Most of us will likely never know the names of the three Maryland educators who shared in the record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot. They have chosen to remain anonymous, which is their right under state law and probably a shrewd choice given the history of lottery winners and the considerable size of their sudden good fortune.
But even in their secrecy, the school system employees couldn't help but reveal something important to the rest of us — a life lesson, if you will. They told Maryland lottery officials that they intend to stay in their chosen careers.
How revealing is this? It's often said that only an idiot would go into teaching to make a lot of money. Those who do are motivated by something other than financial reward, and $35 million — the after-tax share going to each — doesn't change that, or at least so it appears.
The winners, described by Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino as a special education teacher, an elementary school teacher and an administrator, cover quite the gamut of education. They are friends who chose to pool their resources and buy $60 worth of tickets.
Much of the rest of their life stories will have to remain a mystery. They have been described as a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s. They do not all work at the same school. Even the name of their school system has been withheld (although Baltimore County or Baltimore City would seem good guesses given that the winning ticket was purchased at a 7-Eleven in Milford Mill).
But one thing they do have in common is a commitment to education. The first words out of their mouths were not, "Take this job and shove it." Instead, they chose to stay the course and continue working for the benefit of Maryland's children.
Teachers and school administrators have not had it easy in recent years. During the recession, many have seen their salaries frozen. Their relatively modest pension benefits have been made an issue in state capitals from Madison to Albany. They've been perceived as unionized opponents of education reform, intransigent and self-serving.
Obviously, there are highly successful educators and there are some who are less so. But behind most is a desire to teach, to help young people succeed, and to make the world a better place.
Jacques Barzun, one of the great education thinkers and a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, once observed that "teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition." Sadly, that remains all too true today.
So while it is impossible to know if the lottery winners are even particularly praiseworthy examples of their respective professions, it is still easy to admire their commitment to education. We would like to think that most others working in the schools share that outlook. Certainly, there is something comforting in the thought.
Perhaps, the newly minted millionaires will eventually succumb and retire early despite their initial choice to stay on the job. One would assume that such riches would reduce a person's willingness to endure the petty indignities of the school bureaucracy or of loutish parents or disruptive students. How easy it would be to walk away from all that.
On the other hand, what a tantalizing new game for thousands of Maryland schoolchildren to ponder: Is that teacher or administrator standing before me a secret multimillionaire lottery winner? Those with the best-decorated classrooms during the holidays may now be viewed suspiciously.
Still, it's just a comfort to know that the whole dog-and-pony show of the fast-food worker locked in dispute with her fellow employees was either a serious mix-up or a hoax. Better to know that the actual winners immediately called each other and celebrated their good fortune as friends and equal partners — and then resolved to stay on the job they obviously must love.
Baltimore'sH.L. Menckenfamously wrote that those who can, do, and those who can't, teach. While that's an amusing thought (and more than occasionally true), we would add this qualifier: Those who teach can also sometimes recognize that they are fortunate, indeed.