‘Find the work that … brings a better life’

Published 1:35 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Staff wRiter Brian Klingenfus’ opinion column in last week’s Dispatch struck me as being very thoughtful (“He’s not ready for a wage hike,” Wednesday, Feb. 8). Brian presented many issues related to the debate on raising the minimum wage in Virginia. I have done some reflecting on this topic.

In the last 50 years, I have lived and worked in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, in Northern Virginia and in Lunenburg County, and observed the many economic factors at work in those very different areas.

Everyone likes to quote how things were “Back in the day,” but, seriously, I want you to know that in 1968 the starting salary for a certified teacher in the Norfolk City Schools was $5,800 per year. My second-year salary was $6,200. I have no idea how that compared to salary or hourly wages of other jobs in the area, but I do know it was not a living wage. My husband also was employed, having graduated from college as an officer in the U.S. Navy; and his pay was $320 per month plus a $108 housing allowance before taxes. I clearly remember saving for about six months to buy a black and white TV that cost $152. We didn’t go out to eat, we didn’t go on vacation and we didn’t start a family. We washed aluminum foil and used it again.

Of course, things did improve for us eventually, because of two factors: my husband devoted himself to excellence in his military duties and received promotions in rank in timely manner, and at least one early promotion for merit over his 11 years of active service, and in 26 more years in the Navy Reserve, I earned my Bachelor of Science Degree in secondary education. Well, yes, all that degree earned me was the salary of $5,800-$6,200 mentioned above, however, completing a college education meant more than that to me. The first year of our marriage, only my husband was employed, and I was a transfer student from Salisbury State College in Maryland to Old Dominion University.

I am grateful for the education I received, even though my first job was at such low pay that my earnings barely enhanced our early lifestyle. The real benefit was that, as changes in my husband’s duty station took us around the U.S., I was able to obtain jobs because I had an education. As I gained a history of increasingly responsible work, compensation increased. I was not always teaching, but the variety of studies required for that degree and the people skills required to teach successfully prepared me for many business positions as well.

I know I sound pretty old-fashioned, but my primary message is this: adults, please support our schools and our students, doing whatever it takes to build success. If your family includes school children, do your best to keep them healthy and motivated. Be strict when necessary, but always encouraging, and set high standards. Ensure they have time to do homework, go over it with them — we all can learn something new. And if you have a neighbor who doesn’t seem to have the ability to do the same, perhaps share your process with them.

And to the students of today: keep with it even though you may struggle.

Maybe you, like me, would rather drop out of school and get a job. But what you learn is worth it. Learning to stick it out is worth it.

Don’t sit around waiting for the legislature to increase potential earnings for low-skilled work; diligently pursue your education and build a desire to succeed, to find the work that builds your earnings and brings a better life.

Pat Israel lives in Kenbridge, and was born in Baltimore and was educated in public schools. Her email address is patisrael@earthlink.net.