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Have your kids got the end of the summer blues because it's time to start school? Do they simply sit around and stare off in space with glassy eyes? Do you find that they're not interested in any of the things that were so much fun when school let out a couple of months ago? Are they grumpy? Do they argue and find fault with everything?

If you think it's a tough week to live in a house with a kid who has to go back to school, you should try living with a teacher.

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Organizing Belfast Schools


Last week I picked up an interesting brochure in the Falmouth, Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce office. "They Need Housing," it said. Below the headline were pictures of people in low-income groups who are presently unable to buy houses.

When I dropped it on Gramp Wiley's kitchen table he looked at the pictures of the gas pump jockeys, the check out clerks, the schoolteachers and the nurses. Then he surprised me by burying his face in his hands for almost a whole minute. When he gained control of himself he looked up and, in a voice somewhat choked with emotion, said, "I had no idea that the salaries of check out clerks and my friends who pump my gas at the station had dropped down to the level of school teachers."

"You don't feel bad for the poor teachers?"

Gramp Wiley snorted, "Perhaps the old ones, but not the young ones who are just starting out. You want to remember that 30 years ago, teachers were well to do members of the community. They could buy a house with a year's salary. They all had new cars. They all had work in the winter. Their kids could go to a state teachers' college where the tuition was 50 bucks a semester. You couldn't blame them for getting into a profession where they could make a good living."

"What happened?"

"I don't really know. All of a sudden it took more than what a teacher could earn in four years to buy a house. Of course, the older teachers already had houses so they held their own, so to speak, when the value of their property went up. But the younger ones could just forget about it."

"But you don't feel bad for the kids?"

"Why should I? Nowadays rich kids are about the only ones who consider a career in teaching."

"To punish their parents by flaunting downward mobility," I cried to show Gramp I'd remembered one of his old lessons.

"Then, to make things even tougher on themselves, they get a Master's Degree in reading or some other specialized area --- they become experts." I lowered my eyes. "The kiss of death."

"Right. Nothing makes it more difficult to get a job teaching than having a Master's Degree --- unless it's being elected Teacher of The Year. You have to pay qualified teachers more money. The young teachers know it when they set themselves up to fail by picking up that extra degree. So I can't feel bad for them when they invite trouble with wide open eyes."

"So it doesn't matter if teachers can buy a home with their salaries or not. According to you, most of them are rich kids like Linda Bean Jones --- they can enjoy wallowing around in poverty all they want, knowing that a juicy trust fund is there when they need it."

Gramp Wiley squirmed in his rocking chair and cleared his throat. "Well," he said, "There might be a few poor ones in there." Then he pounded the arm of his rocker and shouted, "But they went into teaching knowing that they could make more money by simply putting up stock on supermarket shelves."

I nodded and said, "If they'd wanted in on the big money, they could have become school supervisors."

Gramp said, "You heard me tell about the expert school supervisor they sent to Belfast a while back? No? Well, someone felt that the Belfast schools were in need of reorganization so one of those expert-coordinating supervisors was brought in. He got $220 a day plus his mileage between schools, but they figured he'd be a bargain at any price because he was going to show them how to tighten up the rigging and run a taut ship in general.

"His first day out on the road he breezed into a school, told the secretary who he was and checked out the entire office ---- pulled out all the files and scribbled extensive notes on improvements to be made. Then he trotted down to the janitor's niche and made a few suggestions to him."

"School janitors always like to be told what to do," I said eagerly.

Gramp ignored me and continued. "He checked the hot lunch menus and the cook's fingernails. He sniffed at the milk cartons and sampled the American chop suey."

"A staple in American schools," I cried. "It's cheap and wholesome."

"In the afternoon he watched the teachers until he couldn't keep still any longer --- you know how educators need to stand and talk. He jumped to his feet in Mrs. Maxy's classroom and asked if he could tell the children what he was doing and how he was going to show the teachers and janitors and cooks in the entire Belfast school system how to do their jobs much more efficiently. And Mrs. Maxy smiled just as pleasantly as could be and said, 'There must be some mistake --- you're in Warren.'"

2002 Robert Skoglund

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