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IT'S TIME TO PUT AN END TO ALL THE ANIMOSITY

It's that time again -- the weeks leading up to the May school budget vote, and I'm feeling threatened. Why? Because I'm a teacher and the hate letters are already hitting the newspapers.

Sure, everyone supports education when it's time to smile across the desk during parent-teacher conferences. But when the schools ask for money, as they must each May, people are suddenly filled with animosity. Every year, another wave of hostility rolls across the community, taking my breath away.

So this year, on behalf of my colleagues, I am making an official apology. I'm sorry you were tortured with the rules of "I before E except after C," or that the complexity of geometry proofs humiliated you. But let's be reasonable: Are teachers really deserving of such acrimony? Do we truly sit around all day, assigning nothing but worksheets, fleeing school at the dismissal bell? Hanging around all summer, doing nothing?

Here's the truth: Teaching is hard work. Every day, dedicated teachers devote themselves to your children -- listening, smiling, nodding, teaching and mentoring. Some of us have three or four classes in a row with no breaks. We often work 12-hour days on an 8-hour salary. We work through our lunches and planning periods, get to school early and stay late.

In addition to teaching and inspiring, we also fill the gaps in students' lives. We chat with lonely students, or consult counselors or nurses about health concerns. We teach social and citizenship skills, give our own books and supplies to students whose parents buy none and provide extra help before or after school. We advise families about study and organization skills at home. We attend extracurricular events to support student interests and proudly hang student work, even photos, in our rooms.

We also devote personal time to this job. My own children know the answer when they call me and ask: "Hi, Mom, what are you doing?"

"Correcting papers." Sundays are lesson-planning days, evenings are Internet-time -- not e-mail, but searching for lesson resources.

Summers free, you say? Yes. Free to attend conferences, work on curriculum, sift resources and regenerate after an exhausting year of dealing with 30 students at a time, all day long. Think you're tired when your kids are home on vacation? Many of us teach more than 120 students each day. No more worksheets and drills these days, students are actively involved in discussions, computer stations and hands-on activities, all of which are orchestrated by a teacher skilled in people-handling techniques, as well as content area knowledge.

So I do apologize. For any teacher who may have wronged you, for subjects that presented difficulties, for the agony of exams. But there I draw the line. The apology is over. Now can you please get out there and support your schools? Budgets that are voted down hurt kids. They discontinue services, enlarge class sizes and very rarely "trim the fat" you think you see. School board budget hearings are rarely well-attended, yet there are angry "experts" everywhere. Ignore their anger, don't let it infect you. Instead, approach the vote with logic and facts. We'd appreciate it.

Remember that teacher who took the time for a kind word in the midst of her busy schedule and made your day, so long ago. Then vote "yes" for that school budget. It's time for the animosity to end.

MARGIE HERBERGER is a teacher in Williamsville and fellow of the Western New York Writing Project.