Modest means – that’s where I come from. For years, I’ve heard stories about my great grandparents. My great-grandfather was a farmer and my great-grandmother was a teacher. When my great-grandfather was unable to work the farm any longer, he retired as most farmers did then: broke. If it wasn’t for my great-grandmother’s pension from being a teacher, they wouldn’t have been able to put food on the table or put clothes on their backs.
Four generations later, as their great-granddaughter, I am proud to say that I am a teacher as well. For four generations, my family has been teachers, but at this point in Kentucky, it’s tough. As the sponsor for a future educators’ club, I feel terribly conflicted about mentoring students to enter into the education profession in this political atmosphere.
Teachers don’t teach because of the money, we teach because we care about the work we do. I am currently a high school English language arts teacher in Henry County. Every morning when I wake up and head to school, I know that I am making a difference in my students’ lives.
Most teachers don’t want to be active in politics, but we really don’t have a choice. Teaching is a political act. We teach citizenship and give students the tools to function within a democracy. Every decision about how public schools will function, what resources they will have, and what teachers are expected to teach is made by an elected official. Without my union, the Kentucky Education Association, we would not have a voice at the table to speak up for public education and our students.
The last legislative session had me feeling levels of anxiety for the future of my career that I have never felt before. The truth is, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to remain in the teaching profession. Without the promise of an adequate pension, I can’t afford to stay in the classroom. We already make less than our counterparts with the same degrees in the private sector, so you can only take so much. It is because of the promise of a dignified pension that most of us stay in the profession.
Teaching is my calling, and it is in my blood, but I simply cannot put my daughter in a position where she would have to support me financially when I am too old or sick to teach. Losing my pension would threaten her economic security and that of any children she may choose to have. Asking someone to play the stock market with no Social Security safety net is irresponsible and that’s exactly what our elected leaders want to do.
How can one advocate for others to join a profession when there’s a prospect that they might not have a retirement? This is Kentucky—we don’t walk out of our classrooms to make a point, but we did. We did it because enough is enough – we deserve our pensions, and we shouldn’t lose them or have a cut in our benefits because a bunch of politicians didn’t pay their fair share each year when we paid ours.
Right now, the Supreme Court has to decide on SB 151 – the wastewater treatment bill that lawmakers tacked pension-gutting measures onto. Hopefully they make the right decision and throw the bill out as unconstitutional. One thing is for sure though – teachers will be turning out at the ballot box in November. We’ll always remember these attacks and the lawmakers who supported them.