Teachers, plagues and epidemics …

In recent months, cash-strapped school districts throughout California have begun considering the reduction of teachers’ health care benefits in an attempt to cover increasingly dire budgetary shortfalls.

Admittedly, these are desperate fiscal times for the state’s public school system, but messing with teachers’ health care benefits is simply not the smartest way to deal with the problem.

Let’s face it, amigos, if anybody needs top-notch health benefits it’s school teachers.

These folks put their health on the line every time they go to work.

For nine months of the year, public school instructors are routinely bombarded by thousands of rapidly evolving pathogens, most of which have yet to be identified in any medical text.

That’s because, for nine months of the year, teachers are exposed to children in a small, enclosed space generally known as a classroom.

Elementary school kids are like tiny, walking biological warfare labs, capable of effortlessly incubating new, potentially debilitating viruses in the blink of an eye and spreading them with all the effectiveness of a veteran cropduster.

The only reason UN inspectors failed to turn up any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is because they somehow overlooked fourth-graders.

Kids pass ailments back and forth among themselves much like prized trading cards, then hand them off to the first adult they encounter in the course of their happy – but germ-laden – days. More often than not, the lucky adult is their teacher.

Parents know how this goes because the little ones periodically trundle home home from school with a deadly cocktail of viral wonders.

The scenario, I’m sure, is re-enacted millions of times each year: Child comes home, approaches adult and says “I don’t feel good” seconds before spraying lunch all over the family room.

Result?

The child is happily on his or her way back to school within 48 hours or so. Adults who are exposed to the contagious tyke, however, are generally bedridden for three to six weeks with symptoms ranging from a 104-degree fever to rigor mortis.

Kids are susceptible to just about every new virus that comes down the road, but they’re also remarkably resilient, unlike old Mr. Cavendish the English teacher, who seems to spend a lot of his school year in the intensive care unit.

After decades of being exposed to periodic classroom plagues, old Mr. Cavendish is quite familiar with the physicians’ seasonal refrain: “Hmmmmmmm – I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this before.”

Last winter, I think we all became familiar with images of Americans patiently lining up outside clinics and pharmacies to get flu shots.

What most of us probably didn’t see, however, were scores of school teachers quietly lining up outside funeral homes to discuss “pre-need plans” as the flu season drew ominously nearer.

Cut teachers’ health benefits? Not the best way to shore up the educational system, amigos…

Originally published April 10, 2005

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