I’ve been thinking about my work ethic, now that I am winding down, nearing my official retirement from my career next month.
I credit my daddy for my work ethic. He told me if I did the work I loved, the money would follow. He said that I’d never be rich, but I wouldn’t be poor, either. He was right. Teaching is steady work. When the economy goes south, people go back to school to sharpen their skills—and I am the teacher they seek to improve their writing skills.
It’s taken 49 years to earn (barely) six figures, and many still complain I’m overpaid. One acquaintance constantly suggests that since I am in the classroom only 16 hours a week, that I’m making an enormous hourly rate. Never mind that I’ve been at it for almost fifty years and have a doctorate in my field, and never mind that it pales in comparison to corporate pay, and never mind that the challenges for teaching the unprepared are mind boggling and I’m constantly reinventing my teaching methods to stay relevant. I once kept a record of my actual time working—class time, PLUS grading 180 essays every week, committee time, lesson development time, meeting with students for individual tutoring, sponsoring student organization, advising student media activities, mentoring students and young faculty, and sharing in college decision-making. I typically work 60 hours per week, which is far greater than my acquaintance works. But he likes to say I’m on the public dole, sucking taxpayers dry.
I disagree with that acquaintance. My college colleagues and I make our economy stronger by inspiring and teaching adults to become skilled in their professions. We also challenge them to become critical thinkers so this country can continue to function as a brain trust for innovations in commerce, environmental science and health care, and for transforming hate and prejudice into human kindness, love and tolerance.