Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When is it okay to strike?

I want to start with the fact that I come from a family of teachers and am surrounded by MANY friends and acquaintances who are teachers.   I fully respect the jobs that teachers do, and acknowledge the fact that they are many times under-appreciated.

With that being said, I don't always agree with the stance teachers unions - and many unions for that matter - take.   But now that I said that, I ask you to hear me out, because I am bound to surprise you in the end.

I think many teachers and their unions need to recognize that much of the workers in America are not unionized, we don't get to just demand what we want and strike (or picket if you are in a school district that is not allowed to strike) to help fight our cause.    For those of us who are lucky to have decent jobs, we still get underpaid, and pay a boatload of money to have health insurance.   For many others, they are drastically underpaid and don't even get offered health insurance.  

I recognize as teachers that although school hours are 9-3 (or whatever they may be), many of you still work more than that so you can grade papers, complete lesson plans, etc.   But I also recognize that many of you get paid more to do after-school activities.    I work 8-5 on a good day, many times my hours average out to more like 50 hours a week - and I don't get any overtime or comp time.

You get breaks throughout the year that add up to more vacation time than I can think of - and I'm not including summer break in that at all.   Im talking about your winter break, your spring break, all the holidays schools acknowledge that most businesses don't, etc. 

Then you talk about summer break, where you get two months off.    Or if you want to teach in the summer, you get paid good money to teach one of those months - typically for just a half day - and still get the other month off.

Many teachers get paid more than I do once they've been doing it for a few years because automatic raises kick in.   And then if you go out to some of the suburban schools - those teachers can reach up to six figures.   Back in 2000, my match teacher was in the six figures.

In the 5 years that Ive been at my company, I have endured one year with a pay cut (that we haven't and won't get back) and 2 years without any raises whatsoever.   And the year that raises did kick in I got a promotion with a measly 3% raise (from a salary that was less than I started at).    I get 2 weeks vacation and 8 paid holidays.    I spend at least a quarter of my weekends working and don't get anything for those extra hours.   If I want to take a day off after a long, enduring work trip - I have to use a vacation day.

With all that being said, teachers are the ones who educate our kids (when the government and their "No Child Left Behind" acts don't interfere) and they do deserve certain (limited) dalliances/benefits that some of us others might not get. 

Image taken from 6ABC-WPVI website
There are some teachers unions out there that I have a lot of respect for, because they do recognize the concept of finding a middle ground.   There was the one a couple years back - I believe in West Chester, PA - that took a paycut to save teachers jobs.    But specifically, the one that spawned this blog entry that I have respect for is Neshaminy Federation of Teachers in Bucks County, PA. 

They have been operating on an expired contract for 4 years and during that time, had never gone on strike.    Just this week, they decided to finally go on strike because the Neshaminy School Board wasn't working with them.   And you know what the boards reaction to that was?   We aren't going to negotiate with you while on strike.

Even if you don't agree with the teachers union, refusing to negotiate with them isn't the way to go - you are just fueling the fire.   That's just like the republicans in the House who refused to pass a short term extension of the tax credit because they wanted to pass the bill they had in mind (that would have continued to hurt our economy as the republicans have already done for so long).

I don't know everything that the teachers union wants and the opposing views of the school board - but I know that we are slowly working our way out of the depression the Bush administration and his republican buddies helped put us in, and with that, its time to work out a new contract that provides some raises to those teachers who have waited patiently these past 4 years.    I do agree that compromise needs to happen on both sides, but I also feel that you can't go from 0 to 60 in 1 second, everything needs to come in time and small increments.    But the only way to get to a resolution is for the school board to get back to the table.

Please Note: These are solely my own opinions - you take the good with the bad.   I have absolutely no relationship with anyone on the board of the NFT Union, nor am I related to anyone within the NFT Union - although, as I mentioned I know many teachers, including at least one in this school district.  Additionally, I am a taxpayer in this school district, and recognize that our taxes could rise with a negotiated contract, and accept that change as it comes with being a homeowner.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New You

Okay, well that title is super cheesy and I totally don't believe in it, but it was stuck in my head from good morning america and I couldn't think of a better title for this post. 

I, personally, am not one to make new years resolutions.   When people ask what my resolution is, I say I don't have one and then I joke that I want to lose weight.  In all reality, I'm always working on losing weight, and I almost never start a diet with the new year, because I find that is just a set-up for failure - at least for myself.    And Im sure if you did some research, you would find that resolutions are typically not kept for very long.

As my neighbor jokes, and it's so true, we see all the resolutioners for a few weeks, because they walk/jog/run around the neighborhood across the street from us (as its a popular exercise route for this area), and then after a few weeks/a month all the sudden all those folks slowly disappear.

Although I don't make New Years Resolutions, I do constantly have goals that I create throughout the year, so below are some of my goals that I have been on my list for a few months now, but Im hoping since Im putting them out there, Ill have a bit more success with them.

"De-clutter" my house.  For those that know me and have been to my house, you know that I actually don't have a lot of clutter in my house at all.   I used to be very OCD, and so everything is nice and clean, has its own place, and there is plenty of open space.   But with that being said, my office/den has a lot of STUFF in it, and we almost NEVER use or look at that stuff.   So my goal over the next 4 months is to declutter those rooms, and any other place where I might have STUFF.   Much of the stuff will take some time for me to be willing to part with, because its Phillies stuff that I have collected, but I know that it is time for me to realize what I really should keep.   I truly believe that the souvenirs are your memories and photographs and there is no reason to keep on buying junk that just sits on a shelf.

Be more minimalistic.   To advance on the item above, its one thing to clear out the stuff - its another to realize you don't need most things and to stop getting them.   I've already made a lot of advancements in this area.   Ive stopped buying A LOT of stuff because we really don't need it, so Id like to keep that going, and make some smaller advancements with that.   I don't want to be a complete minimalist - I enjoy the pleasures of many things that I do/will own and the experiences of my life, but I would really like to simplify my life.

Become more active in the Jewish Community.   When I was in elementary and middle school - I had Hebrew school (and to a certain extent, summer camp).   When I was in high school I had B'nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO).    When I was in college, I had Hillel and Jewish Student Association.   But once I became a young adult out of college, there was no organization to keep me involved, and I didn't join my synagogue because they didn't have a reasonable rate for single (or married) young adults - and there really wouldn't be any value to paying for my synagogues membership to me because its a much older member base - so they don't have much going on for my age group - and I could do all that without being a member.   Id really like to find a good Jewish organization that I can get involved in that gives me the same things BBYO and Hillel did - social activities, volunteer opportunities, Israel and Jewish education, etc.  

Re-organize my life. I used to be so OCD and organized in my life.   And then I got dogs, and they take a lot of time from your life to care for them properly, exercise them, etc.   On top of that, work got crazy busy and I was putting in lots of extra hours there.   So instead of coming home, walking/exercising for an hour, cooking dinner, getting some chores done and reading; I ended up working late, taking the dogs for a shorter, 20-30 min walk, making a fast dinner or just snacking and sit in front of the tv and be lazy.    I would like to get back to my earlier schedule and/or find an in -between.   One BIG way to do this, is I want to minimize my TV time.   I was never a big TV person (I don't think) until the last couple years, so I'd like to start to knock it out again.  As I've said since I signed this most recent cable contract, I can't wait til its expired, so I can just cancel the cable portion and just get internet.   Ill hook up a computer to the TV, and use that for any tv viewing when I REALLY want to watch something.

Pick up a new skill or two.  There are a lot of things that I would EVENTUALLY like to learn.   I don't expect to learn them all this year, nor do I expect to really learn them all.   But I do hope to take the time and try and learn some of them sooner rather than later.   
  • I've always enjoyed photography and had a lot of positive feedback from my friends and coworkers on many of my photographs when I was more diligent with taking pictures.   I hope to eventually get a DSLR camera and get back into photography, and maybe get a lesson or two on the DSLR so I can take advantage of all its features.
  • Id love to learn to knit or something.    When I was at a BBYO summer conference, there was a knitting "class" that I signed up for - and I failed miserably.   For the life of me - I just didn't get it.   But Id like to give it another, more serious shot.   I think itd be great to be able to make some things for myself, my family and friends, and be able to make others to donate to good causes - such as scarves.
  • I've tried my hand at gardening, and have had some successes and some failures.  Id really like to put more effort into it and learn the ins and outs.
  • Id like to be more confident in my abilities to do real DIY around my house.   Im fine with building furniture, putting up shelves, painting, etc, but Id like to be able to do more and be more confident in being able to do that stuff.   Specifically, things like completely re-doing a bathroom, building a shed, etc.    There is LOTS that Id like to do around the house, some of which I know would need to hire a contractor for (new patio in front and in back with overhang, additions to house, etc.), but there is plenty that I know I could do on my own with the right equipment, knowledge and skills.
Continue to live a healthy lifestyle.  Although I'm not always eating healthy nor do I exercise day in and day out, I think that I keep a good balance of healthy living within my life.   I fully admit that I could always do more, but I'm happy with where I'm at - and that's what counts, so it is my goal to continue this healthy lifestyle.

Pick up the walking.   This may sound very redundant (and even a contradiction) of the above, but to me walking is not just my exercise - its a hobby and a big source of enjoyment and relaxation for me - so to me, this is a separate point (although it does still fall into the above point).   I don't want to make it a point to walk everyday, because there are always days where you just don't want to go out - so Id like to keep the "schedule" I currently follow, but Id like to find some new routes, and start increasing my lengths.   Currently, my average walk is 4 miles, which isn't bad, but Id like to get my regular weekend walks up to more of 7 miles and start to train again for a marathon, the goofy challenge and/or another 3-day.

If you want to join me in any of these goals, let me know and we can work on them together.   If you have the skills to teach me one of those new skills, and want to teach me, let me know that as well - as I can mix time with friends while learning one of those skills.

Here's to hoping that I have some success in some of these goals, and that you also have success in whatever goals. "resolutions" or life-style changes you may have for this year.