City Life: Teachers deserve our respect [Corrected]

You will never hear a teacher say, "I made a killing this year."

Teachers don't teach to get rich.

In the Jan. 11 column,“City Life: Teachers deserve all our respect,” the second sentence in the second to last paragraph should have said, “In her capacity as the immediate past president of the California School Boards Assn., Fluor is in a position to move the CSBA toward online seminars and workshops instead of expensive live meetings.”

Let's be clear, though: Put in enough time as a teacher in many states and the career can often provide a good life. No riches, but a comfortable living that is extremely fulfilling, which most people cannot say about the work they do.

In exchange for compensation that is low relative to the importance of the work they do, teachers ask primarily for one thing: respect.

They want us to acknowledge their importance and to be treated accordingly. It's not much to ask.

And it's not just me talking — that was the conclusion of recent studies by the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At the Dec. 13 Newport-Mesa Unified school board meeting, Trustee Martha Fluor made a point of mentioning that compensation for the teachers in our district is the second-highest in the county.

But Fluor left out an important bit of history and by doing so, she made it sound as though the school board had showered our teachers with dollars out of the respect they deserve.

The truth is that in 2007, she and her then-colleagues offered teachers a pittance for a raise; the contract that finally gave teachers their current compensation was agreed to only after six months of contentious negotiations that included rumors of a planned walkout by some teachers at Corona del Mar High School.

Prior to the 2007 contract, our teachers were the lowest paid of any unified school district in the county.

That was a time when the board showed its true colors. After all its talk of teacher appreciation, when it came time to walk the walk, the school board was crippled. Now we have Fluor trying to take credit for something she and other board members of that era had to be convinced to do.

The teachers who were in the district at the time know the history, but only a few of them know that Fluor tried to rewrite it last month. So, I'm letting the rest of them know today.

Over the years, I've been privileged to speak with many teachers in and out of our district about their concerns. Some readers may recall that my wife's side of the family is full of educators.

During these conversations, I often ask, "If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?"

Though the answers vary, the answer I hear most often is that teachers would like to see their mandatory curriculum reduced. Reducing the curriculum is perhaps the one change that could accomplish all of the goals of teachers and administrators in California.

When teachers don't have as much to teach, they have more time to spend on the most important parts of their particular subject, whether it is history or math. They have time to engage students instead of rushing through each day just trying to keep up. A reduced curriculum would allow the teachers more time to teach students how to think, and that would be a great reward for everyone, including teachers, whose average career span nationally is about five years.

Less curriculum means that students may have less homework, or different homework; it would be homework that is more than just a means by which everyone is trying to keep up. When students have time to think instead of memorize, their grades and test scores will rise and they will come to appreciate and respect teachers and their education.

A reduced curriculum could also eliminate the need for smaller classes.

There is a historical case in point here. I received a very good education through the Los Angeles public school system. In 1966, my fifth-grade class had 35 kids, but teachers had a fraction of the curriculum requirements they have today and they were able to really teach.

Public education in California is likely to face deep cuts in the coming years. In her capacity as the immediate past president of the California School Boards Assn. (CSBA), Fluor is in a position to move the CSBA toward online seminars and workshops instead of expensive live meetings.

She can also start to unite other school boards and request that the state start reducing the mandated curriculum. If Fluor really wants to score points with teachers, she'll stop the disingenuous grandstanding and start being the leader our students, parents and teachers need her to be.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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