I rarely talk about politics on social media (for good reason), but I’m making an exception here. Today the NJ State Supreme Court ruled that the state of NJ is not required to make the full pension payments promised as part of a 2011 pension reform law. That same law requires teachers to make larger payments into the system and to pay a higher percentage of their healthcare costs.
I understand that the pension system is underfunded and probably unsustainable at this time. But I also know that I am a vested teacher (10 years in) who will rely on my pension come retirement. It’s not a bonus, it’s not a reward- it’s deferred compensation. It’s deferred compensation that I was promised when I signed my first contract.
I did not go into teaching for the money; I don’t expect to be rich. But I expect to be able to survive. My pension is supposed to replace some of the money I could have made if I went into the private sector instead of the public sector. When Chapter 78 was passed I gladly paid more into my pension and health benefits each year in order to sustain the system so that current retirees could get their checks and so that I can get mine someday. I also expected the state to uphold their part of law, making some large payments into the system. Today the court decided that I have to continue making larger payments but the state does not need to make their payments.
I love my job. I’m passionate about my students, my content area, and lifelong learning. But I’m also exhausted. I work 3 jobs at any given time in order to be able to afford to live in NJ (just like many others). It’s not like me to say this, but I’m smart. “Too smart” to be a teacher, I’m often told. I laugh, telling those people they don’t know what it takes to be a teacher! But I’m starting to think that if I was smart I’d be doing something else. Something where the money is more reliable.
I could have chosen to go into private industry. Oh, I understand there are problems in the private sector, too. I’m not an unrealistic person and I have a good head on my shoulders. But at least in the private sector you control your retirement planning. Every single check I receive includes deductions for my pension. I can not choose to invest that money myself. I can’t choose to cash out. But apparently the state can. And my governor can announce that this ruling is a victory for taxpayers. What about me? I’m a taxpayer, too. You’ll note there’s no mention, from Christie or the court, of teachers being able to cut back their contributions or cash out and handle their own investments.
I’m terrified that this will signal the death knell for teaching. Why would any college student enter a teacher ed program at this point? Would you? Would you want your child to? Teachers are treated as if we are not professionals, as if we are expendable, and as if we are not taxpayers, too. Maybe instead of not funding the pension we can make cuts elsewhere. Because what will we do when there are no teachers left?
*I hate sharing this, but to give people who don’t me some context- I’m a contributor to The NYTimes Learning Network, published author in multiple publications, Teacher of the Year winner, NJCTE Teacher of the Year, Governor’s Award of the Arts winner, NJCTE vice-president, PD presenter, National Board Certified Teacher, and much more. I’m currently pursuing a MAT in biology to support the work I do at my amazing school with my incredible students. I’m no fly-by-night teacher, I promise.