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Teachers, if you don’t like the job, it’s OK to leave

SAN DIEGO – It’s … a new school year, and already acrimony is in the air. America’s teachers are mad as heck, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

That’s the message from a recent cover story in Time magazine that no doubt left many readers wondering why anyone in their right minds would enter the classroom these days.

Judging from the article, the No. 1 gripe today, yesterday and forever is salary. We don’t pay teachers enough, according to most teachers. So what else is new?

Each sob story was worse than the one before.

One teacher said: “I have a master’s degree, 16 years of experience, and work two extra jobs and donate blood plasma to pay the bills. I’m a teacher in America.”

Another asserted: “My child and I share a bed in a small apartment, I spend $1,000 on supplies, and I’ve been laid off three times due to budget cuts. I’m a teacher in America.”

Another shared this: “I have 20 years of experience, but I can’t afford to fix my car, see a doctor for headaches or save for my child’s future. I’m a teacher in America.”

Depressed yet? I can relate. I’m a working journalist at a time when – despite the so-called “Trump bump” that helped make media more profitable in some ways – newspapers are still contracting, radio stations are still declaring bankruptcy and cable television networks are still laying off employees as they work out the kinks in their digital strategy.

You think I don’t know what it’s like to want to earn more money? But journalism has never been about the money. The same goes for teaching – and law enforcement, and farming, and any number of other professions your accountant would advise you not to pursue, but which none the less find takers among those who consider the work meaningful and satisfying.

When talking to groups about immigration, I’ll offer myself up as part of the reason the country needs so many immigrants. As a typical American, I tell the audience, I approach every job opportunity and contract negotiation with the same goal: higher salary, more vacation. Of course, this approach leaves a lot of work left undone. Nonetheless, for me, the American Dream is all about earning more and working less to earn it. I tell the story as a laugh line in order to loosen up the crowd.

But teachers aren’t joking. That is exactly what they want: fewer weeks of classes, shorter days, higher salaries, better pensions, etc. The turkey, stuffing and gravy.

And thanks to bone-crushing teachers’ unions that strike fear into the hearts of cowardly Democratic politicians, teachers tend to get much of what they want – particularly in deep-blue states like California and New York.

On one level, I can respect that. No one should have to work for less than what their skills, experience, talents and marketability can command. And just because society needs teachers more than we need butchers, bakers and candlestick makers doesn’t mean we should shortchange these people and expect them to work for less than they deserve just because they fulfill an important public service by educating future generations.

But here’s the thing. Being a teacher is a tough job. I get that. I’ve done it. I spent five years in the classroom back in my old school district to support my eating habit when I was trying to make it as a writer, author and freelance journalist.

But the good news is that – if you don’t like this job – you don’t have to do it. Of course, someone has to do that job. Still, that “someone” doesn’t have to be you.

Quit. Cash out. It’s a free country. If you don’t enjoy what you do for a living, or if you think you should be better paid for doing it, you should leave and go do something else. After all, if you believe you should be paid more, then you must think you have the education, skills and experience to merit the increase.

I’ve left jobs. Other times, I’ve had jobs leave me. I survived. You will, too. Remake yourself, rebrand yourself. Get more skills. Most of all, get your head right.

A good teacher has empathy, compassion and the ability to communicate. But they also have the right frame of mind. If you’re missing that last part, get out of the classroom before you damage your students and your profession.

That’s a lesson that many teachers never learn.

Email ruben@rubennavarrette.com. “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app. (c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group.

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