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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with laid off Pasco school teacher Tony Egan


egan.jpegTony Egan wants to be a teacher to make a difference in peoples' lives. With budgets tight, he got let go and hopes to find a spot with the Pasco school system before classes resume in August. He worries that society is taking a dim view of education and teachers, and he doesn't understand such priorities that would cut funding for schooling. Egan spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about his views. 

How long have you been working in the school district?

Actually, I've been a sub for just over a year before Christmas and I just started teaching. I graduated in December and I was on a temporary contract for this semester.

I teach ESE. I have a self contained behavior unit with intellectual disabilities. So a rough group. There's one on the west side, one on the east side. ... Their problems would  be they don't understand how to overcome problems quickly. So I'm trying to help them with that. ... We do a lot with career placement as well. ... 

What are they going to do with the students? Are there teachers coming in to take over your job?

My kids will be here. What's going to happen, I believe, is people with professional service contracts will be given the opportunity to have jobs first. And that is the way it should be. I think a lot of people on those professional service contracts might not have the knowledge and -- I'm fresh out of college and I went to SPC, which has a very strong teaching program. I came out with a reading and ESOL endorsement, and several different ways to use technology in the classroom and really present kids with a way that is going to help them learn better. Kids these days are so into technology and all those newer ways of teaching and modeling and all that structure, and it really helps them learn. And some of the teachers are kind of stuck in their ways and don't want to go to trainings or anything like that, and they don't get that. And they are kind of grandfathered in. And they're going to keep their jobs.

I think you have a lot of young, bright teachers out there that are going to go to other counties or even other states. You hear these deals of Oregon and Texas and Kansas, and how they'll help you out with a house and give you $50,000 a year. Those are things that sound very good right now to someone who is 26 years old, like myself, or even 22. You don't have a family, don't have any ties to here right now. I have my mom and my brother and stuff, but besides that, that would be something very lucrative to me.

So are you already looking that way?

You know, I'm thinking about it. I can't say anything one way or another right now. I want to stay in Pasco. I was born and raised here. I love it. I love going out on the water. If I moved far away, I wouldn't be able to do that. I've been coaching here for three years, coaching football. And like I said, I'd been substituting for a year and a half. I'm a small town kid and I'd like to stay in that same small town. But you never know what's going to happen. You've just got to do your best and go looking for a job. I'm hearing in a month or two they'll have postings back online and then maybe I can get into something. If not, then middle of the summer I'm going to have to make that decision. It's going to be a tough one. Maybe Hernando County. Maybe another place entirely.

When you first got the word, you kind of knew because you were on the temporary contract.

Yes. I knew. And I'm not faulting the county or anything like that. When I came in, I signed the thing saying at the end of this semester my temporary contract will be over. What I was not expecting was for the other 500 or so professional contracts, or whatever the number is, to jump in there. Essentially, what's going to happen I believe is they're going to be able to go out ... and get jobs and you're going to have all these new teachers with temporary contracts just sitting at the bottom of the funnel, and there's nothing left. Our scraps aren't going to be there.

How disappointing is that for you, and for your students, too? Because you said you deal with students who take time to deal with things.

Oh, yeah. And I guess the lady that was in here before me was here for a while, and two or three of the kids had her for a few years. And it was very hard to go through that change. That's something you don't see with the general population of students. They expect to have different teachers and all that. I'm teaching these kids, and I've only been here for one semester so it won't be as hard as when the last lady left, but ... they can stay four yars after school, too. I'm teaching some of these kids for eight years. And I mean a lot of situations of low economic status ... you're almost the parent figure and you're the structure and the model that these students need -- I have all boys -- to become young men in life. Kind of on the football field you try that, but it's nothing, nowhere close to the same kind of impact as the eight years I'll have with some of these guys. And I think that really says a lot. We'll see what happens. I think in a month and a half, my job is not one that a lot of people will want to have. These kids are tough. I love 'em to death. Hopefully somebody doesn't get my job, it gets passed up, and in a month or two it gets readvertised and I've got a shot.

You said you thought the government ought to hold teachers in higher regard than they do.

Yeah. This is a theory I've been sharing with quite a bit of people, actually. Growing up, my dad was a construction worker and he made almost $100,000 a year. And that's what me and my brother wanted to do. And he would say, 'No, you've got to go to school, you've got to do the honorable thing.' My mom was a teacher. She started off making, I think, $7,800 a year, down here in Pasco. I was like, 'We're never going to make any money.' And he said, 'Well, you've got four months off, and this and that, and it's just, you're changing peoples' lives, you know? And there's a lot of honor in that.' 

When you don't get paid, it seems like there's no honor in it. I joke around. Obviously you're on a state contract and you're a state employee. You can't go on strike or anything like that. But if teachers went on strike for even four or five days, one work week, that would really wake people up. They would say, 'I've got to pay for my kid to go somewhere all day.' And that's just going to wake up the general population of our state. And then there will be calls for reform and the people who are in office in our state will realize that these people are actually that important. I'm not trying to get on a power trip or anything. But teachers are normally so timid and they're very kind and calm people. They tend to be very passive. I don't know if a whole lot of people are going to stand up for themselves like they should.

Are you going to?

What can I do. I get calls to wear a blue shirt and stand on the side of 19. I do support that. I am a union worker. What can I do? It's the power of the pen. I am trying to write a book right now. Maybe my views can be voiced like that. I'm going to keep working, keep coaching. Hopefully something works out. Most teachers would say 'I'm not coaching there. I'm done." I'm going to stay with this group of kids. We've got like 17 kids coming out at Hudson for football. They're just a tight-knit group of kids. When you see kids work that hard, and you just want to be a part of something, you know. ... 

What are your next plans?

I tried to save up a little bit of money. I have a little bit. I'm going to take a much needed family vacation, go to see my grandfather on the Jersey shore. Then when I get back, probably the end of June, early July ... hopefully some jobs come out on the job line, jobs get soaked up, all those people that are out there that are looking for jobs find things and then the pool is a little bit smaller for guys like me that don't have as much experience. And you just hope there's something for you to find. And, you know, I think it used to be a very valuable commodity to be a package deal with a coach ... and not just a P.E. coach but somebody who is going to come in and teach a subject or, like I do, five subjects a day and just do a good job with that. If you look back ten years ago, do you think Scott Schmitz at River Ridge ever had to worry about keeping a coach on staff? There was plenty of jobs. That's another thing. I feel like this coach out here, Justin Fently, he's trying to do everything he can to have a successful football program. ... Then you have another  teacher that started here a year ago, he lost his job. He's going to have a job in Pasco but he doesn't know where. And then you've got me. You have two of your younger coaches in the system there gone. ... We're trying to figure out what we're going to do. Football is one of our passions, but you know, your real passion is teaching and the thing you've got to do first is find a job. ...

One more thing I'd like to add. I always say to people, you look back all throughout the history of mankind, any kind of civilization. What two things have they valued most? Security and education. It sounds very basic and fundamental. But for some reason the basics and the fundamentals have gone out the window for these people that are controlling this budget. In my opinion you just should not mess with those two very fundamental building blocks of mankind. And yet those are the first two things we just say, See ya. And I don't understand that.

 

[Last modified: Sunday, May 22, 2011 8:47pm]

    

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