooks and notices have been rendered in seven languages, and last year the district’s translation unit contended with some 2,400 different documents. Adding to the burden is the difficulty—occasionally the virtual impossibility—of translating the thorny vocabulary of American education policy into any other language. “There is so much educationese out there that even an English speaker doesn’t have total understanding,” observed Cindy Kerr, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations.

The language surrounding Britain’s school system has been described as “feverish” after it was reported that a man who’d once been cautioned by police for downloading child pornography was allowed to work as a school gym teacher. The report generated a vociferous round of recrimination and sensationalism in the British media (“Pervs Now Rife in Our Schools,” read one headline), and it ultimately prompted the government to announce a plan to tighten background checks for teachers and better coordinate lists of potentially unsuitable candidates. But some observers, pointing to a search of school employment records produced by Secretary of Education Ruth Kelly, suggested the scandal was blown out of proportion. “This is a level of hysteria that makes McCarthyism look benign,” said Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Kent and the author of Paranoid Parenting.

In this country in January, it’s football that sparks hysteria, and a high school student in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, is speaking out after his teacher allegedly made him sit on the floor during a midterm exam because he was wearing a Denver Broncos jersey. The incident occurred two days before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Broncos in the American Football Conference championship game. Seventeen-year-old Joshua Vannoy, a fan of former Broncos great John Elway, claims that the teacher, John Kelly, also ordered other students in his ethnicity class to throw crumpled paper at him and called him a “stinking Denver fan.” “It was silly fun. I can’t believe he was upset,” said Kelly, who on the day of the incident was wearing—you guessed it—a Steelers jersey. But Vannoy says the humiliating experience has made him uncomfortable about continuing in Kelly’s class. School officials said they’ll do whatever is necessary to make the student feel comfortable but declined to speculate whether the Steelers-loving teacher will be punted.

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