Much has been said since Governor Christie initiated his confrontation with our teachers in his attempt to balance the state budget. We’ve heard teachers referred to as greedy, elitist, and unwilling to share in the sacrifice with the working class to help our state. I do not believe this rhetoric to be true.
I grew up on 48th street in Weehawken during the 1930’s and 40’s. Those were tough times; my family was poor. We were janitors in the building where we lived. My parents worked and had little time for me. However my intelligence, ambition and self respect were developed through the encouragement of my teachers. My father, who had bouts of depression, left us when I was 13. We lost what little we had. Then we moved out of Weehawken to the furnished – room apartments of Union City, Jersey City and finally Hoboken. I never lost those values instilled in me by my teachers. When I was 14, I was valedictorian of my Junior High Class. At age 15, I came back to Weehawken to win the Hudson County Oratorical Championship. When I was 16, my mother died, leaving me homeless until the military service accepted me. After the military I spent the next 35 years working on Wall Street. Starting as a clerk, I ended my career as a Vice President and Senior trader. This letter, however, is not all about me. This letter is about the teachers who made success possible for me and continue to make a better life possible for today’s children.
These college graduates decide to be teachers, not because of high salaries, but because they wanted to do something important. Their motivation is caring for children, helping children and giving them a love of learning. They don’t only teach the curriculum, they also develop character and instill respect foe self and others. They encourage ambition, participation and urge children to dream, imagine and reach for the stars. They strive to not only improve their students, but also to educate themselves. They take classes and go to seminars while constantly looking for new ways to challenge their students. At the same time, they are paying close attention to those who need extra help and encouragement. They give school supplies to those who don’t have them. They use their spare time to plan trips and events. They clean up our children’s messes. They hurt when our children hurt, and they fail when our children fail. It is not an easy job. Teachers are not greedy for themselves. Rather, they are greedy for the children to whom they want to give the most. They are not “elitists” but they are elite, the best of the best. They sacrifice while millions are given tax breaks. They are the working class. I know this because I have been working as a volunteer at Daniel Webster School in Weehawken for the last ten years. It’s been my privilege to observe these dedicated people. They spend more time with the children than many parents are able to spend. I love them and hold them in the highest esteem, as all of us who love children should.