Sunday, November 24, 1996
Let's draft soldiers for school duty

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Why are we so stingy with teachers?

During the last election, when Rebecca Groppe forgot whether she had a college degree, the gripe I heard most often was about her opponent, who had a degree and was using it.

''Did you see that Eve Bolton makes $50,000 a year as a teacher?'' I heard this from someone who makes twice that for helping people take advantage of tax loopholes. I heard this from someone who makes three times that for selling products to people who don't need them.

In suburban Wyoming, Ms. Bolton is better off than most teachers around here, including the average Wyoming teacher who makes $40,176. Inner-city teachers for Archdiocese schools average $16,908 the first year and $22,758 after 12 years.

What are they worth?

Teachers begin at a Cincinnati public school for about $26,000. A teacher with 22 years' experience and a master's degree can earn $52,000. In 1995, Ohio's average teacher earned $36,973 a year. Kentuckians average $32,257.

This is not peanuts, but neither does it reflect the importance of the job.

A friend of mine says indignantly that her secretary makes about as much as the average teacher, and ''she works longer hours and summers, too.'' Of course, she has no college education, and she doesn't have to walk through a metal detector to get to work. She also does not shape a child's future.

It's not just the money. Why don't we have a little more respect - no, reverence - for this profession? Is it because we still think their only work is in the classroom - nine months of the year, a short day, five days a week?

In this case, we must also believe that our pastor only works for a couple of hours every Sunday.

Maybe we need to go back to school, a refresher course, you might say. A faithful reader from Sycamore Township, Tim Berghoff (he saw one of my columns and thought it was not entirely lame), has a great suggestion.

''All adult citizens should spend time in our public school system,'' he writes.

''In fact, there should be something like jury duty that draws from the population to put citizens in the schools for a week at a time to use their unique gifts and make them aware of what is, and is not, happening in our schools.''

Now, here is where all the teachers groan. Just what we need, they are thinking, unskilled labor. Now besides playground and lunchroom and library duty, we're going to have volunteer duty.

School duty

OK, then let's make it more like selective service. Let's draft people, then get a drill sergeant to ride herd on the school-duty grunts. They can spackle and paint the walls. They can scrape gum off the bottoms of desks. They can dispense Voban, the kitty litter of elementary schools - ''quickly absorbs vomitus.''

And they can watch what teachers do.

They could see that the teacher's lunch hour is about 20 minutes. It's usually spent with dining companions who are more likely to laugh so hard that milk comes out their nose than with dining companions who are wondering whether the orange roughy is sauteed or grilled.

They could sit next to a window that leaks cold air, next to a radiator that whines, under a ceiling that drips. They could come in on weekends to work on bulletin boards. They could help the teachers carry stacks of papers to their cars to be graded that night.

I'm guessing they'd come out of their experience with some ideas about tenure. They'd have seen some bad teachers and would be determined to get rid of them. They would also be able to see the priceless contribution made every day by the good ones.

They'd have some answers to questions about dropout rates and student discipline and parental involvement. It might be messy and uncomfortable for good teachers as well as bad ones. But I say, let's draft people anyway.

This is war. And it's one we can't afford to lose.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular contributor on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.