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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Labor Day always triggers memories of the two most important hourly wage earners in my life: my mother and my father.

My dad’s hard hat and lunch pail and my mom’s nurse’s aide badge are prominently displayed in my home office. They are reminders of a debt I can never repay. Like so many working-class parents, my mother and father wore their bodies out to build far different lives for their children.

I sure do miss them.

This Labor Day feels more urgent, mostly because of the anti-worker sentiment kicking up dust across America. Too many state legislators — including the embarrassing batch in Ohio, my home state — have tried to demonize public employees.

This raging debate is not about shared sacrifice; most public workers already have made concessions and are willing to make more. This is about men and women of privilege — as it is indeed a privilege to serve our country — attempting to gut workers’ rights to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.

The bad news is that the majority of Republican officials campaigned on jobs creation but then invested their limited ambition into bashing people who stake their careers on saving lives and educating our children.

The good news is that this assault on hardworking people has roused a previously complacent public into outrage. Most of us know a bully when we see one. Even more importantly, most of us know and respect somebody who works for the public.

As schools convene across the country, I am especially mindful of teachers. If you were educated in America, you probably have a story about a teacher who made a difference in your life.

I don’t romanticize the teaching profession. Teachers are as human as the rest of us, some of them painfully so.

I speak from experience. When I told one of my high-school English teachers that I wanted to be a writer, she frowned and declared me unworthy of such a dream. My daughter’s first high-school guidance counselor told her, in front of me, that she should aim low when applying to colleges.

These educators are memorable because they are rare. My guidance counselor found out about that English teacher and steered me toward journalism. My daughter’s new guidance counselor convinced her that she was better than she knew. She graduated with honors from a college her mother could only dream of attending.

Good teachers recognize the lightweights among them and do their best to intercept bad intentions. That was true when I was a student and when my kids were in school. It’s just as true today.

Over the past few days, a few teachers in Ohio have called to report instances of school officials attempting to intimidate them. In each instance, the teacher is campaigning after work hours to defeat Ohio’s SB 5, which would severely restrict the rights of public employees.

This attempt to punish a teacher for her activism is illegal, of course, but it’s also so wrongheaded. How ironic, that teachers who work hard to make their classrooms safe havens for all students might now be subjected to bullying.

Soon schools across the country will host open houses for parents. I made the rounds every school year, but not once did I ever hear a teacher describe why he or she chose this profession or chose to stay.

Parents need to hear these stories, and teachers need to tell them. It doesn’t take long to explain why you chose to devote your life to somebody else’s children, but the story sure can linger in a parent’s heart.

I recall an elementary school teacher I met in a parking lot last spring. She introduced herself as a teacher in Cleveland, and our conversation quickly turned to why she loves her job.

She described a little boy who started the school year unable to read and was lagging far behind his classmates. For months, she worked with him. One afternoon, the boy read aloud an entire page of a book for the first time.

“I wish you could have seen his face,” she said, her eyes tearing.

“He put his book on his lap, raised both hands in the air and shouted, ‘I can read! I can read!'”

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine.


  • ctorres

    My wife was a school nurse in a large elementary school for years. We gained a new respect for teachers and the job they take on. They put in many hours outside the classroom. These teachers helped shape the lives of our children, WITH OUR ASSISTANCE. We must never forget that a child’s education is directly affected by the parents involvement. It is a collaborative effort! The teacher can’t do it alone, but many times teachers have to deal with children who come from poor social and economic backgrounds. Today’s teachers are expected to teach these children who lack social skills, are disruptive in the classroom, poorly nourished and teach them skills they should have learned at home already. Many of the people who look to weaken teacher’s rights would not last long in some of today’s classrooms. SUPPORTIVE PARENT/PARENTS ARE JUST AS ESSENTIAL AS A GOOD TEACHER!

  • jwozniak

    I have my late father’s miners’ helmet and an old photo of him in full coal miner regalia is my Facebook avatar. I lost him nineteen months ago, at age 93. I wear my Wisconsin solidarity t-shirt with pride. And I don’t understand the Tea Party’s obsessive hatred of workers, but it seriously ticks me off.

  • kurt.lorentzen

    Anti-worker sentiment? Hatred of workers? Statements like these are so far off the mark and designed only to inflame. No one thinks workers are bad, and that includes public workers. But lets understand this one tidbit of indisputable fact: Not ONE government worker contributes ANYTHING to the GDP, and EVERY government worker gets their paycheck courtesy of tax-paying corporations and privately employed workers. I believe government employees should have collective bargaining rights, but not between them and another government employee! That’s just one notch below Congress determining their own salaries and benefits! As private workers have seen their retirement funds devastated, 401Ks devalued and healthcare benefits slashed, they see their public “co-workers” enjoying the fruits of their retirement programs unchanged. Workers on the production side are just expressing their desire for some equity. They don’t hate public workers or anybody else.

  • ctorres

    Are you serious, kurt? Taxpaying corporations, like GE? You mean government workers don’t pay taxes? Not one public worker contributes to the GDP? Can you tells us where you got your facts? Talk about so far off the mark!

  • kurt.lorentzen

    I’m absolutely serious. I mean nothing as a disrespect to public employees, neither do I say they don’t contribute anything to society. But I stand by my observations. read on…

    1) Granted, GE and other corporations who shelter their profits offshore to avoid paying taxes is a sham. But they do it because it’s LEGAL! Let’s fix the loopholes AND make it profitable for US companies to do business, generate product and hire employees here at home!

    2) You are correct in that public employees pay no NET taxes. The taxes they pay is just money going back in the direction from whence it came. It came from the taxpayers originally, was distributed by the government, and constitutes a small percentage of that outlay going back to the government. So in the end the taxes they pay come from privately employed taxpayers.

    3) I’ll grant you that some government jobs may enable production but, no, I can’t think of any that actually produce any marketable product. Can you?

  • CommonSense

    So businesses across the country don’t use US and State Highways to move their goods? Ports don’t bring in goods for businesses and export US goods to other countries? Public schools don’t educate kids and young adults to read and write so they can fill the domestic labor market? Employees don’t live in cities where fire and police services allow them to raise families and go to work in safety? The same police and fire departments don’t protect the very private businesses you seem to worship? National and State Parks don’t draw millions of foreign tourists who stay in hotels, rent cars, buy food, gas, etc.? The same tourists who also use the US and State Highway systems to travel around the US spending their money at private businesses along the way? The foregoing is only a very small part of what public workers do (I could go on and on), which has an immediate and direct impact on the GNP in this country. Saying that roads, education, parks, etc., don’t actually make products is nonsense and irrelevant. They produce the skilled labor, transport and basis for the products, without which your precious private industries could not function.

  • kurt.lorentzen

    You’re missing the point entirely. I never said that government employees don’t do important work or provide important services. My point is that the only place where wealth, for lack of a better word, is generated is in the private sector. Those businesses, farmers, manufacturers, etc. need the support of infrastructure, the security of public safety, etc. But THEY pay for it. Government doesn’t PAY for anything. It is a necessary cost of doing business, but it is a cost just like raw materials and office supplies. This is what people just don’t get. Production generates revenue, not government. Adding government jobs is a net cost, not a net gain. The money to pay for additional government jobs unltimately comes from the production side. This is just math. Don’t confuse the issue by taking offense where none is intended.