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Teachers aren't living a life of extravagance

Now that the debate in Wisconsin has somewhat settled into a state of idleness, I would like to interject my opinion. Behind every criticism of teachers, there are actual people who fill these positions. These people are real. They have homes, children and responsibilities similar to those of other middle-class Americans.

Unfortunately, economic uncertainty has transformed teachers into caricatures of greedy upper-class elitists who are unwilling to give an inch, while others suggest a mile. It is not my intention to argue the intricacies of the dispute. Instead, I would like to point out that when you launch an assault on an entire profession, you are also attacking the individuals within that profession. And these real people are not always the rigid images generated by politics.

I met my wife while she was in college and working part time. She would come over to my apartment and study for hours. She graduated with honors from Buffalo State College in 2003. After graduation, she got a part-time teaching position in a local district. She was laid off after her first year.

During all this uncertainty, we got married and rented a house from her parents. We were grateful for their generosity, but when they refused to accept rent, we decided to buy our first home. It was a small house. Some called it "cozy," while others referred to it as our "starter home."

My wife completed her master's degree while working at her new job. I worked for a local company, but when it became obvious that I couldn't advance into management, I went back to school. I quit my job to concentrate on my education and look after our daughter. The cost of day care counteracts any benefit that would be gained by my employment.

My wife works nine months a year, it's true. This isn't by choice; that's the way it is. During those nine months, she not only fulfills her expectations as a teacher, but she takes on the extra work of tutoring, mentoring and participating in the lives of her students. She cares about them and their futures. She involves herself in aspects beyond the regular requirements of the job. If she was asked to do it 12 months a year, I know she would be more than willing.

Contrary to the belief that teachers' salaries exceed those of the private sector, we do not live a life of extravagance. We drive used cars, shop at Target and own a small home. Our 2-year-old wears borrowed clothes and we haven't had a vacation in three years. In fact, my wife and I have gone out twice since our daughter was born. My student loans are a constant source of anxiety, but I hold out hope that the economy will improve by the time I graduate.

I realize our modest life is not all that unusual. Many families have similar stories. My point is that when you condemn and malign teachers as a whole, you are also attacking an ordinary person. It may be a neighbor or family member. It may be a person just trying to get by. It may be a person who worked exceptionally hard to earn average wages, only to be chastised by a society that barely understands the nature of the job.

My wife doesn't ask for much -- maybe a bigger kitchen, or a husband who takes her out once in a while. What she doesn't deserve is a barrage of criticism from people who should know better. People who are intelligent enough to see through the political agendas, and to educate themselves on the reality of the profession. You know -- ordinary people like you and me.

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Jason Hugar, a history major at Buffalo State College, lives in Wheatfield and has great respect for teachers.

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