(The Humbolt Unified School District approved a substantial teacher pay raise Tuesday night. See page 1A for details.)
Time is of the essence. This year I am celebrating 28 years of teaching. During that time, I taught 18 years of high school, one year of junior high school, three years of community college and six years on the university level.
I am all but finished with the dissertation on my Ph.D. in Theater Philosophy, a difficult, "pure" degree that required three years of on-campus study; it is not a convenient degree, like an educational doctorate that students can acquire on weekends, evenings and online. As a single parent, I had to go back to work before completing my doctoral thesis because my son was ill. I have 28 years of experience and 75 hours of 800- and 900-level courses past my master's degree.
Though I am not a Prescott Valley taxpayer (I live in Prescott with my husband), I teach in Prescott Valley. When I interviewed for my position here, five years ago this month, three administrators all told me it was only a matter of time before we added the MA plus 60 step on our salary scale. They used this argument as a ploy to make me "feel better" about taking step 7 for my then 23 years of experience. I accepted the position in good faith that they would compensate my higher education in the near future, even if they weren't going to recognize my experience. That was five years ago.
Until I was married to my husband eight years ago, I lived on my teaching salary, as many of my colleagues do here. At the age of 40, I owed $52,000 for my graduate degree work, and I owed more than $30,000 in hospitalization for my sick child. Yet, I still didn't give up teaching.
I have won personal rewards for my fortitude. I am debt free 11 years later thanks to my good health, strong determination to keep working and the support of a loving husband. I have been so lucky, in fact, that my husband and I have been giving two $3,000 scholarships to a Prescott Valley senior boy and girl each year since we paid off my debts. We have wanted to give back for our personal and financial good fortune. We wanted to show kids "there is always a way."
But many, too many, other hardworking teachers continue to struggle, and they are getting tired of the battle. They are feeling beaten down, defeated, unappreciated, and we are going to lose them from our district and perhaps from education altogether.
In America, economic compensation is one of the most important ways for employers to motivate and appreciate us. We have to break the dysfunctional pattern in the tri-city area of exploiting the education, intelligence and work ethic of teachers.
I'd like to think I chose the right school district to teach my remaining decade. In 2009 when I retire, more than half of today's teachers will have preceded me. I am the end of the baby boomers, and universities do not have even one-third of their graduates leaving with educational degrees to replace us.
Imagine the success story the Humboldt District could be if they executed the vision and leadership to step up to the plate for teachers and didn't just rubber-stamp the weaker decisions of Mayer, Chino and Prescott. We need to take our own adult advice, and "just because Mary jumps off the bridge doesn't mean we have to do it!"
I hope Humboldt will let 301 money go to teachers' raises, that it won't just add another administrative position to a staff that already has more people than student bodies larger than ours. I hope it will compensate their teachers at their salary base and with the incentive related to teaching goals, not only administrative goals.
I hope Humboldt reaches for higher ground where teachers compete to work, rather than the fourth in our area, which gives our great kids what is left.
I have written 10 letters of reference already this spring for colleagues I do not want to lose! Time is of the essence.
(Catherine Miller Hahn is advanced placement teacher at Bradshaw Mountain High School. She also is on the adjunct faculties for NAU and Yavapai College in the departments of humanities, communication, theater and education.)