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Occupational hazard: teaching

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Esther Cepeda
March 13, 2012
— MetLife published its most recent “Survey of the American teacher” last week, illuminating a dramatic decrease in teacher job satisfaction. The number of teachers “very satisfied” with their jobs has dropped to the lowest level in two decades, and 29 percent of teachers surveyed—a 12-point increase from 2009—say they’re likely to leave the profession within the next five years to go into different occupations.

One main culprit is obvious: Widespread state budget cuts and layoffs are making educators feel their jobs are at risk. And though family engagement has been improving, even the most involved parents are increasingly living in communities challenged by the after-effects of the Great Recession.


Things are getting rough for teachers. Like, seriously rough—even in school districts that have, until now, been mostly insulated from the more alarming woes that plague inner-city schools. Take for instance, these two items than were distributed to staff at schools in the north suburbs of Chicago last week—middle-class communities long known for their safety.


The first was a warning that in the wake of the late-February shooting in Ohio where a high-school student opened fire at a cafeteria table of classmates, a local middle-school student had been apprehended after his two classmates reported to school staff that he was armed with a loaded gun.


“Often after incidences … copycat situations can occur,” said a district superintendent in a letter to staff asking everyone to be on “high alert” and to look for suspicious behaviors, packages, backpacks and peculiar talk for the rest of the week.


The next day, a school liaison police officer emailed area teachers and staff a horrifying PowerPoint presentation forwarded from the Allentown, Pa., police department about “Krocodil,” the newest drug making its rounds and presumably coming soon to an unsuspecting community and school district near you.


According to the presentation, the derivative of morphine is “easily made” from codeine, iodine, lighter fluid and various other household chemicals in a process similar to the cooking of meth. At six to eight bucks per injection, the drug, which goes by “Walking Dead,” “Crocodile,” “Krok,” and “Zombie drug” on the street, is rapidly becoming a cheap and popular alternative to heroin.


The gory nicknames come from one ghastly side effect: the skin near injection sites is so traumatized by the corrosive effects of the drug’s ingredients that the tissue rots away to the point where the flesh literally falls off, leaving exposed bones. Users’ life expectancies are said to be as low as two to three years, and they usually succumb to massive skin infections.


Let me tell you that no one should be exposed to the gut-churning, nausea-inducing, four-color close-up photographs that were included in this presentation. But the teachers at one school I know of steeled themselves to share the information with students, during their regularly scheduled academic classes, in the hopes that the kids would never go near the stuff.


For all the summer vacations and defined-benefit pension plans they enjoy, teachers do have it rough—way rougher than anyone can imagine. Before you sniff about their level of job satisfaction, ask yourself how happy you’d be at a job where being vigilant about loaded guns and flesh-eating drugs are just a regular part of the mission of educating children.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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