Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Married teachers feeling double the pressure

Husband and wife teachers Liz and David Denny check on caterpillars that their students collected from oak trees.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Husband and wife teachers Liz and David Denny check on caterpillars that their students collected from oak trees.

TAMPA — Every morning, Liz and David Denny leave their South Tampa home and drive together to a century-old schoolhouse near Tampa's Ikea store.

After their ride, they share responsibility for the fourth grade at DeSoto Elementary School — all 33 children.

"I'm the math and science guy," says David, 59.

"I teach reading and writing, and I also teach social studies," says Liz, 44.

Lately, they've been sharing something else — distress about how the state of Florida is treating public schools and teachers.

Already, Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill that rescinds teacher seniority rights and links pay to student performance. On the horizon are budget cuts and a possible weakening of the pension system.

It's hard enough when one breadwinner is a teacher. For two-teacher families, the stress is double. On top of everything else, David is recovering from cancer surgery.

"I just feel very, very vulnerable," he says.

• • •

A study by the Chicago-based General Social Survey group recently estimated that one in six married elementary and secondary school teachers has a spouse who is a teacher.

"People tend to marry people like themselves," says survey director Tom Smith, a former teacher who was married to a school clerical worker. "And most teachers share, if not a love of children, at least a tolerance of them."

The Dennys, whose marriage is the second for both of them, met at a school. David taught while Liz worked in the after-school program. She was newly divorced with a son who was prone to seizures. The child needed emergency medical care on their first date. When Liz took him to Miami for brain surgery, David followed.

They married in 1992 and worked together at several other Hillsborough schools, all low-income. This past year they arrived at tiny DeSoto, where 97 percent of the kids are economically disadvantaged.

They work in adjoining classrooms, swapping students at various times of the day. Liz is the strict one, she says; David the nicer one.

Their principal, Gilda Garcia, appreciates the way they collaborate. "When you put teachers together, they are going to talk about the kids," she says.

And they do, constantly.

"You can't shut it off," Liz says. "If I had another partner, I would drive him crazy."

Lately, when they aren't talking about this child or that child, they are contemplating their future in what is increasingly a hostile political climate.

They wonder how long they will be compensated for the master's degrees that cost them $48,000.

David doesn't mind contributing to their state pension, something that could effectively eat up as much as 5 percent of his pay.

But he wonders how viable the pension will be if it is raided, or if fewer new teachers contribute to it.

Liz, meanwhile, still has responsibility for her son Adam, now 20. An out-of-state student, he is still covered under her medical insurance. She acknowledges the benefit is generous, but wonders how long it will last.

Neither of them has much of a nest egg, aside from the pension. David has a son and grandchildren from his first marriage. They consider themselves luckier than many teacher-supported families, as they have two incomes and not one. And their students tend to test well, giving them less to worry about in terms of merit pay.

But you never know when that might change, and they shudder to think that a principal will be able to fire them arbitrarily.

"You're always running into people who say, 'I remember you. Are you still a teacher?' " David says.

Finishing his thought, Liz says, "I would hate to meet someone in Starbucks who asks me, 'Are you still a teacher?' And I would have to tell them that somebody fired me on a whim, or because somebody didn't make that FCAT score."

• • •

It's a long day at DeSoto. Some afternoons, the Dennys volunteer their time in after-school skills sessions.

Other days, they take students on outings, maybe to a movie.

They might go for a bike ride after work. Sometimes they return to their 1,200-square-foot South Tampa home, so tired they just sleep.

They try not to internalize the national debate about teacher tenure and accountability. Sometimes it seems as if the public simply has no comprehension of what they do.

"I can't believe some of these stories," David said. "It feels like somebody has a vendetta against us."

Those feelings fade when they are in the classroom, face to face with a child whose home life is chaotic, or whose parents cannot pay the bills.

It's a cliche, Liz acknowledges. But "there's always somebody who has it worse."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Married teachers feeling double the pressure 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. William March: Speaker Corcoran denies taking sides in House primary

    Politics

    From the outside, it looked a lot like House Speaker Richard Corcoran was working hard to swing the Republican primary in House District 58 to Lawrence McClure over Yvonne Fry.

    Just because his lobbyist-brother played favorites in a Hillsborough state House primary doesn't mean he did, said Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Tampa Bay Times]
  2. 7 creepy podcasts to get you in the Halloween spirit

    Blogs

    Halloween is all about scary stories. The holiday itself is based on a compilation of creepy tales from history going back thousands of years.

    Television network AMC recently debuted an immersive new podcast, Deadly Manners.
  3. Police: Before a shot was fired after Spencer's UF speech, men gave Nazi salutes and chanted about Hitler

    Crime

    Gainesville police have arrested three men they say are responsible for the shooting after Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida on Thursday.

    Texas men Tyler Tenbrink, 28; William Henry Fears, 30; and Colton Gene Fears, 28 all face attempted homicide charges for a shooting following Richard Spencer's speech at the University of Florida. (Gainesville police)
  4. Koetter: QB Jameis Winston will start Sunday vs. Bills

    Blogs

    After five days of uncertainty, Jameis Winston will be starting at quarterback on Sunday as the Bucs play at Buffalo, coach Dirk Koetter announced Friday afternoon.

    Bucs QB Jameis Winston, shown against the Patriots two weeks ago, will start Sunday at Buffalo after being sidelined with a shoulder injury last week. Dirk Koetter announced that he was starting after watching him throw at practice Friday.
  5. Florida's 'Turtle God' is ailing. What happens to his remarkable collection of specimens?

    Wildlife

    OVIEDO — In a small town about five miles from the University of Central Florida there stands a two-story yellow house built in the 1920s. A modest sign mounted on the wall next to the front door says, "Chelonian Research Institute."

    The main room at the Chelonian Institute in Oviedo Florida. - Peter Pritchard sounds British but he's lived in Florida for five decades, running the Chelonian Institute in Oviedo Florida, which holds the world's largest collection of turtle specimens (some of them bones or shells, some of them live turtles or tortoises). Time magazine has declared him a hero of the planet and other turtle experts say he is to turtles what Dian Fossey was to gorillas. He's been instrumental in helping other species, too, including the Florida panther. He has traveled the world studying turtles.