One possible spinoff on President Reagan's uncompromising stand against the air controllers' illegal strike could be a generally tougher attitude in local communities in meeting the pay demands of public employees. An early test will be the handling of teacher strikes. Fewer teacher walkouts are expected this year, but strikes do loom in Philadelphia, Boston, and some other cities.
While it can be hoped that a way will still be found to bring the nation's skilled air controllers back to work, there is little doubt that a pointed reminder to public servants everywhere of their obligation to serve the public and to uphold the law is timely. This is especially so in the field of public education, on which the future well-being of the nation so depends.
The losers in a teacher strike are the schoolchildren. The community has an obligation to provide children with the best possible schooling from the age of 6 through 16. In every state but Mississippi it is compulsory for school-age children to go to school. Teachers should consider it just as compulsory to stay on the job in fulfillment of their employment agreement, especially in states where strikes by public employees are illegal.
This is not to be unsympathetic to the fact that teaching is a demanding, complex job requiring years of schooling and reschooling. Hence it should be well rewarded. Teachers' working conditions should be good, and compensation should keep pace with similar professions -- legitimate goals which should be sought through collective bargaining and, where impasses arise, through compulsory arbitration.
It has been a struggle to get teachers' salaries up to a standard which does not require them to hold a second job. Many in the profession still do not feel satisfied with their present salaries or with the pay ceiling they reach after only 20 years of service. It is also true that a teacher in one district, with no fewer duties than one in another, can be paid only half as much. The average teacher salary in rural Arkansas, for example, is no match for the average salary in Scarsdale, N.Y., or Beverly Hills, Calif.
Yet the fact remains that teachers know their salary schedules and working conditions before they take their jobs. The time for them to "strike" therefore is before they accept their position, not after. They can always refuse to take jobs under conditions of a sort to bring them out on strike during the school year. That is the time to draw the line.