Nothing Official – reality cheque

Nothing official—reality cheque

By Tony Wilson

Reprinted from Bartalk Magazine

Maybe we’re not quite as valuable as we think we are

My daughter is entering Grade 12 this year, which means she has only a few hoops left to jump through before she graduates, and then discovers that life will force her to jump through hundreds more on her way to what she will inevitably “do for a living.” I’m told it won’t be law, which she describes as “Job Z.” Oh well.

The amazing thing is that the three-year-old girl who I used to take to “parent participation pre-school” in the 1990s (instead of sitting at my desk recording billable hours on some forgettable file), is now a self-assured and confident young woman who drives a car, scuba dives with me in Mexico, speaks fluent French, skis like a pro, and is looking at university calendars as I write this. She pens stories in her spare time and has no difficulty sitting in her room for hours immersed in a new book. A friend from Victoria e-mailed me last month and said, “Emma’s in Grade 12? How did that happen?”

Since we’ve had our two kids, my wife and I have always left the house and returned from our respective law offices at sensible hours, in large part, to have dinner together as a family, and to not let the practice of law consume us like it can (and does) consume others. It’s a trade-off in terms of compensation, but we think it’s a good one. They’re only kids once, and then they’re not. Blink, and you may miss it.

But between 8:00 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. we have more or less surrendered our kids to their teachers since they were in Grade 1, (and if you count Kindergarten, even longer). So the daytime upbringing of our most important “treasure” has been entrusted to other people between the months of September to June, Monday to Friday, for almost 12 years now (summers, holidays, and Pro-D days excepted). That may well amount to 15,000 billable hours per child, if teachers billed by the hour (being professionals of course, they don’t). At my hourly rate, that’s $6 million each. And that doesn’t include the after hours marking time, sports coaching time, lesson prep time, one-on-one time, and the countless hours that their teachers put in over and above simply showing up for class. So to an enormous extent, the people who are responsible for shaping what direction our kids’ learning will take, (and arguably, who they will inevitably become as adults) are their teachers.

Although I am olive green with envy over their impressive pension plan, why is it that society pays me (and you) buckets more money to draft contracts, close business transactions, or defend insurance companies than those who are responsible for educating the most important people in our lives? Sure, it’s great for me to charge $400 per hour for what I do, but why is drafting a franchise agreement for yet another new chain of pizza restaurants worth more than teaching my kids French or Biology or how to successfully jump through the hoops that life will put in front of them? Regrettably, it’s the same society that thinks CEOs, hedge-fund managers, and professional hockey players are worth gazillions of dollars a year, but teachers shouldn’t be paid more than $70,000 because they get summers off and can go home at 4:00 p.m.

It’s all too easy to be seduced by our own sense of self-importance, just because we’re paid a lot of money, or we know how the levers of power work, or because others put a value on the legal profession that, dare I say, is sometimes out of proportion with other vocations and callings. In many ways, teachers are more valuable than lawyers, because unlike us, they don’t talk about changing the world. They do it day by day—child by child.

Some of my closest friends in the world chose to become teachers rather than lawyers. And it makes me very happy that my daughter wants to become one too.

Tony Wilson is a Vancouver franchise and intellectual property lawyer practicing with Boughton Law Corporation and is an adjunct professor at SFU. He has written for the Globe and Mail, Macleans Magazine, and Lawyers Weekly, and is a regular columnist with Canadian Lawyer and Bartalk Magazine, where this article first appeared. He is currently writing a book on ìOn-Line Reputation Management.î