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Teachers are less satisfied with their careers; in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession.  In one of the most dramatic findings of the report, teacher satisfaction has decreased by 15 points since the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher measured job satisfaction two years ago, now reaching the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey  series  in more than two decades. This decline in teacher satisfaction is coupled with large increases in the number of teachers  who  indicate that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation and in the number who do not feel their jobs are secure.
That is from the Executive Summary of The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy, conducted last year and just released.  Let me repeat several key parts of that paragraph:

Teacher satisfaction has decreased by 15 points since MetLife last measured it two years ago and is now reaching the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey  series  in more than two decades.

One simply need think of Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey and other states and cities like NY and Washington where public schools, public school teachers, and their unions have been under serious attack to begin to grasp the "why" of that drop in teacher satisfaction.

But is is more complicated than that.  

Some teachers are quite satisfied, but they are increasingly the exception.  The number of teachers prepared to leave the profession for something else is increasing dramatically, as is the number of teachers who do not feel their jobs are secure.

About those teachers with higher levels of satisfaction:  

Teachers with high job satisfaction are more likely to feel their jobs are secure and say they are treated
as a professional by the community. They are also more likely to have adequate opportunities for professional development, time to collaborate with other teachers, more preparation and supports to engage parents effectively, and greater involvement of parents and their schools in coming together to improve the learning and success of students.
But the economic downturn has seen layoffs, dropping of programs and of parent-liaison positions, increasing class sizes.
One-third of teachers also indicate that educational technology and materials have not been kept up to date to meet student needs, while two in ten report that school facilities have not been kept in clean or good condition.
But it gets worse.  
At the same time teachers report a reduction in school budgets, programs, and services, students and their families report an increase in needs
 This is part of the inevitable impact of the economic downturn, where the number of students whose parents have lost jobs - and thus health insurance - have increased.  I know that we have seen an increase in our number of homeless students.

Another thing - at a time when teacher evaluations are being ever more closely tied to student achievement (even though all the research makes clear that this cannot be done with consistency, nor is it necessarily an accurate measure of what the teacher is accomplishing),

School budget cuts are associated with an additional negative impact. Four in ten teachers and parents of students are pessimistic that levels of student achievement will increase in the next five years. Teachers and parents who report that their schools’ budgets have decreased are more likely to be
pessimistic that the level of student achievement will  improve than those  in schools whose budgets have remained the same or increased.
Dissatisfaction tends to be greater among those teachers who teach in urban and heavily minority schools.  Similarly, teachers who are themselves Black are more likely to be dissatisfied than are their White compatriots.   And what should be really scary for the maintenance of a positive school culture, senior teachers are far more likely than their junior colleagues:
teachers likely to leave the profession are more likely than others to have 21+ years of teaching experience (34% vs. 21%). In addition, 17% of teachers who are likely to leave the profession are black or African-American, compared to 10% of teachers who are not likely to leave.
There is, if one wades through all the tables, other important data - remember, this is a survey of parents and students as well.  One thing that caught my attention is that 13% of parents say there is an increase in the number of students coming to school hungry versus only 5% who perceive a decrease.  Similarly, 21% of parents say there has been an increase in the number of students and families needing health and social support services as compared to 3% who say there has been a decrease.  Hungry students learn less well, and the food and social assistance demands are an indicator of the kinds of stresses outside of school with which students arrive - these impact student learning, but are not within the power of most teachers and schools to address.

Let me also offer the first paragraph of the conclusion before I offer some observations of my own.  That first paragraph reads:  

Most parents and teachers agree on the importance of what they need from each other and what they
can do to support their respective roles in student learning and healthy development. Lower parent engagement is more prevalent in schools where need is greater, including urban areas and schools with high proportions of low-income students or minority students. As needs increase in tough economic times,  cuts in  school budgets are associated with decreases in parent engagement. Lack of parent engagement is also a factor in low teacher job satisfaction.
I am in my 17th year of teaching.   This has in most ways been my least satisfying year, which contributes in a major way to my seriously considering leaving the classroom at the end of this year.

I am not alone.  Last year, in part because the school system offered decent buyouts, we lost 7 of the most senior teachers in our building to retirement.  All were teachers who could have continued teaching, and some still show up as substitutes.  This year, with a slightly smaller buyout, 5 have already committed to retirement.  One other, already past 70, has decided to stay one more year.  Several others who had not previously expressed a desire to leave are now saying that next year will probably be their last.  The only additional "senior" teacher who may retire is me.

We are a large school, with over 2600 students.  Even so, losing 12-13 senior teachers in two years is something that has a profound effect.  The impact has been disproportionate in several departments.   Most profoundly hit was foreign languages, where last year we lost our Latin teacher and this year we will lose our Italian teacher.  We were fortunate to find a competent replacement for the former and are working very hard on the latter.

We also have younger teachers who are dissatisfied.  A few are completely leaving the profession.  Some others are transferring to other districts where some of the difficulties are not so great, where the financial pressures are sufficiently lesser so that salaries are not as constricted and the benefits are not as expensive, although if they stay within the state they still are hit with the 2% increase in contribution to the state pension system at a time when COLAs and step increases have been non-existent for 3 years, and many of us have also lost stipends (in my case of 7,000).  

What is key for many teachers is the loss of respect for what they do.  In schools with high degrees of parent involvement, this is likely to be less of a problem.  Some of our parents are very involved, and do what they can to help us, including having nights when parents will come in and volunteer to do copying for us, to help with things in our rooms.  They volunteer as hall monitors during testing days.  Still, other parents who are not as closely involved hear the constant berating of teachers in the media and by some politicians and it affects their attitudes.

Even so, more than half the parents surveyed thought teachers were underpaid.  They understand the reality of what we teachers face financially, and even if they are under financial stress themselves, they do not want their children to lose teachers they respect because of the financial pressures on teachers and their family.

MetLife has been doing these surveys since 1984.  That teacher satisfaction is the lowest they have ever seen, with a significant drop in the past two years, should be a clarion call to those who are truly concerned about public education.

Unfortunately, there are too many across the political spectrum who will ignore it.  Some are locked into ideologies which lead them to blame teachers and public schools for not fixing the problems of society as a whole.  Others totally misinterpret what the data from international comparisons really tells us.  Still others have an agenda which they wish to impose, perhaps for ideological reasons, perhaps because they see the opportunity to benefit financially, perhaps because they want to advantage their own children at the expense of those of others.  

America has more than 20% of its public school students living in poverty.  The highest scoring nation, Finland, has around 4%.  Adjusted for poverty, our schools perform as well as those of Finland.  If we look only at schools with 10% students in poverty or less, those outperform Finland.

There are many things that need to be addressed in public education.  More tests are not a solution.  Replacing experienced teachers with people with 5 weeks of training who will only stay for two years is not a solution.  Turning education over to for-profit entities who do not want to take on the harder to educate (SPED and ELL, for example) is not a solution.

We cannot fix what needs fixing without teachers who are committed to their students as individuals, not as data points.

We will not get or keep the teachers we need if we continue to disrespect them, even abuse them verbally, deprofessionalizing them by taking away from them their ability to apply their professional judgment.

It does not improve student learning to spend more time on testing and test prep, and for teachers to spend more time on paperwork.

Teaching perhaps should be informed by the data from GOOD assessments (and far too many of those we have are not good), but it should never be "data driven" - rather it should be student-centered.  Each of our students is entitled to individual attention, not to be reduced to a series of data points.  But we cannot give that individual attention when class sizes begin to hit the middle or upper 30s, or even exceed 40.

It is Saturday morning, a time when most often I offer a personal reflection on teaching.  This morning I have pointed my readers at a real crisis, one clearly reflected in the MetLife survey.

I have said that this has been my least-satisfying year as a teacher.  That is despite the fact that I do not have a single student this year who is not a nice kid, something I could never say before.

It is not just the finances of education that makes the year so unsatisfying.

It is the changes in policy.

It is that despite the support of a substantial part of our parent community, we are seeing the impact of the constant bashing of teachers and schools.

It is that having failed to make AYP by a single special education student, we are threatened with the loss of flexibility, we are having more reporting requirements imposed upon us, requirements that are time consuming and which do not positively affect instruction.

We are seeing in the students arriving in our building the impact of a decade of No Child Left Behind, which has narrowed their learning and turned too many off to school as they experience ever-more time committed to testing and test prep.

People should carefully read the MetLife Survey.  If you do not feel like wading through all the tables, just take the time to read the few pages of the executive summary.  You will have a far better grasp of our current situation.

You may then begin to understand why teachers have been angry.

You might begin to grasp why 8,000 people turned out on the Ellipse last summer for the Save Our Schools March.

You should then begin to understand why so many teachers have reacted so positively to Diane Ravitch, who has given voice in a visible and audible fashion to what so many of us have been trying to say for so long.

But let me offer a caution.

Remember those senior teachers who are more likely to leave, some of whom are leaving already.

Accompanying that is that we are no longer encouraging young people to become teachers.  We warn them about what they will face.

Other young people listen to the teacher bashing and are persuaded this is not a career path on which they wish to embark.

We cannot make up for those by hordes of relatively untrained people willing to commit for only two years.  

Without committed, skilled, professional teachers, we are not going to have truly successful schools.

Without truly successful schools, our economy will suffer, but so will our democracy.

We are getting very close to a tipping point, one from which recovery will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

Consider it an educational environmental crisis, one as serious as what we face in the global environmental crisis with climate change, with the possibly irreversible impact if we start to massively develop the tar sands.

On a personal level, for a number of years I have been trying to make a difference beyond my classroom.

Now I have let go of all such efforts other than my writing.  I am no longer a union rep.  I no longer serve on the steering committee of the ongoing Save Our Schools effort.  

I am, as regular readers know, seriously exploring life outside the classroom as I approach my 66th birthday.

For me the measure has been can I make a greater contribution to saving public education by leaving the classroom.

Now I am not sure even that matters.  I am not sure it is still possible to save public education.  Not when a supposedly liberal Democratic administration is pushing educational policy in a direction that is destructive, when despite their words praising teachers their policies do NOT support professionalism among teachers.

I have not made any final decisions.

I probably feel some of this more deeply because of my involvement in educational policy at a national level.

I am more than dissatisfied.  I am seriously discouraged.

As to teaching?  It is very simply.   If I cannot do so with integrity, I cannot do so effectively, not by the criteria to which I hold myself.

I have let go of some outside activities in order to give myself one more opportunity to see if i focus more on my classroom i can still make the kind of difference I think incumbent upon me.

The early results are not encouraging.

Consider this the end of my Saturday morning reflection on teaching.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 04:18 AM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Local and state governments are trying (12+ / 0-)

    to cut budgets and they are not doing it based on efficiency or any other rational means. They have chosen public schools as the scape goats and it is only going to get worse. With high unemployment they will treat teachers even worse without causing a shortage of teachers. After school budgets have been sufficiently reduced, they will repeat this process with their next target.

    I voted with my feet. Good Bye and Good Luck America!!

    by shann on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 04:31:58 AM PST

  •  With the political posturing of Gov. Malloy (10+ / 0-)

    in CT, there isn't one teacher in our school who isn't terrified. We have 2 interns who are thinking about dropping out of their programs, and we aren't stopping them.

    Malloy wants to do away with tenure, link pay to performance, enable a principal to strip a teacher of certification or adjust pay significantly downward (with no due process), not require a master's degree, ... the list goes on and on.

    Thank you, whoever you are, for buying me a lifetime subscription. I am not worthy! Sincerely,

    by Sprinkles on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 05:19:12 AM PST

    •  Bad situation in AZ as well (5+ / 0-)

      The state legislature bashes teachers and budgets big time, but the Gilbert School District (Phoenix East Valley) is doing more damage under the radar by intimidating teachers and support staff.  A principal is being investigated for unknown "unprofessional conduct" alleged in anonymous complaints that include a cover up at the district level.  A teacher has been on admin leave for three months with no due process hearing scheduled yet -- apparently the district now realizes they will have to prosecute the 20 charges against the teacher in public.  Employees have little protection from the administrators who collude to bring pressure to resign based on complaints that the administrators set up themselves.

      What's happening in Gilbert Public Schools appears to be a cadre of old-timer superintendents and administrators who scratch each others' backs on the public dime as they climb up the ladder. Many "retire" and come back as "contractors," double-dipping  into tax payers' funds, and at the same time, depriving  pension funds of contributions that a younger teacher would make into that fund. Of course, this also deprives others of the jobs they aspire to. Apparently, no one thought about what shape the district will be in when the current crop of grifters can no longer function.  When pressed, the rote reply is, "It's in the best interests of students!" Yeah, right.

  •  I love teaching (7+ / 0-)

    It's been the most satisfying career choice I could have made. I'm just sick of all the other BS that goes along with it.

    "I'm a progressive man and I like progressive people" Peter Tosh

    by Texas Lefty on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 05:26:23 AM PST

  •  What an outstanding diary. (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks, teacherken. Great diary. And excellent information.

    I seem to recall reading some months ago that teachers are bailing out of the profession in Wisconsin at record levels. Clearly a result of the teacher-bashing launched by Governor Walker (at the request of ALEC).

    This survey you describe is very troubling. Individual schools are at risk of losing their institutional memory if, as you describe, the most experienced teachers are packing it in.

  •  This survey points to a feature, (8+ / 0-)

    not a bug.

    This is how to dismantle public education. It isn't that the results will be ignored, it is that the results are the GOAL. The war against the public sector is strong and continues its success across the spectrum of public employment.

    I teach in public higher education, so my dissatisfaction is lower than public K-12. I'm also in Wisconsin, where the war is bloody at all levels of public work.

    •  What will it take to educate the American public? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Smoh, Teachers Advocate, aliasalias

      Educational experience based on behaviorism is mind control.

      by semioticjim on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 07:25:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Sad but true! (0+ / 0-)

      Interestingly, Americans still have some esteem for higher education, but very little for K-12. Might there be a way to import some of the successful aspects of higher education into K-12? One thing that I'm thinking of is that professions that are esteemed and secure often start with a very demanding and cuthroat education/residency. Mediocre students rarely make it through med school or a Ph.D. program. On the other hand, education students are on average the worst students in any college freshman class, and they're still the worst in any graduating class. If the field set higher standards, I think that would improve schools, it would improve job security, and it would improve the satisfaction of teachers. I say we come up with some new education degree on the model of the MD, but harder. Such a program should be highly selective, and schools should send letters that say "Sorry, your application is not good enough to go into teaching. We encourage you to pursue a profession like engineering or medicine instead." And making it through such a program should also be hard.

      Yes, that would temporarily reduce the number of teachers, as many aspiring teachers would wash out in the demanding programs from which they would have to graduate. That gap could be filled by adjuncts and assistants. They would eventually be replaced by talented, confident teachers, licensed by the education-equivalent of the MD. There would be plenty of work and job security for all of them.

      If my daughter could either have a brilliant teacher or a brilliant doctor, but not both, I would choose the brilliant teacher in an instant. (A merely decent doctor also gets good results; a merely decent teacher, not so much.) I have a feeling that most people would make the same decision. Yet our institutions don't at all reflect our preferences - they funnel talent in the opposite way. This must change.

      •  Really? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        aliasalias, Mostel26
        On the other hand, education students are on average the worst students in any college freshman class, and they're still the worst in any graduating class.
        Based on what? Standardized test results?

        Scores on a standardized test does not judge one's capacity to become an expert teacher...

        Your premise is full of bullshit...

        Educational experience based on behaviorism is mind control.

        by semioticjim on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 10:17:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, by every measure, look it up (0+ / 0-)

          There are:

          1. Standardized entrance tests
          2. GRE's
          3. Grades
          4. Class rank
          5. Entrance requirements for their major


          By every measurable criterion, education students are the worst students in college, with physical education being the worst of the worst.

          Why would you deny obvious data? Do you also deny climate change? The American birth of our president? Is this how we roll now?

          •  actually the data is very much out of date (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            as increasingly many schools/colleges of education change how they do things.  At University of Maryland College Park, for which the school at which I teach is a professional development school, students are not admitted to the school until the end of their sophomore year, and entrance is competitive, although not as competitive as in Finland, from which this model is in part derived.   Students are in the upper half (usually significantly so) of their cohort.

            One problem with raising the standards is that training education students and offering the courses for continuing education required to maintain certification is a cash cow for many colleges and universities.  And if they have the right political connections, state departments do not dare take away their right to certify.  Thus you have the ridiculousness of some real right-wing places like Liberty in Virginia actually able to certify science and biology teachers.

            "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

            by teacherken on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 03:02:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  This is encouraging, thank you! (0+ / 0-)

              I'm very glad that the University of Maryland is doing this, and I hope it becomes the norm in the US. This could make a huge difference for our children and our society.

  •  Thank you! (8+ / 0-)


    Thank you for reading the MetLife report and digesting it for us. The disproportionality in who is considering leaving (African American teachers more likely to be thinking about leaving teaching) should be the red flag from this report. I'm not surprised at the main change -- I bet a lot of occupations would show similarly dropping levels of satisfaction since mid-2008, especially in public employment -- and it's important to keep pushing at where things are going to be affected permanently and in critical spots. Paul Cottle, for example, thinks the hard-to-staff positions like physics teaching is going to be hit hard here.

    •  Physics? (0+ / 0-)

      I taught math and Physics for 35 years, all levels. I got so old I told my students that Newton was one of my childhood buddies. I retired when I maxed out my retirement, even though I was neither burned out nor unhappy. I also told my school I would come back in a heartbeat if I could be a parasitic "double dipper". I still have one kid in college, so I am making money outside the classroom to pay those bills.
      I would much rather be in the class with a bunch of kids. I never got discouraged by the negative attitude of politicians, as I have a completely negative attitude towards them. All I ever wanted was chalk and graph paper. We would build anything else we needed.
      Teacherken, don't let the bastards get you down! Don't make a decision based on the outside influences. If your classes are going well, you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. Peace and love and hang in there.

      •  you do not understand (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc, Ree Zen, semioticjim

        they are NOT going well - every year the students arrive less well prepared.  That's just for starters.

        More and more time is being consumed by paperwork, by mandated testing.

        "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

        by teacherken on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 09:17:04 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am sorry to hear (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          about unprepared students. I would see them in droves among my freshmen, but my seniors were mostly on the mark. I would say my most depressing days were spent with unmotivated students. There were many I could not reach.
          I was math dept head when mandated testing became a necessity for graduation. It wasn't pretty. Much time was spent on test prep in grades 9 and 10.
          I hope spring brings a lift in your spirits. Please forgive me if I have been too familiar. Good luck. I look forward to your posts each week.

      •  Those are very encouraging words, thank you! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm genuinely curious how you think your experience might be different if you had started teaching in 2010 rather than in the time of Newton. (ha!) The sense I get from teacher-friends is one of powerlessness: They feel a lack of respect and a lack of security, but don't see a way to fix these things simply by being excellent at their job. Ultimately, only their students care how good or awful they are, and students don't make decisions about their employment or professional esteem.

        Because rewards for teaching are so performance-independent, young people with any kind of ambition are deterred from the field, preferring jobs where their compensation (social, professional and financial) will correlate with their merit. This really harms the reputation of the profession, the quality of teachers, and most importantly, the students!

        •  The olden days (0+ / 0-)

          I was never accepted into a college in the normal manner (long story not important here). I was a top student in high school and I was standing in the admissions office of a college in the middle of May. I actually had signed onto another college's roster (free-agent Joe) about an hour before. But I stood in the office and had to make a decision: Do I want to be an engineer or a teacher?
          My parents were not with me. They had no money for school. I was going to be on scholarship at either place, so money was not an issue. I was also a jock and I enjoyed coaching little kids in my hometown. I decided to be a teacher, signed up, went back to the place I had just left and told them I had changed my mind.
          I got my degree in math, minored in physical geography and took the necessary classes to be a licensed teacher. Then I got to drive a truck for most of the next two years while I looked for a teaching job.
          Thank goodness women math teachers got pregnant; I got to be a permanent sub in two school systems during parts of those years, but I did not end up at either place.
          You are correct about the present. Today I would not consider becoming a teacher. I was blessed with great teachers (who were also great coaches and role models) all through my schooling. I thought I could be a good influence on students also.
          My oldest daughter is a teacher, and I am not that happy about it, and sometimes neither is she. It is not the place to be today.

  •  The worst part? (9+ / 0-)

    Many Democrats are by and large complicit in the undermining and dismantling of public institutions instituted to serve the poor and disenfranchised.

    Don't forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor. - John Dickinson ("1776")

    by banjolele on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 07:22:09 AM PST

  •  A couple of years ago, there were several teachers (6+ / 0-)

    in a course I took directed at people changing careers. They all mentioned the changes in education and the anti-teacher rhetoric as being a major part of their decisions.

    The rhetoric has only intensified since then. The people who have the best alternatives will be the people who leave first.

    I'm really surprised that the public doesn't see the shortsightedness. As far as the politicians go, while some might simply be naive, I really think it's part of a movement toward privatization and no one cares who gets hurt to achieve that. I said that when they came out with No Child Left Behind and everybody thought I was paranoid.

    Sorry to be the voice of doom. I just don't see this trend ending in a good way. It would be nice to think that people will see what's happening and stand up against it.

  •  This is the first year I have started (4+ / 0-)

    counting the years until I can retire rather than thinking of new goals to increase the excitement.

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 08:36:08 AM PST

  •  I know how you feel (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Mostel26, loveistheanswer

    I love teaching.  I love everything about it ... except the bureaucratic nightmare that I go through with testing and grading now.  Because in classes for which there is an SOL, I must document everything that I have students do in class so that I can CYA in case they don't pass the test at the end of the year.  

    I deal with the lower pay, I deal with the budget cuts and materials/supplies deficits and I have learned to live with the overall bureaucratic morass that comes with working for the school system.  

    I hate the standardized testing complex that has grown up around education, and the frightening conventional wisdom from those outside the classroom who feel that they can judge teachers by those scores.  

    I hate the outright disrespect for teachers, the ease with which far too many dismiss their work as inadequate or worse, as easy for anyone to do.  I hate the ease with which people dismiss teachers as "overpaid" because (hahahahaha) we get summers off.  

    I am a professional educator.  I worked hard to become one.  I have a BA in History with a minor in Political Science and a Master's in Teaching, specializing in teaching secondary social studies.  I put in 10-12 hour days every day without complaint.  I offer free tutoring services for any student in any social studies subject.  I work with other teachers to get tutoring services for students in my classes who are struggling in other subjects.  I go to games, concerts, art shows, theater productions and competitions.  I have never asked to be compensated for any of this, as I do it for the enjoyment of seeing my students showcase their talents and passions.  The only thing I ask, is the simple request that I and every other teacher be treated like valuable members of the community who perform an essential function for society.  

    I am a teacher.  It's in my blood and bone, and I can't imagine doing anything else.  But there are days when the gross disrespect shown to public educators becomes a bit much to take, and I despair of the situation ever getting better.  Several of my students have discussed possibly becoming teachers, and it's getting harder for me to give my blessing to that.  It shouldn't be.  

    A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy.

    by Guy Fawkes on Sat Mar 10, 2012 at 11:58:39 AM PST

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