The bad news for education in Virginia just keeps coming. The state legislature voted yesterday to compel all teachers to contribute 5% of their annual salary to the state retirement program. Until now, this was a contribution the state made as a benefit in lieu of lower salaries. Well, the lower salaries are still here, but now the benefit is gone. It makes me wonder where we are heading as a nation and what we really value.
I never minded that we didn’t make what other professionals with comparable education made. I didn’t become a teacher for the money- obviously. I didn’t hesitate to spend my own money to stock my classroom supplies or add books to my class library. Most of the time, it didn’t bother me that I worked evenings and on the weekends. I always found planning challenging and actually enjoyed working on curricula and reading professionally. I don’t mean to sound pious or self-righteous, but it just didn’t seem to be that big a deal.
But now, it all feels different. I think before this year, I thought everyone cared as much as I did, and the lack of funding was just an unfortunate reality. But now if feels more personal and much less about the best we can do. I worry about our kids. What will happen to them if we are becoming a nation that doesn’t value education? I worry that public education has become a throw-away item for most legislators. I worry that teachers have become easy targets because our knee-jerk reaction is to do the best we can with what we have, and that we have always been willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I worry because I find myself thinking that it’s time to draw the line and just say no, to refuse to deliver the same level of professionalism just because they assume I will, regardless of funding or benefits or no more duty-free lunches. I am worried because I am afraid that I have just about reached the end of what I am willing to do. And I worry about what that says about my professionalism.