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  1. Opinion

Joe Henderson: 'Bravo' to students who stand for teachers and something bigger than themselves

Public school teachers have been used as a piñata for every politician, bureaucrat and armchair Einstein who scoffs that teachers are overpaid, underworked and whiny.

My goodness. Some of them actually get time off in the summer! Of course, many use that time to complete mandatory training, but the gripers don't want to hear that.

I admit I have a real soft spot for teachers. Heaven help us if we didn't have them to nurture young minds.

That's why it was kind of cool to see students at several Hillsborough County high schools stage brief walk-outs to underscore support for their teachers in a fight with the school board over money and working conditions.

In full disclosure, my oldest son and his wife are teachers at Strawberry Crest High School, where the first walk-out took place. Neither had a role in encouraging or endorsing the walk-outs at their school.

Here's something to illustrate the point, though.

A couple of weeks ago, they came over to my house for dinner. Afterward, my daughter-in-law disappeared into the dining room for an hour or so to grade papers. It was closing in on 9 p.m. by then, about 14 hours after the workday began.

This is not unusual for hundreds of teachers.

That brings up an important point about what's going on. The protest is not just about money.

It's about how teachers' work is evaluated, and why they are held responsible for things affecting student performance that are way out of their control.

There are issues with comp time. They hear there is no money for $4,000 raise they were promised, but then see the number of administrators making $100,000 or more increase from 96 last year to 131.

That's why you saw teachers picketing outside Steinbrenner High School. It is why students picked up the cause.

Sure, some probably did this as a lark disguised as social awareness to get out of class, but I think many of them really do care.

I'm not joining in the increasingly loud chorus that blames the school board for all these issues. It's complicated, and I think this is a chance to teach students about the Legislature and its appetite to divert public school dollars to private charter schools.

The reduction in state money creates another dangerous drain on district finances on top of the Gates mentoring program fiasco that siphoned off millions from the reserve fund. Add the upkeep necessary for aging buildings, or have we forgotten the widespread air-conditioning failures?

Lawmakers keep telling schools to manage their money better while taking more of it away, and eventually that meant local officials would be forced to tell teachers there will be no raise.

We are there now.

There is going to be a school board meeting Tuesday and it ought to be a doozy. It's liable to be a full house, and teachers and board members probably won't like what they hear from each other.

Teachers are tired of being yanked around and unappreciated, and the board will say it would love to help but can't.

Bad times.

If only for appearances, it's good for teachers to see students protesting and wearing black shirts in awareness of something bigger than themselves. It was like the final scene in the movie Dead Poet's Society when students defiantly stood on their desks to support their beloved teacher as he was forced out the door.

Old people like me are supposed to wag a finger at the young ones and say things like, "Kids, you can't do that. Write 500 times on the blackboard: 'No Raise For Teacher.'"

But I just can't do that.

Sometimes, standing up for something also means standing up to the man. Well done. Now, learn how the system works and get busy making real change. You are needed.

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