No doubt, 20-somethings entering the teaching profession these days face a daunting task in trying to land that first job at a time when school districts are slashing dozens of positions to reduce costs and meet a state-mandated 2 percent property-tax cap. Mike Dolber, a Merrick Avenue Middle School social studies teacher and president of the Bellmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers union, understands their plight.
Dolber became a teacher in 1972, fresh out of Brooklyn and Queens colleges, with degrees in political science and education. It was a challenging time to enter the teaching profession. The great mid-20th-century baby boom ended in 1964, and by the early 1970s, once-swollen student rosters had dropped to a fraction of their size at the height of the U.S.’s greatest population surge. Schools that were no longer needed closed and were sold off or rented out. Teachers were let go by the dozens. Those who were fortunate enough to keep their jobs were paid a fraction of their true worth, Dolber recalled during a recent interview.
“For years,” he said, “we were vastly underpaid, and if we hadn’t unionized in the 1960s and ’70s, we still would be.”
Dolber, now 62, will retire in June after 39 years in education. He started as a social studies teacher in Queens before taking a job in Valley Stream and then settling in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District in February 1974. His starting salary was $8,600 a year, and every June, he was let go and had to reapply for a new job. Summers were a nerve-racking time for him because he was never entirely certain that he would have a job in September. He and his young wife, Elaine, a private school special-education teacher, worried constantly.