Due to the current state of the economy, many begrudge teacher benefits. Teachers often seem to have an 8 to 3 job, with fewer hours than the average worker. Their insurance benefits and pension coverage in addition to teacher tenure can seem particularly egregious during the budget shortfalls plaguing the states.
Yet the very best teachers, who seem to inspire greatness in students, and raise the bar for their students are often unmentioned in this debate. I have been lucky enough to have had many of these teachers, and I can honestly say that they are deserving of every benefit that they have earned.
With the exception of 3 teachers that I have ever had, every teacher of mine has considered teaching to be far more than an 8 to 3 job. I have frequently come in before school, after school, and even during lunch to ask my teachers for help. My teachers are always willing to help me, even if I am no longer in their class.
Furthermore, teachers provide so much more than an education. Aside from parents, they are probably among the biggest role models in a student's life. One of my science teachers still asks me how I am everyday, even though I am no longer in her class. My teachers enjoy talking to students, seeing it as a chance to remember why they chose to teach. The enthusiasm that they bring to the classroom belies the stereotype that teachers are teaching for the money or the benefits. They teach because they enjoy training young minds that will guide the future.
It is interesting to note that teachers are often under compensated in comparison to similarly qualified private sector workers. The stereotype that teachers teach because of the benefits has come about due to the relatively poor stature teachers receive in public schools. Many teachers often come from the bottom third of their graduating classes, because higher performing students are encouraged to become private sector workers. This is in stark contrast to countries such as Singapore, which recruit teachers from the top third of graduating classes and require teachers to pass difficult exams in exchange for high respect as a teacher and a large salary, surpassing that of a beginning doctor. The result is better performing schools, as Singapore is currently ranked the best country for a math education.
Ironically, calls to cut teacher benefits will further the destruction of a public school education. Following the model of countries that offer better benefits will make schools better and provide superior long run returns, as better educated students create a stronger economy. Personally, I was lucky enough to find teachers that do love teaching for the sake of teaching and pushed me to become a better student. Reforming teacher benefits could allow that same opportunity for EVERY student.
For more information, this is an interesting article from TIME magazine.