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CYC-Online Issue 38 MARCH 2002 / BACK
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Itís a strange world

Grant Charles

I was talking to a guy I know the other day who sells gas for a major oil company. He doesnít pump gas at a station but rather sells large gas contracts across North America. He works for one of those large oil companies that are more bureaucratic than most governments. Innovation isnít their strong suite. He has a quota to fill but tends to meet it in a matter of a few months at the beginning of each new year. He spends the rest of the year smoozing with his clients on a company expense account. Lots of good food, great hotels and unlimited booze. He tries to get his clients to agree to buy his contracts for next year. The beauty of it is that they would buy the product even if he didnít sell it. After all they need the gas to produce electricity and heat homes. He really has a captive audience. For this he makes over $100,000 a year not counting his bonus. Good for him.

The reason Iím mentioning this is that when I saw him the other day he was on a rant about teachers. The teachers in Alberta had gone on strike and he was upset at the inconvenience it was causing him. He had to find ďalternative care" for his kids. He had absolutely no sympathy for the teachers. He saw them as being overpaid and under worked. After all, according to him, they all got time off at Christmas, Easter and over the summer. The rest of the year they only worked five or six hours a day. He had no sense of the time a good teacher puts in, or the issues they have to face every day in the classroom. He had no sense of this at all.

There was nothing new about this rant. Iíve heard it a hundred times before. I used to try to respond to it. You know, I used to try to get people to understand what really goes in our schools but it didnít seem to make any difference to them. Iíve stopped trying now. I suppose I should keep trying but for the most part Iíve given up on it. People seem to want to misunderstand what teachers do. Itís as if they canít take the time to find out. It must just be easier for them to keep the same old views and simplistic impressions. This bothers me. It bothers me that this guy makes two or three times more money than most teachers (not counting his bonus) doing a job with considerably less stress and fewer working hours. It bothers me that this guy takes so little time to understand where his kids spend most of their time. It bothers me that he sees school as little better than a babysitting service.

However, what really bothers me the most is how common this view seems to be in our society. Without saying so, people like this guy are making an incredibly strong statement about how our society sees children. Iím not saying what he does isnít important. He plays a role in our quality of life, and yet is what he does more important that what a teacher does? Is he really worth two or three times more than a teacher? I guess we are saying that what he does is more important. This is a pathetic statement about us. Not that he gets paid well for what he does but that teachers are paid so little. We have lots of rhetoric about the importance of children in our society but it really is a lot of talk. We talk about he value we place on children yet we pay our teachers an increasingly poor salary. How can we say that we care about our children when at the same time we say that the people the spend most of their days with are not important enough to pay them a decent salary?

There is a parallel here with child and youth care. Like teachers our profession is undervalued in our society. If anything, child and youth care workers are less valued than teachers. How can they be? How can workers be paid so little to work with young people with such high needs? I guess it makes sense that if we donít value children then we would value even less the people who work with the highest need kids. It might make sense form this viewpoint ďbut what does it say about us? It sure doesnít say that there is a congruency between what we say about our kids and what we do.

Oh yeah. The government ordered the teachers back to work today. They were declared essential services. I guess essential enough to force them back to work but not essential enough to pay then a decent wage. What a strange world.

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