Frankly, I don’t know if she would choose to retire now if the legislature passed what is being billed as a one-time incentive. I know that she would think about it. Financially, it would seem to make a lot of sense. Her income, eventually combined with Social Security, would be barely less than she makes working full-time.
What I do know is that it would be a loss to her school district. My wife has devoted herself to teaching, largely to the exclusion of anything else, for more than thirty years. She is a superb teacher, and that is not a subjective statement. She received the prestigious Gilder-Lehrman award as top history teacher in the state last year. She was also third runner-up for top history teacher in the nation, and won an award this year as the best history teacher in Michigan from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Her students regularly score higher than any others in her district on placement exams, and people in all walks of life have told me that her letters of recommendation have been a major factor in getting them into the University of Michigan or Princeton or Harvard.
Nor is she alone in terms of dedication to what she does. Now -- do these folks deserve sweetened pensions? Certainly they do, and the fact that this would help state finances right now would seem to make passing this a no-brainer. It would also create jobs for the many teachers in the state who can’t find them.
But there is still something that bothers me about all this. If my wife retires, as she undoubtedly will, and should, someday, she is likely to be replaced by a 24-year-old recent graduate. Is this person going to know as much about history or teaching as my wife does?
Certainly not. They may be a bundle of energy, and I know very well that the rhythm of life means that sooner or later, we all must and should be replaced. (Except for me, of course.)
However, if our school districts lose a higher percentage of their most experienced teachers all at once, it’s hard not to believe that they are going to be intellectually and academically weakened.
To me, it would make sense to try and keep some of these folks on as master teachers or curriculum specialists, or something.
Most of us have had our lives altered by a good teacher at some point. That doesn’t mean the present proposal is a bad idea. It does mean that we ought to think of education as something more than one more cost center in a badly out-of-balance state budget.