SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / November 2006 / Superintendent Message
A Changing Climate
by Steve Boyarsky
I recently have been reflecting on a discussion I had with a Klamath Falls teacher a couple of years ago. “Jerry” tells the story of his early years teaching in a small town in Alaska. The town was a logging community in which higher than average wages were paid to tree fallers, choker setters and mill workers. He supplemented his income in the summer working in the mill. Jerry was chided for working as a teacher for less money than what they were making. "With all that education you're not very smart! Why don't you come to work in the mill and make some real money?" He answered that he really liked working with young people, felt he was making a difference in the lives of his students, and liked contributing to the community.
After several years of teaching, the town mill closed and jobs in the woods dried up or moved. The climate of Jerry’s town had changed. As a teacher in the town, he was now making more money than most people who chose to stay. Jerry hadn't changed. He was still working hard to improve the lives of young people, but he was derided for being a parasite on the community. "Public employees feeding at the public trough" were the words that echoed in newspapers and in conversation. His students’ needs were now more critical, the situation had changed. After a few more years, he chose to leave his Alaskan community and return to Oregon to teach.
Jerry feels that Oregon is comparable to that small Alaskan town. The critical nature of educating young people hasn't changed drastically, but Oregon has. Income taxes have dramatically shifted from corporations to citizens. Senior citizens are demanding more public dollars be spent on health care. Some new Oregonians, who don't have school-aged children, are apt to believe all the criticism about public schools in the state and national press. Talk show radio has unrelentingly criticized everything, especially schools.
- Jerry knows that he is working as hard as ever.
- He knows that he can give more attention to students in smaller classes.
- He knows there are more needy students.
- He knows he is lacking adequate textbooks.
- He knows he has better health insurance than most of his students’ families.
- He knows a segment of the population derides him as a public employee.
- He knows that his students face a world of increasing competition.
- He knows that education is a critical component of Oregon's future prosperity.
- He knows his students need education more than ever.
Jerry stated that Oregon has changed and the commitment to education that he holds dear is less valued by a significant segment of our citizens. The future of Oregon is dependent on the education of our children, but the political climate has changed, similar to his small Alaskan town.