To The Honorable Chris Christie,
I am the enemy. I never realized this until your election to governor. In a few short weeks, you have made this fact explicitly clear to me. A large portion of your budget address was about my profession, and how we have caused the problems this state now faces. I want to thank you for opening my eyes to this fact. However, I am not sure I understand how I am the problem or how I have caused the state to be in such debt.
I have been teaching in our public school system for 9 years. I started at $36,000 a year. My college roommate started as an office worker at an accounting firm for $75,000. It was the same year. He told me he mostly made copies and plugged numbers into a computer. I was designing lesson plans, teaching classes of 30+ students, some of whom had problems with drug abuse, crime, and depression. After nine years experience I made $52,000 last year. I would like to point out that this is $8,000 less than your “media relations” person. You know, the 25 year old who runs your Twitter and Facebook accounts. My college roommate? He makes double what I do now. We both have bachelor’s degrees. But what do I know? I am the problem.
You tell the people of New Jersey that we teachers get a free ride on the pension “gravy train”. Well, I contribute to my pension. It has been deducted from every paycheck I have ever received. Thousands. You do not contribute to my pension even though it is legally and contractually required. You have lied to the people of New Jersey and your refusal to pay the pension just puts off the inevitable. Leave the problem for the next generation, I suppose. I also paid over $6,000 in property taxes. It’s convenient that you leave us to be blamed for property taxes when we pay just as much as everyone else. You and those who attack us seem to forget that. But what do I know? I am the problem.
During my time as a teacher, I have volunteered many late hours….volunteered. Although you seem to think all I care about is me, me, me, I have coached girl’s powder-puff football for nothing. I have chaperoned school dances, plays, and fundraisers. I have worked the concession stand at football games. I wasn’t paid for any of this. I have bought hundreds of dollars worth of shirts, cookie dough, pizzas and countless other items I didn’t really need because I wanted to help support my students and their activities. I have “canned” at football games to help needy students, stayed late waiting for parents to pick up kids who missed their busses, and bought classes pizzas and breakfast to reward them for their excellence. I cooked a class eggs and waffles once because they brought in over 500 canned goods for our local homeless shelter. I have been in a dunk tank not once, but twice to fundraise for my school. I have taken pies to the face and almost had to kiss a ram, all for my students. My coworker and I once organized a pancake breakfast for a student battling cancer. We and many of our colleagues whom you demean were at school at 4:30 in the morning to prepare pancakes for a school of over 2,000 students. We raised over ten thousand dollars for that student. I never asked once, “What is in it for me?”
You have declared open season on teachers. You have made us the bane of New Jersey’s existence. I know, I read the comments on the APP.com and Press of Atlantic City websites. Teachers are lazy, overpaid, underworked. We are whiners. I guess that is what I am doing right now. You have made it okay to bash us. Some of the public are rejoicing that my colleagues will lose their jobs. Until you opened my eyes and opened their mouths, I never realized what a terrible person I was.
When I decided to study education in college my mother warned me that I had better not teach unless it was a passion. She told me if I just wanted summers off I wouldn’t last. She was a teacher herself. She said I could get paid better doing other things. She told me my efforts would not be appreciated, that it was only a matter of time before politics made us the enemy again. I didn’t listen. Teaching was a calling for me, and I thought that even though I wouldn’t be paid a lot, at least I would have good benefits, a pension, and job security. What a fool I was. I thought I was doing the right thing, helping kids, improving society. Turns out the whole time I was none of these things. I was the enemy. I was the problem. My own government has forsaken me; my own community would like to banish me. For the first time in my career, I am questioning my decision, feeling my passion diminish.
Thank you for showing me the light. My only hope is that the next generation does not see the light, and does not listen to you, because if they do there will be no more problems like me, there will be no public education. You will have won your war against the middle and lower class. You will create a society where the rich get educated and the poor do not. But then again, what do I know? I am the problem.
A 2007 Nominee for the Governor's Teacher of the Year Award