Something's gone terribly wrong with our country. Suddenly, we're turning on our public servants, the people on the front lines of society, and making heroes into villains. Only the military escapes society's wrath.

Everyone else in public service is being accused of being on the public dole, especially public school teachers.

And so these good people live in constant fear for their jobs, worrying if the next state financial shortfall will set off yet another round of massive layoffs.

Along with their own jobs, they worry that those valuable instructional aides and office staff will disappear. Meanwhile, like most of the working stiffs in our country, take-home pay stalled long before the recent recession and they suffer the burden of an increasing number of nonpaid furlough days.

As for the future, a future they work so hard to ensure for their students, it's bleak. Unlike Finland and other countries who have invested heavily in teacher training and expertise to achieve educational gains, America increasingly endorses a "drill and kill" "teach to the test" system where more and more is expected with less and less financial, staff, and popular support.

Meanwhile, teacher pensions are in jeopardy while the public looks at upper tier pension abusers and makes the leap of logic that all public employees are cheating them.

Nobody goes into teaching for the money, but it used to be a secure, respected position. Now it's a job with no significant pay raises, one under constant public scrutiny and criticism, with the prospect of being laid off or losing your pension down the line.

Ultimately, one worries how we're going to get qualified people to aspire to these jobs in the future.

And make no mistake, job conditions have deteriorated. It's a much more difficult job than it was 10 years ago. Despite massive budget cuts to education, pressure to achieve impossible No Child Left Behind test standards are growing with class sizes.

With the loss of "20 students-1 teacher" requirement in grades K-3 in California, classes have ballooned to near 30 students in some districts. Upper grades have seen similar increases and, as numbers explode, so do class management and behavioral problems.

Add this to the ever-growing "The Rules Don't Apply To My Child" brigade and you've got the recipe for a perfect storm in our classrooms.

Culturally, our country's approach to citizenship is increasingly weighted more toward rights and privileges than responsibility. When you spend time in a classroom you quickly see how far things have gone. There is a troubling sense of entitlement and denial in many of today's parents and this is being passed on to children.

It's hard to teach when you have students in your class saying, "My mom/dad says I don't have to listen to you."

As for handing out discipline, it's difficult in a system where community support is fragile and any accusation against a school can lead to immediate conviction in the court of public opinion.

One of the big mistakes people make with the public school system comes in thinking the system consists only of teachers, administrators, students and parents.

It also consists of neighborhoods, communities, government, media, culture and business.

Indeed, we're all a part of the public school system and until we pull together in support of teachers instead of demonizing them the system will never reach its potential.

Ron Borland has served as a substitute teacher in four Contra Costa school districts in the last 11 years. He is a resident of Oakley.