The Human Touch

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What is the next great idea in education? How might we best help our students to master difficult material? Does anyone have the key to unlocking minds?

These are questions that every teacher and concerned parent ask. We truly want to improve our educational system and we spend millions of dollars seeking answers. Our educational force travels to foreign lands to observe programs that appear to be successful. Our teachers spend summers learning new skills. Districts invest in diagnostic tools. We reinvent the educational wheel over and over again, hoping to stumble upon a magic bullet that will in one fell swoop increase our children’s knowledge, thinking abilities, and curiosity. We attempt to make mathematics and science more accessible to all, while we strive to demonstrate how to read and write more fluently. In spite of all of our efforts we find ourselves in a quandary. We still appear to be losing so many of our kids to struggles with learning, and so we continue to experiment in the hopes of one day stumbling upon the key to unlocking minds.

Fifty or sixty years ago when I was earning a degree in education a psychologist named B.F. Skinner was all the rage. His focus was on the types of reinforcement techniques that we humans use to motivate individuals, and so we learned that encouraging students when they do something right is more likely to have them repeat the good behaviors than punishing them for mistakes. He insisted that we can slowly move a person toward a goal with the just the right amount of encouragement. He even attempted to create a teaching machine that would be able to accomplish such a task according to the specific needs of the learner. Back in his days technology was a long way from being reliable or effective and so his efforts failed, but he predicted that one day there would indeed be a mechanism designed to enact his ideas.

Fast forward to the future which is now. The power of the computer has allowed us to create individualized instruction complete with feedback that would no doubt delight Skinner. While it has revolutionized education in general, there are still difficulties when it comes to creating effective programs for individuals. The fact is that it simply does not work for some people. There is till a need for a warm human to unravel questions and provide inspiration and motivation. A machine is far too cold to handle the task alone.

I do a great deal of interventional tutoring since retiring from education six years ago. I find that there is no substitute for small group interaction between humans. The first step in helping a struggling student is always a matter of dealing with fears and frustrations, something a computer can’t do effectively, at least not yet. Not all students have the ability to focus well enough to concentrate on a mechanized one size fits all instructional video, and yet they are being used in most of the schools that I encounter. Virtually every high school student is well acquainted with Kahn Academy, and while I use the lessons myself to brush up on ideas for teaching certain concepts, it cannot be used as a substitute for a good warm blooded teacher inside a classroom. It’s proper use is for reinforcement of material, not initial instruction.

I have encountered a new trend of late that involves assigning an instructional video to students for homework. They watch the electronic teacher explaining various concepts and then work independently on similar problems. The following day in class they are able to ask specific questions about the material. For the students with whom I work, this methodology has been a disaster. It is backwards from the way that works best for them. Namely, they would be better served by first receiving instruction from the teacher, then watching the videos to clarify the processes, followed by independent practice with problems and finally questions about the work. They are floundering but sitting quietly in the classrooms because they don’t even know how to begin their inquiries. They are simply lost and sometimes even drowning in confusion. By the time I get them they are feeling dejected and their confidence is in shambles. My job becomes demystifying the definitions and processes in a way that guides them to understanding. Sadly, the time that they have to spend with me often increases their stress because they are always just a bit behind in their mastery and so their grades do not reflect what they eventually manage to learn.

When I watch the videos that they must view I actually appreciate all of the time and effort that such teachers have put into producing them. I enjoy knowing how the instructor is presenting the material so that I might use similar terminology and practices. Still I find that I have to learn how and when to pause the stream of information so that I might take notes or try some of the problem solving on my own. I find that I am able to do so effectively only because I already know how to perform the operations and I am familiar with the vocabulary. I am also able to separate the chatter from the most important ideas. I suspect that the top students who are already rather gifted in mathematics have little difficulty doing as I do, but for the average to below average soul those videos must be just a cacophony of meaningless sound. For those with specific learning disabilities I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel.

I’ve been in a classroom and I fully understand and appreciate the frustrations of teachers as well. They have far too many students and increasingly complex demands that don’t always have much to do with teaching are placed on them also. Their days are long and exhausting and the vast majority of them are doing their very best. Sometimes the most gifted among them are able to break down the barriers that all too often separate them from their students. They become the inspirational individuals who change minds and manage to touch hearts as well. In other cases they simply feel as beaten down as the students. They desperately want to make a difference but can’t seem to find the way to do so. Far too many aspiring educators last less than five years before they leave in total frustration.

We seem to understand that people are complex and as such there is never one right way of doing things. It has been proven that even with regard to diet, there must be differences that take individual genetic tendencies into account. Why, I wonder, do we still approach education as though there is indeed a magical way of reaching all students without concern for their individuality? Why do we crowd our children into rooms as though they are being warehoused like cattle? Why do we push them at the same pace? Why are there so few of us who want to teach them in charge of so many? What is it about our society that we place so little value on such an important task? Why do we complain but demonstrate an unwillingness to support our schools?

The truth about education is that it has to be tailored to a person, not a crowd. Everyone is capable of learning, but not in the same way or at the same pace. How many times have we met an adult who struggled in school but eventually got it all together at a later date than his/her peers? It is the way of humans to meet milestones in a variety of ways. It is up to us to appreciate that fact and provide our young with educations suited to them. It’s perhaps the most important task that we might ever perform, and it will pay unmeasurable dividends to our future. It always requires the human touch.

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A Matter of the Heart

automaton.jpg.pngWhen I entered high school placing students in particular tracks had become all the rage. Based on grades and an entrance exam I ended up in what was known as the Honors group. Things were a bit nerve racking for me because the principal inserted a caveat to my designation in a face to face meeting in which he indicated that I would only be part of that cadre on a probationary status. In fact he suspected that I would be removed within the first grading period because I was barely qualified for the academic rigors to which I would be subjected. Through sheer determination I hung on for four years and graduated with an Honors designation. It would not be until I was an adult that one of my former teachers would reveal that my peers and I had been part of a grand experiment that did not work as well as the adults had hoped.

Educators have a tendency to be constantly searching for what I call a magic bullet, a way of doing things that will transform the way we teach our children and result in dramatic advances in knowledge and critical thinking. Sadly as such attempts take place there is always a risk that they will not bring the hoped for advantages and may actually do damage to the students who become living guinea pigs. Thus it was with me and many of the other people in my class. Each of us became known more by our labels and less as the individuals that we were. We tended to believe that sets of numbers defined us, and in my own case I worried that everyone would learn that I was a fraud. Because the principal had so clearly indicated that I did not have the intellectual acumen to be a member of the elite Honors class, I was constantly stressed and uncertain of my abilities. Little did I know until that fateful reunion with my teacher that I was not alone in the emotional trauma that the untested methodology unleashed. The fact that the plan that had driven the daily routines of my class was eventually changed to address its blatant problems was of little comfort. The damage had already been done and it bothered me even though most of us had managed to overcome the difficulties perpetrated by faulty methodology.

As a teacher I understand the need to find the best practices for reaching students. Still I have watched a parade of bandwagon theories that have ultimately been rejected long after they have had an ill effect on the youngsters who were used to determine effectiveness. I don’t suppose that we are able to tell whether or not something will be successful until we try it, but for the group that is subjected to massive changes it can be disastrous. We watched the new math of the seventies be rejected because it never really clicked with either the teachers or their pupils. We worry about that the constant standardized testing and the thirst for hard data has somehow ignored the heart and soul of each individual. We sense that numbers alone are incapable of measuring the content of a mind. We try different styles of note taking, tutoring and delivery of lessons, only to realize that there is no one size fits all way that works for everyone. We labor to individualize learning and teaching but then insist on scripting lessons. We’ve tried cooperative learning, behavioral modifications, and on and on. All are noble and well intentioned efforts but instead of taking an entire group and radically changing the way they are taught, why can’t we try such interventions in small doses until we are certain that they are effective?

There is a trend in many schools today to modernize teaching by using technology with a nod to B.F. Skinner. Students watch educational videos or read lessons at their own paces. If they fully understand the concept they are free to keep moving forward. If they are confused they ask questions of the teacher who becomes more of an interventionist and less of a direct instructor. Interactions between teachers and their pupils are thought to be more targeted and thus more effective, but for many it has become a frustrating venture leading them to confusion and a loss of self esteem. As someone who has always understood that there is never one best way, I have to wonder what proponents of such radically different systems were thinking when they decided to abandon all of the traditional ways in favor of a grand experiment. Why not instead insert such changes in small doses and then measure their effect on each student? It would make much more sense to see what happens in a trial run rather than simply accepting that all of the old ways should be left behind. It really is possible to teach in a number of different ways and still get phenomenal results.

I would like to propose that teachers select the methods that work best with a particular set of students rather than tossing out the baby with the bath water in favor of new ideas that are still untested. We should instead tread lightly with innovations, use them sparingly until it is evident that they truly are effective. It’s never a good idea to overuse any practices. They can become too routine and boring to students. Variety truly works well and provides opportunities to try the latest educational ideas. The most important thing is for teachers to still be teachers, not just conduits of information. In other words the goal is to help every student to attain mastery of concepts. That takes patience and creativity because sometimes the secret to unlocking a mind lies not in how information is presented but in how an educator touches a heart and turns on the magic that lives inside everyone. There are truly some aspects of learning that have little to do with data points.

We have rubrics and measurements for literally everything today, neglecting to take our differences into account. Students who don’t quite fit the mold often feel that something is wrong with them. Only a talented and sensitive teacher knows how to help them to find themselves in a world that seems so intent on judging their worth based on numbers. We really do have to move beyond the test scores and grades to encourage our youth to see learning as a magical and exciting experience rather than one that places daily stresses on them. If a student does all of the steps correctly to find the equation of a line when given two points but then accidentally multiplies wrong to reach an incorrect answer, we need to be willing to give that person credit for what they did right and use the mistake as a learning tool. All too often we instead slash a big red mark over the entire effort and leave the child feeling inept. That borders on educational malpractice.

There are those who speak of today’s students as snowflakes, kids who can’t handle conflict or difficulties. Nothing is farther from the truth. Today’s children are busy checking off boxes that indicate that they are moving steadily toward success. It is an almost robotic atmosphere in which they must complete so many requirements just to move from one phase of education to another. Square pegs have to fit into round holes no matter how painful the process of doing that may be. Universities make it more and more difficult to land an acceptance letter. Students must have resumes that include rigorous courses, leadership roles, extracurricular activities and even community service. They work from before dawn until well into the late hours of night attempting to accomplish all of the expectations. Many of them are enduring mental distress in the process and questioning their worth when they falter. It is as though we have embarked on a nationwide experiment with their very lives and souls. We have become Tiger Adults who push and push and push without thought of where all of this will lead. It is little wonder that so many young adults are pushing back on the system once they come of age to make their own decisions. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to demand that schools take a long hard look at the effects of what they are doing.

I made it through my high school and graduated as the Valedictorian in spite of the negativity and pressures that were placed on me by well meaning adults. Not everyone is so fortunate in such highly charged situations, and we have to take every person’s needs into account. There are indeed great teachers who have found the keys to reaching students without destroying their confidence and we should observe them and learn from them. Isaac Owoyemi teaches mathematics for mastery, providing students with multiple opportunities for learning concepts in an encouraging environment. Seng Dao Keo understands the necessity of starting from the point where students are on the learning curve rather than failing them for not being ready for a particular idea. Chrystal Hunter deconstructs the most difficult aspects of mathematics and simplifies them so that her students will comprehend and feel accomplished. Dickie Written reaches the imagination of his pupils by making literature relevant and exciting. Lisa Sandifer understands that many students need the arts to reach their full potential. Jenny Brunsell brings the heart of an angel to her kids and they always respond. Such educators realize that while there is an element of science in teaching it is in the execution of its art that the true miracles happen. They do not rely on scripts or preplanned lessons or the latest fads, but instead select what is needed in a specific time and place. This is the trend that we need to follow. Until our children feel the joy of learning all of our efforts will have been in vain. We reach them first through the heart and then the mind follows.

Rockstar Friends

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It all began with Eric. I was working at Revere Middle School when our principal hired him to be an English teacher. He was immediately popular. Many of the single women were enchanted by his friendliness, good looks and winning smile. Those who had known him from a previous campus warned everyone who was falling for him that he appeared to be a confirmed bachelor who didn’t seem destined to settle down any time soon.

Eric was a super and experienced teacher, so there was little need for me to spend much time mentoring him. We generally just passed one another in the hallway and exchanged hellos until a dear friend of mine died. One afternoon when Eric and I were both in the same area monitoring students during a passing period I blurted out that I was feeling guilty and maybe even complicit in my friend’s death. Eric listened intently as I explained the situation. I had called my friend after school one day to check on him because his wife was in the hospital. I knew that he was an alcoholic but also a diabetic with heart trouble. I had asked him if he wanted me to swing by his house to make sure that he had everything that he needed. He assured me that he was fine and that he preferred to be alone for a time because he was quite tired. Something in my mind told me that he was not doing as well as he insisted. I pushed him a bit more and then reluctantly drove home, but not before urging him to check his blood sugar and let me know if there were any problems. Later I learned that he had died from a heart attack about forty five minutes after my phone call. I felt that somehow I might have saved him had I ignored his protests and gone to his home anyway. I had been unable to shake the feeling that I had made a terrible and deadly mistake.

Eric immediately erased my guilt. He noted that because my friend was an alcoholic he had created the situation for himself, and that his death was no doubt inevitable whether or not I had been present. He assured me that nobody was going to be able to save my friend from the abuse that he was piling on his body until he decided to change his ways. From that moment forward Eric and I were fast friends and the intensity of our relationship only grew over time. Somehow I believe that it was destined for me to choose him to reveal my secret, because I truly doubt that anyone else would have been able to understand my predicament as well as he did.

One summer Eric returned from vacation to announce that he had met a very special woman named Jenny. He proceeded to visit her as often as possible even though she lived in California. The so called confirmed bachelor was obviously thunderstruck and he came to my office now and again to discuss his plans and the ever growing love that he was feeling for this extraordinary woman. Ultimately he announced that he and Jenny were going to marry and that she would be moving to Houston. He wondered if she might procure a job at Paul Revere.

I spoke to our principal, and he worried a bit that Jenny’s background was in elementary school. He asked if I thought that someone with that kind of resume would be able to transition to middle school. Since I had taken the same career pathway myself I assured him that anyone capable of working well with little ones would be just fine with older students. “Well I hope she is as much of a rockstar as Eric,” he noted while agreeing to give Jenny an opportunity to demonstrate her teaching acumen.

Of course Jenny was also a rockstar teacher and as soon as she came to the school everyone understood why Eric was so in love with her. Together they became a power couple who was beloved by students and faculty members alike. Their openness and generosity defined them as well as their adventurous  spirits. Happily the friendship that I had begun with Eric only grew with Jenny in the picture. She and I seemed to be kindred spirits and I felt as though I had known her my entire life.

After I left Paul Revere for a job at KIPP Houston High School I missed all of my former colleagues, but especially Eric and Jenny. I was exhilarated when they joined me at KHHS and brought their charisma and skills to that campus. My feelings for them developed to a point that they became family in every sense of the word. We have shared hopes, dreams, disappointments, frustrations and so much love. I have rarely encountered two people who are always so sensitive to the needs of others. They are truly beautiful souls who have enhanced my life far beyond the power of words to express my feelings.

I was crushed to learn that Jenny and Eric’s home was flooded by the rains of hurricane Harvey. I felt so far away and helpless in their hour of need. In usual fashion the two of them remained optimistic and as worried about others as they were about their own situation. It didn’t surprise me at all that they were instantly surrounded by friends. It’s not possible to be around Jenny and Eric without falling totally in love with them. They do so much for everyone that they know that it was inevitable that people would want to return the favor. For now they seem to be on their way to a return to normalcy and they have even reached out to others who had water in their homes.

That’s Jenny and Eric. Two rockstar friends and amazing human beings whom Mike and I are so fortunate to know. The world would be so remarkable if it were peopled only by individuals as wonderful as they are. I hope that life will continue to pay them back for all of the wondrous favors that they have given literally everyone that they know. I also pray that we will remain fast friends, or should I say family, forevermore.   

Choose Experiences

PossessionsI have accumulated lots of things over the years. Some of what I own was handed down to me from my elders, other items are treasured gifts from friends and family. I still possess many of the wedding presents that I received almost fifty years ago. Of course I have kept souvenirs from vacation trips and art work from my children and students. There are all of the usual household and clothing items, not to mention furniture and books. I own music and musical instruments, hobby supplies and gardening implements. I keep wrapping paper and greeting cards and decorations for virtually every occasion. I enjoy my collection of little pigs that are supposed to bring me good luck and smile at the thought of the china that my brothers purchased for me using all of their savings when they were still young boys. My possessions represent a lifetime of accumulation and most of the objects are actually somewhat sentimental to me. Still, I remind myself continuously that they are just things and of little value when compared to people and experiences.

When I think back on my life I hardly remember buying something, but I always vividly recall the special times that I have spent with the people that I love. Thinking of the Sundays that I spent on the banks of Clear Lake with my cousins back when I was a kid warms my heart. I am literally able to hear the humming of the motor boats that were pulling skiers over the water. I can taste the salty spray and feel the heat of the sun on my neck. I recall our antics as we jumped the waves and lowered chicken on strings into the water in hopes of catching crabs. I see my mom and her siblings and they are so young and beautiful and fun to be around. I’m not sure what I purchased in those years or even what I wore, but I am certain that those days we spent together were magical.

I can still see and hear every single detail of my first date with my husband Mike. It’s funny how I knew on that day that I had met my soulmate. I’ve never so instantly clicked with anyone else in my life. We started a conversation back then that we have never completed. He was so incredibly handsome as he arrived looking as though he had just stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine. We saw The Flight of the Phoenix at a theater at Gulfgate. We ran into a couple of my high school classmates and I was proud to be in the company of someone as stunning as Mike. Later he took me on the first of the many adventures we would share. Our destination was to a downtown musical venue called The Cellar that was unlike any experience I had ever before enjoyed. I would later tell my friends that I thought I had met the young man that I was destined to marry.

I am able to outline every detail associated with the births of my children from the time that I learned that I was carrying them all the way through the pains of labor. Of course those wonderful child rearing years were most decidedly the best of my life. We really did have fun on Anacortes Street as they grew into lovely women. Best of all were our vacation trips that took us all over the United States in our different trucks. We slept under the stars in a canvas tent that resembled a circus big top. We laughed and shared stories and marveled at the wonders of our land. Summer after summer we traveled to all of the national landmarks making memories that have never been forgotten.

I can still feel the burning in my muscles as we trudged up the rocky path in the middle of the night on our way to the top of Long’s Peak. We watched the lights come on in the towns below and made it to the Boulder Field by dawn. We weren’t able to make it any farther because the girls were just not old enough and strong enough to climb over the huge rocks, but we felt such a sense of accomplishment and that hike became one of my all time favorite memories.

I still think back on my daughter’s milestones, their first steps and words, their school days and accomplishments. I am often reminded of their programs and performances and the glory of their graduations. Of course their weddings were wonderful even though I was so busy that I hardly had time enough to eat. Best of all were the births of my seven grandchildren who brought new and unparalleled joy into my life. Spending time with them and watching them grow has provided me a whole new set of joyful experiences.

I always loved my work and the educators and students that I met in that capacity. So many of those people are still numbered among my friends. We shared long days together, some of which were stressful at the time but always in the end we felt that incredible sense of having accomplished something very personal and important. I suspect that we are still as close to one another as we are because of the real significance of our work together.

I’ve had so much fun over the years with very special friends. I loved the times when my friend Pat and I spent weekends taking our children to movies and the 59 Diner. I still laugh at our visits with Linda and Bill and the way it took us hours to actually drive away whenever we had announced that it was time to leave. I treasure the trip to Austria that we shared with Monica and Franz as the new year dawned in 2005. I smile with pleasure at the memory of bridge games with Susan and Nancy. I love the dinners and lunches with friends and students that keep our relationships thriving and provide all of us with feelings of being loved. The concerts in which I saw the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were sensational. Seeing The Phantom of the Opera  on Broadway was the culmination of a dream.

It may have taken me a bit too long to get here, but I now understand the critical importance of an undisputed truth, “We should all invest in experiences rather than things.” At the end of the day even if we lose every possession, nobody will ever be able to steal the joy that we have felt from the moments in which we have seen glorious places and been with people that we love. That is what we should seek. That is what is most important.

A Heartless Insult

05BE14010000044D-0-image-a-71_1431039744759I am a woman who has my feet firmly planted in two distinct eras. I recall a time when working women with children were a bit of an oddity. Most of the ladies in my neighborhood wore the badge of homemaker with pride and those who left each morning to work in offices seemed exotic and maybe even a bit mysterious. Then my father died and my own mother found herself in need of a full time job. She chose an occupation that was very much the domain of highly intelligent women at the time, teaching. Through her connections to education I found myself intrigued by the world of work inside a classroom.

Somehow in my mind I always knew that I wanted to share my talents with the youngest members of our society, but for quite some time I fought my inclinations to become a teacher. I considered a number of alternative occupations and even stalled in my pursuit of a college degree as I struggled to find myself. Regardless of what I tried I somehow returned again and again to the very career that my mother had chosen in her moment of economic need. I realized that I was secretly happiest when I was helping some youngster to learn and so even though I had at times dreamed of becoming wealthy I decided to forge ahead in a career that I understood would reward me more with good feelings than financial gain.

My very first teaching job was one of my very best. I adored my principal and my students but I only made eleven thousand dollars a year, hardly a resounding figure and well below what my female peers were making as accountants or businesswomen. Still I was happy every single day, and so I told myself that money really didn’t matter, but of course it did. When I got an opportunity to move to a different school and up my salary by eight thousand dollars I leapt at the chance and realized soon enough that I would earn that extra money in blood sweat and tears. Still, it was a grand experience where I learned how to work with children with some of society’s most horrific problems. I became a bonafide educator in those challenging days and sensed that I had truly found my destiny despite the fact that my salary rarely increased more than five hundred dollars a year.

Time passed and I went to different schools and had new experiences, all of which delighted me. Still, by the early nineteen nineties I was not yet earning even thirty thousand dollars a year even though I had been plying my trade for decades. Teachers simply did not get paid well regardless of years of experience or the difficulty of the subject that they taught. Then the Texas legislature finally realized that they needed to make the profession more attractive if they were going to recruit and retain talented young people. They voted to dramatically increase the starting pay of educators so they had to do the same for those of us who had been faithfully working for years. Sadly they did not do so proportionately and the old timers were ultimately making not much more than the new kids on the block.

By this time my own children were in college and I began to feel the pinch of paying their tuition, board, and other expenses. I wondered if it was time to consider a career change and so I returned to college and earned a Masters degree in Human Resources Management. I had enjoyed the courses that I took and my professors believed that I would be quite outstanding working with employees. I had even worked in a Human Resources department at a chemical company one summer and my boss became my cheerleader. Having once been a teacher herself, she understood my dilemma and we became the best of friends as she encouraged me to transition into a new profession.

Somehow I was never able to force myself to make the change. I turned down wonderful offers and made excuses for not following up on leads. One of my professors confessed to me that he believed that I should stay in education because I was subliminally shouting that I didn’t want to leave the profession that had brought me so much satisfaction. After much reflection I knew that he was right. Instead, I took the five hundred dollar a year increase in salary that my new degree had earned me and kept at the job that I truly loved. Over time my pay began to approach a more reasonable level as teacher shortages became more prevalent, but I never broke into the kind of earning power that I might have achieved in the world of business. I loved my work and adored the students, so materialism didn’t seem to matter. Besides, the state had promised all of us a comfortable retirement with reasonable health insurance and so I felt that I had all that I would ever need.

Now I am retired. My monthly earnings are not exceedingly great because I never really made huge amounts of money. A brand new teacher of today earns only a few thousand dollars less than I did in my last year of work. Still my pension provides me with enough to be able to travel now and again and pay the expenses that I have. I’m not sure how well I will do if I lose my husband because I do depend on his Social Security checks and those will go away once he is gone. The federal government in its infinite wisdom seemed to think that teachers were double dipping when they received payments from both the federal and the state governments. I did pay into Social Security for enough quarters to get my own check each month, but because I have a state pension even that amount is offset so that I receive only about a third of what I actually earned. I have to maintain my composure each time I think about how teachers are slapped in the face over and over again, but then I remind myself of the intangible rewards that I have received and just count my blessings.

I suspect that the actions of the current Texas legislative session have sent me over the edge. As the saying goes, “I’m mad as hell.” With little regard for those who worked for decades inside public schools for ridiculously low salaries and conditions that were often verging on the abusive, our state senators and representatives have decided to cut the health benefits of retired educators and school staff members. Whereas we have heretofore been able to choose from four different insurance plans at a fairly reasonable cost, we now must accept a Medicare Advantage plan and pay almost three times more. Not only that, but the deductibles and copays have increased to the point where it is doubtful that we will ever receive a cent from the insurance company since Medicare provides the primary coverage. In addition, many of my doctors have already indicated that regardless of assurances from the state, they will not keep me as a patient if I have a Medicare Advantage plan. Furthermore, I am in the final months of taking a very expensive treatment for my osteoporosis and the pharmacy will suddenly change in September leaving me to wonder if I will be able to complete the two year regimen since it took me almost three months to be approved by my present carrier. I wonder how many of my fellow educators will be adversely impacted while they are in the middle of health crises and I truly worry for them.

The average retired teacher receives about twenty one hundred dollars a month in pension payments. By the time that they pay for supplemental medical insurance and Medicare they will have spent one seventh of their incomes. While I do far better than that, I still plan to continue tutoring as long as I can to offset the increases that are coming soon. Many of my colleagues are not fortunate or healthy enough to find alternative ways of handling the unexpected changes. They will instead be forced to tighten their already rather constricting belts.

The state has the income to help defray the expense of keeping promises made to its teachers but has chosen not to take that route. It has been almost nineteen years since retirees have been given a cost of living increase. When my mother, a former teacher, died she was receiving less than a thousand dollars a month from the Texas Teacher Retirement System. Luckily she had spent her final working years at the University of Texas Health Science Center and thus had health insurance paid for by the university. Still, she had felt forgotten and betrayed as she struggled to stay financially afloat and she quite often urged me to take my skills to a more profitable marketplace. She all too well understood how frightening it is to work for a lifetime only to find that it is almost impossible to meet the most basic needs. She worried most of the time in her final years.

I suspect that there are many former educators in the state of Texas who are wondering what they are going to do. Like my mother they are afraid. Somehow I can’t understand how Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and most of the Republican members of the state legislature can be so insultingly heartless. I worry about those who will be crushed by this travesty at the very time in their lives when they have earned the right to rest and reflect on the great gift of knowledge that they imparted to so many young people. Shame on the men and women who have forgotten their contributions.