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Commuting Teachers Weaken Student Ties

There was a time when most teachers lived in or near the communities where they taught.  But the cost of housing in large urban school districts means that many teachers now spend hours commuting ever day ("The Elusive Teacher Next Door," The Atlantic, June).

At first, that may seem little more than an inconvenience.  But research has shown that the more teachers know about the homes of their students, the better they can relate to their unique needs and interests, which results in improved learning.  Recognizing that salaries alone are not enough to recruit and retain teachers, some districts are looking into subsidized housing. 

It's hard to know if the proposal will ever become a reality.  I say that because critics of traditional public schools persist in pointing to the benefits that teachers already enjoy.  What they don't understand is that these benefits don't pay the rent.  If they did, teachers would not moonlight or take summer jobs. 

I've seen how detrimental the situation is to educational quality.  When I began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1964, I had a spacious one-bedroom, one-bath apartment with a small balcony and a magnificent view of the Mormon Temple in West Los Angeles for $115.00 a month rent.  I drove a little more than two miles to the high school where I taught for my entire 28-year career.  A similar apartment today would command $1,800 a month.

I used to spend time after my last class to prepare students for the speech tournaments we entered without worrying about getting caught in traffic. I also used the time to get to know my students better.  By the time I retired, teachers raced out of the faculty parking lot to avoid freeway gridlock. I don't blame them.  But their relationships with their students suffered.  The situation is only going to get worse unless affordable housing near schools improves.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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