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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I thoroughly agree with you and "Veteran School Secretary" regarding the critical importance of teachers in our country. It is vital to our future that we recruit and retain the best of the best for our children, and it doesn't matter if they come straight to teaching from a university or they pursue another career first. The point is to get them together with our kids.

There is one point that needs to be made, however, regarding those who come to teaching from other employment. In 14 states, those who begin to teach after earning Social Security retirement benefits will be penalized upon retirement. Their Social Security benefits will be reduced solely because they have paid into another retirement system, such as the California State Teachers' Retirement System. Paying into Social Security and to CalSTRS are both requirements of employment; therefore, to penalize a retiring teacher by reducing an earned benefit is grossly unfair. Moreover, the Social Security system does not warn educators of this penalty before retirement; educators retire expecting the amount predicted by Social Security, only to find it reduced by up to 60 percent.

Educators in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Maine and Texas are affected by this inequity.

Our association and others throughout the country are working to change this unfair and discriminatory practice. Companion bills SB1523 and HR 2638 would correct this problem, and I would urge people to write to their representatives asking their support. Until there is change, those contemplating a second career in education should be made aware that they may be punished for their interest in the youth of America. -- SUSAN GOFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA RETIRED TEACHERS ASSOCIATION

DEAR SUSAN: Thank you for the warning. I, too, would urge concerned parents of school-age children to let their representatives know how they feel about this inequity. We need the best people teaching our children, and nothing should stand in their way.

DEAR ABBY: My parents divorced when I was in elementary school. My father remarried seven years later. By then I was in high school. My stepmother and I were not close, but she was good to Dad and that was the most important thing.

My father passed away two years ago at the age of 76, after 26 years of marriage. Although my stepmother and I had limited contact in the months that followed, we don't anymore. I have even stopped sending her birthday and Mother's Day cards.

Can you enlighten me on the proper etiquette for sending her cards or letters on her special days? I should mention she has children of her own from a previous marriage. Please guide me in the right direction on this. -- OUT OF TOUCH IN CLEVELAND

DEAR OUT OF TOUCH: The sagest advice I can offer regarding sending cards or letters to your stepmother on her special days is this: Follow your heart. She made your father happy, and you are obviously aware of the special occasions. Send her good wishes and you'll never feel guilty.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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