During a Facebook session regarding potential changes to Kentucky public employees’ pension plan programs, when asked how it would help the pension program if teachers choose to leave, Gov. Matt Bevin replied, “if you happen to be a teacher who would walk out on your classroom, in order to serve what’s in your own personal best interest at the expense of your children, you probably should retire.”
Allow me to explain exactly why that was an insult of epic proportions.
I’ve been the payroll officer for a small Kentucky school district for 28 years and 2 months, the very school system that I attended during all of my childhood. My job gives me knowledge of all aspects of what makes a school system successful.
Let’s explore a typical day in the life of public school students. It begins with the folks who transport them to the very buildings where they will obtain the most important thing in their lives, an education. If they take it seriously, it will be their salvation. Not all children are as lucky as Bevin’s and mine. For many, education is their only hope of getting out of the poverty that is so prevalent in the towns, cities and rural areas across Kentucky.
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Next up are the cooks. They arrive early to prepare a healthy meal so the children may begin learning without the distraction of a gnawing void in their stomachs.
Believe me when I tell you that the meals these children receive at school are the only ones many will eat for the day. Some of these cooks even give up their summer breaks to cook for a program which provides meals during the break for children who wouldn’t survive without them.
Now the students move on to those teachers Bevin so callously insulted. They are the heart and soul of what public school systems are all about. They are the ones who put forth every effort within their beings to provide these kids with all-important educations, gateways to their future.
More often than not, these teachers go above and beyond their duty by providing services these children should be getting elsewhere, but aren’t. They are more than teachers, they are mentors, parents, counselors, supporters. Teachers often put in long hours, deal with large class sizes, all while enduring increasing pressure for accountability in the face of inadequate resources.
Then there’s the rest of us, the ones behind the scenes, ensuring that these teachers, cooks, bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, instructional assistants have the resources they need to take care of the children who are at the very heart of it all.
Dealing with all the responsibilities that most non-public-school employees cannot begin to fathom quickly leads to burnout. The average number of years it takes for burnout to set in is…yes, 27. So, there’s a reason full retirement benefits are set to begin at 27 years of experience and/or 60 years of age for teachers.
A teacher who continues to work past burnout is the one actually doing the disservice to the students.
For teachers, and other school employees, being forced to work to the age of 65 to achieve full retirement benefits would be an absolute travesty. A teacher knows when it’s time to go. When the teacher reaches the stage where their heart is no longer in it, where the stress has become too much, the best thing they can do for the children is to pass the mantle to the young teachers who are fresh, strong, and ready to give it their all.
This is not walking out on their children, it is doing right by them. I ask Bevin to consider all I have said and do what’s right by public-school system employees.
Reneé Marcum-Losey lives in Stanton.