As a young teacher, I remember sitting in faculty meetings watching the veteran teachers as they occasionally raised their heads to cast a withering stare over the top of their glasses.
Usually the speaker had made a statement worthy of their disapproval. Thank heavens that death glare was not directed at me. Those things still give me a chill. One day, as we were a captive audience to an insurance sales man, he gave his best pitch to the staff. I noticed he spoke mostly to the younger folks, never looking at the older teachers. Turns out that he already knew it was a waste of time trying to convince them that the next best greatest thing was worth even a sideways glance. He left them to grading their papers or knitting, and concentrated instead on the more impressionable young ones.
The psychological impact of the teacher stare has fascinated me for many years. Despite my Oscar-worthy performances and very best efforts to keep my classes within the boundaries of reasonable chaos, I could never master that look. Until one day, as a teenager was telling me an outrageous story about why he had not finished an assignment, I stared over the rims of my glasses at his darting eyes. The voice in my head was saying You know I’m not buying any of this right? and I suppose my face said it, too.
He stopped mid-sentence, went back to his table, finished the assignment, and handed it to me before leaving. I was giddy. The thrill of discovering this super power made me walk a little taller that day. To label it a death glare is a bit extreme and probably no longer appropriate. It feels more like a nonsense-busting truth laser.
I have recently wished that I had been in the room when some top-level Arkansas lawmakers and officials were making decisions about retiree health insurance. We knew that changes were coming, but it was all very vague unless you were actually there in person. After the final plan was approved and requests for bids had been issued, we were told that retired teachers had been invited to these meetings and asked for input.
Then the sales pitch began. This so great! You’re going to love it! Wait till you see the details, it’s the best plan ever!
Across the state, long-dormant lasers buzzed to life as retired teachers immediately sensed a sharp rise in atmospheric nonsense levels. It took weeks to get to the bottom of what had happened, and many more weeks to receive a full accounting of what the plan was and how it would be rolled out. Medicare eligible retirees have always been happy with their state-sponsored supplemental insurance through Employee Benefits Division (EBD). During open enrollment in October, the practice has always been that if you want to keep what you have, you do nothing and your current plan will continue.
This alleged great new thing is a Medicare Advantage plan. We were promised that it is different from the ones advertised on TV. All eligible retirees have been automatically enrolled, whether they want it or not, and now must navigate a ridiculous scavenger hunt to opt out and keep their plan of choice. The instructions for the opt-out form are confusing, redundant, contradictory, and extremely badly written – an English teacher s worst nightmare. We also suspect that a cat may have walked across the keyboard. The amount of stress and anxiety experienced by retirees over this is no joke. In spite of vigorous advertising and sales pitches, nobody wants a Medicare Advantage plan. There have been too many reports that routine treatments and medications are denied, no matter what the ads claim.
Insurance companies exist to make a profit, and the one in charge of this new plan has raked in record profits in recent years. EBD exists to manage the system and to save the state money. These two truths, coupled with the inept rollout, have raised much suspicion and anger in a population that has always trusted that their retirement income and health insurance were secure.
The presence of a group of savvy veteran teachers, with or without their knitting, may have prevented all of this. Those reassurances would not have held up under the intense scrutiny of the collective truth laser. Those who hoped to launch this plan may have had time to re-do the assignment for a better grade, but the due date has now passed. For the next month, EBD will be forced to process a huge mountain of opt-out forms since we found our way through that maze. Actions have consequences, and old teachers have already dealt with a lifetime of nonsense.
Gazes over glasses
Shelley Smith is a retired public school teacher. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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