My Turn: In Pembroke, teachers aren’t villains
I’m sorry I missed the Pembroke School District meeting on Saturday, the one in which the proposed two-year’s teacher contract was rejected. Looking at the numbers, it seems as if a lot of voters did.
We were all busy, I am sure. I’m not just a taxpayer but also a teacher, and I had gotten up at 4 a.m. to take the Pembroke Academy Players to Whitefield, to their first regional one-act play competition in three years. So I missed the meeting – and you missed my speech.
We did not win this year. We are not undefeated, as the Pembroke Academy basketball team is, as FIRST robotics teams all seem to be. But we are acquainted with excellence, and we understand what it takes. I almost wish the school district meeting had happened there, above the Notch, where public school was wearing its best costume and makeup.
It might not have swayed the vote against the contract – I know what an increase in taxes means. But you would have seen that we are not the villain.
What a difficult choice we had to make.
I say we, because, I, too, am resident of Pembroke. My taxes increased by $600 on my half acre last year alone. And like many, my salary did not increase. It went down for the second year in a row. Times are hard, even for teachers.
I have taught at Pembroke Academy for 25 years. I work alongside some amazing colleagues of breathtaking wisdom. It’s true that we love what we do, and we can get along for years “without all these big increases.” In fact, as residents, we need to remind ourselves that in the last cycle of negotiations the union, actually agreed to a contract with no salary increase. And the town voted in our favor.
In fact, we’ve gone years since there has been such an unfavorable decision as the one made Saturday. I can remember a time in the early 1990s when the school staff was subjected to the humiliation of not having a contract for three years. We actually picketed the school. I remember walking from my house to school each day with my 4-by-3-foot sign built from an old “Reagan for President” lawn sign. It read, “I am proud to be teaching your kids.” I enjoyed my walks to school. I hope we never go back to those days.
Teaching is one of the few professions that forces us to come to you, our employers, as beggars really, hoping that we might continue another year. We work. We love.
In Whitefield on Saturday, as tired as you might be of hearing this, it truly was all and only about the kids. It cost the taxpayers nothing. Not a dime. And I didn’t get home until midnight. After another 18-hour day, all that was left in the auditorium where I spend so many long nights was one piece of debris from the meeting – and my costumes and makeup to arrange for the next show.
(Peter L. Mehegan lives in Pembroke.)