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Cop vs. Teacher

The Tribune produced a list this week of 10 stressful jobs. No. 3: Professional Chef. My son chose that career and my worrying about his stress levels causes me a good deal of anxiety. Now I know how my father felt when I chose to be a police officer, No. 8 on the Tribune's list.

Dad's life was loaded with critical events and crisis. My life makes me look like a pansy compared to his. A World War II veteran, Dad survived the Battle of Guadalcanal and two bouts of malaria. His mother, whom he loved ever so dearly, died while he was onboard a ship heading to one of the bloodiest battles in history. He did not become aware of her passing until three months later, only to face humankind at its ugliest. Soldier is No. 10 on the list.

During my career as a police officer with the Illinois Secretary of State, I was not exposed to the frequency of many of the psychological traumas that most municipal police officers face. For most of my career I investigated non-violent crimes like auto theft and identity theft. There was a long stretch when I supervised a squad that investigated public employees and political corruption under a much politicized boss.That was the kind of chronic stress that eats away at you slowly, as opposed to acute stress that is sudden and shocking.

Oh, sure, I worked undercover, buying stolen cars from thieves high on drugs; executed search warrants in some of the area's scuzziest buildings; and sometimes had high speed pursuits in congested traffic. However, big city police face mayhem daily. The blue uniform they wear is a target for the psychopathic gangbangers. Entering some residences exposes them to disease and injury. Seeing a maimed or murdered human being can be routine. I would have been vexed if the Trib had not included police officer on the list.

What might be a surprise to many is No. 6: Elementary/High School Teacher.

For the last four years I have worked as a substitute teacher in both the Chicago Public Schools system and in a suburban school district. You have not seen the devil face to face until you've spent a day in a classroom. Yes, there are little angels, and they can make you smile, but all it takes is one or two Mr. Hydes to raise your blood pressure and increase cortisone production. In a class size of 25 to 30, there can be five or six Hydes.

Today's teacher is constantly under pressure from administrators and politicians to improve standard test scores. Little Johnnie and his mischievous cohorts can distract a teacher from the lesson plan, thereby having her spend most of her time managing classroom behavior. Chatting, throwing, and goofing are the minor offenses. All classrooms have the potential to escalate to peak levels of delinquency with theft, assault, bullying, fighting and even weapons.

Teachers face these variables with little or nor back-up. They can't flee. They can't duck for cover. If they are one of the lucky ones, there is a telephone in the classroom.

Fortunately, most classroom management deals with the less serious infractions, but it is never-ending. The best modification techniques just don't always work.

In my years as a cop, I never came home from work as exhausted as I do when I substitute in a room full of misbehaving prepubescent sixth-graders.

At first, I suspected it was my age. Then I asked around to the full-time teachers, both young and old. They not only faced the same stressors as a sub like me, they have to go home to prepare lesson plans, grade tests and worry about professional development.

I have grown to respect all those who have chosen this vocation. In the back of their minds they must be wishing they were cops. Then they at least would have handcuffs, pepper spray, a taser, and back-up.

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Ed Hammer is a retired Illinois Secretary of State Police Captain and author of the book One Hundred Percent Guilty: How and Insider Links the Death of Six Children to the Politics of Convicted Governor George Ryan.

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See also:
* George Ryan's Park Bench
* George Ryan's Dogs and Ponies
* George Ryan's Other Jailhouse Interview
* Bugging The Chicago School Board

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on May 13, 2011


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