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Compass: Teachers work hard to earn high standards

About 10 years ago, after working in the private sector and finding it unfulfilling, I made a choice to pursue a more satisfying profession. Since making this choice, I have read and heard people referring to those in my profession as union thugs. They have said we only work for summers off and are lazy and ineffectual yet can't be fired because we are "tenured." Not to mention that we don't want to be held accountable and are indoctrinating children with terrible things like critical thinking and questioning the status quo.

You may have guessed what profession I chose that deserved these, and worse, directed at it. I decided to become that horrible blight on society: the teacher.

Now let me add a new one. According to Mayor Sullivan, teachers are only doing this because everything else we wanted to do was "too hard."

If only helping our students to succeed were as easy as putting down our teachers. America would be trouncing Finland and Singapore with their respect and deference to the professionals who dedicate their lives to other people's children. How dare they!

Many teachers, like myself, see the union as a necessity because of the aforementioned critics who are focused on destroying public education to lay groundwork for public funding of for-profit and religious schools. Neither of which will be bound to the same high teacher and student standards as public schools. While some current private schools practice high standards, others don't, and who knows what will come out of the woodwork once the money starts flowing.

Contrary to popular belief about tenure, we could be fired tomorrow for a wide variety of things, many that wouldn't get you fired in the private sector. Some would get you reelected, if the news is any indication. The teacher professional code of ethics is one of the strictest around. Tenure merely provides due process to protect people from termination because of personal, not professional, reasons. As a teacher, if you aren't doing your job or are unethical, you get fired. Whether it is your first or 15th year.

As for our mayor's unfortunate claim, he should know almost half of ASD educators hold a master's degree and 98 percent of us are highly qualified in the area we teach, either by major, testing out or documented experience. Most educators are highly qualified in multiple subjects. Additionally, by the time an educator has reached the end of his or her career, they will have taken enough additional college credits, both required and voluntary, for another postgraduate degree, if not more.

To say we do this because everything else was "too hard" is not only insulting and has no basis in fact but is also counterproductive to improving student learning. We do this because we love to do this and we made the conscious choice to do it in spite of the increasing number of reasons NOT to do it. Why else would we continue to do it year after year with Dan Sullivan and our Legislature making it harder and harder with what they say and do? Why else would those of us hired after July 1, 2006, come to a job with basically a 401(k) but no Social Security benefits, even if we came to the profession after paying into Social Ssecurity by working in the private sector?

There are many reasons each of us has decided to join this noble profession but that everything else was "too hard" isn't one of them. If the mayor and other politicians truly want to help student learning, let's stop demonizing the teacher. Research has shown we are the most important classroom factor in a child's learning. When you wrongfully assume, and outwardly spew, that we chose this for any other reason than to help kids, you lose your strongest ally in education reform. Education has to continually evolve with changing students and global challenges. But it has to change from all sides, together. Sound bites may get you votes but they won't help student learning.

Ben Walker is a National Board Certified science teacher at Romig Middle School in Anchorage. He is a strong proponent of meaningful public education reform. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Whitman College and a master's from UAA.