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Guest column | Jim Gries

Paying taxes doesn't entitle criticism of teachers

Irrespective of your religious beliefs, or even if you have none, you are who you are today thanks in no small part to a mentor or teacher. I use Jesus Christ as an example because I'm a born-again Christian and therefore am familiar with Jesus Christ, who was a teacher, and a mentor, much like today's classroom teachers.

The similarities are numerous. For many, Jesus Christ shaped the future of their world; a teacher shapes the future of a child's world. Jesus Christ was a miracle worker; for a child, a teacher is a miracle worker. Jesus Christ loved the children; a teacher loves the children. Jesus Christ healed broken hearts; a teacher touches broken hearts. Jesus Christ had 365 24-hour days each year to perform miracles; teachers have 185 seven-hour days each school year to perform their miracles. Jesus Christ didn't need approval to speak truth to power; a teacher can use the power of truth but only if someone approves. Jesus Christ only had one joystick on his back; teachers have 20 or more joysticks on their backs. Jesus Christ was vilified by a few in his community; teachers are vilified by a few in their community.

Couching assaults under the umbrella of "I'm a taxpayer, and you work for me," some residents feel tearing down a teacher is building up a community. Being a taxpayer doesn't elevate one's standing above a teacher. Who pays for your salary when your goods and services are consumed in the marketplace? How many of a teacher's federal tax dollars subsidize your job, your business or your community?

Being a taxpayer doesn't entitle you to verbally terrorize the teaching profession any more than being a taxpaying teacher gives them carte blanche to rag on your profession, the amount you're paid or your performance. In fact, because they are professionals, you won't see a teacher bemoaning the $85 charge for a half-hour service call or the $500 bill to take their family to Disney. Yet "I'm a taxpayer" seems to suffice as a permission slip for maligning teachers.

To quote a parent's letter to a Hernando County teacher: "For the first time I was actually receiving good reports. He comes home talking about what he did in school and actually uses words like 'my friends.' "

"You built his confidence from a child who wouldn't talk to his parents into a child who for the first time asked me to make a gift for his teacher — from you he has learned he won't be judged for what he thinks or feels," the letter says. "A simple thank you is nowhere near enough to express how much having you as a teacher has meant."

That was a letter from a parent to my spouse — a Hernando County taxpaying teacher.

Through kind words, thoughtful deeds and endless compassion, one teacher can do more to shape the future of our world on a bad day than any one CEO, politician or sniping taxpayer can do on their best day. Teachers don't use monetary yard sticks to measure their success in life. To them, it's about making a difference, not making a buck.

Teaching for most teachers isn't just a job; it is a labor of love. We're all taxpayers, and taxpayers have a right to offer their criticisms. Just make sure it's constructive and not destructive.

James Gries lives in Weeki Wachee.

Paying taxes doesn't entitle criticism of teachers 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 9:46am]
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