We continue to see mediocre professional athletes sign contracts for millions of dollars a year. I have long lost the ability to fathom how any athlete is worth that kind of money. I’m not envious, but I’m always struck by the injustice of it.

How can we pay professional athletes that type of money to play a game, and those who teach and mold our future be paid such a paltry sum in comparison?

Whether a major league baseball player has a banner season next year, or whether he breaks every record in the books, it will have not one iota of impact on what kind of children we raise. It will not affect the quality of our public officials nor will it determine who will be performing surgery, repairing cars, or educating our young 20 years down the road.

But teachers do.

Think about this. Our future depends upon our children. In our society today, who has children in their custody and control most of the time?

Not parents. The large percentage of the time when children are in the custody of their parents, they are not under their control. They are either glued to the television set, iPhones, or out running around with their friends.  Or sleeping.

The answer of course is teachers.

From the time that they begin as mere babies in preschool and over the next 12 to 20 years, young minds, personalities, and attitudes are daily molded by people who we pay less each year than Derek Jeter will make with one at bat.

One could argue that one good thing about the low teachers’ salary is that we get very good people to teach our children who are not motivated by money. Most all of them could be doing better financially in other trades, occupations and professions. Fortunately for all of us, they recognize the grand purpose in their calling.

That purpose is what makes life worth living.

We can fight drugs, crime, violence and lawlessness on a grand and massive scale.

Judges can send people to the penitentiary until they are brimming over with humanity.

But no one has a great influence on the direction young people will take than those who are with them most of the time in their younger years.

Read a story about an errant kid gone straight, humble beginnings leading to grand and glorious heights, success out of the ashes of despair, and you will almost always find a teacher or a coach who is the main person who made a difference.

There is a saying, which

I like, “You never know to whom you are speaking

when you talk to a child.”

It may be a future Stephen Spielberg, Billy Graham

or Sandra Day O’Connor.

Or it may simply be some-

one who does not reach the height of fame and fortune but goes to work everyday, pays taxes, is law abiding and makes a contribution.

It is reported that the ancient Greek teacher, Socrates, taught under a shade tree. Many teachers undoubtedly envy such simplicity. Today, because of state, federal, and local regulations and guidelines, they are inundated with paperwork, deadlines, forms and reports which have — at least in their eyes — very little to do with their classroom performance. Those who teach in special education these days deserve a Purple Heart and a pension.

Years ago there was a clear line of separation between what went on at home and what went on at school. That no longer exists. With the increasing number of dysfunctional families, substance abuse, divorce, and other types of social maladies occurring, they all spill over into the classroom. Teachers and the entire school system are looked to more and more as being people who must meet some of the larger social needs and not just the teaching of reading and arithmetic.

Henry Books Adams placed the role of the teacher in the long perspective when he wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell when his influence stops.”

No one takes on the awesome task of teaching because of money. But it would say more of us as a society if we paid them more to acknowledge their true worth.

You may read more of Justice Cunningham’s Benchmarks by logging onto his website, www.billcunninghamonline.com.

Bill Cunningham is a Kentucky Supreme Court justice.

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