Friday, April 17, 2009

The Difference Between Us and Them: An appeal to corporate district management

Layoffs are happening everywhere, unemployment is skyrocketing; these are bitter pills for individuals and families. Yet, there is a difference between the business that slows down production due to decreased demand that must lay off workers, and the school building where demand does not subside but teachers are laid off all the same.

Certainly, you must respect the fact that as every household grocery bill goes up, costs for companies do too. Fine, that also provides the impetus for cuts. And yes, decreased tax revenue that is the result of the general recession means WE have to make lots of cuts. However, I really would suggest that PPS take a good, hard, unbiased look at central office positions before deepening any cuts in the teaching force.

There is certainly progress being made as never before: online trainings, better communication, lots of reformist thinking in the central office, and plenty of district-wide administrative meetings as we work through the problems, but if we need to sacrifice some of that in order to not burn out what really makes PPS work: PPS teachers, then I believe we have an OBLIGATION to do that. If we admit that now is not the time for frills, then why is it up to schools to make cuts while we read about new central office positions emerging?

What is 30 kids in class v. 35? Sure, that makes it harder, but everyone's going to have to pitch in, right? Well, when's the last time YOU were that teacher? Why not take at least a month or two to go into a classroom and teach again? I think there might be a lot of clarity gained if central office staff regularly worked in our schools. If nothing else, I think THAT is an initiative worth undertaking in the future.

If it was up to me (or anyone else, I am sure), everyone would keep their job. We'd go full steam ahead and continue to realize our potential as one of the finest urban school districts in the country; but I have to speak out, because it really worries me that people who aren't living the reality of the classrooms are charged with making budget allocations.

When I look at the controversy over the proposed high school schedule for instance, I am staggered and demoralized by the erroneous assumptions that seem to underlie the proposal. It is not that teachers do not want to work a longer day, they already do. Most teachers are available to kids before school, during lunch, and after school (and you might find that the staggered availability is a plus for kids rather than a minus); all teachers plan and grade every night and lots of weekends; they oversee extracurricular activities and events and they are attendees and spectators of community events that involve their students and parents. If a 60-hour week doesn't sound about average, then again, with all due respect, I'd have to ask when is the last time you taught?

When I started teaching 9 years ago, the average class size was about 28, now it is 34. What will it be in another nine years? Don't there have to be better solutions than eliminating staff, increasing class sizes, freezing salaries, increasing health care premiums? If not, then the schools of tomorrow don't look very good. What makes the most impact on students? Their teachers! Not some magic pill anchor paper, TAG meeting, or snazzy newsletter. Though there are some positive outcomes here, they don't make the same impact.

Quality teachers are able to lead balanced lives, and see their profession as at least financially sustainable. There's a tipping point where that quality will disappear altogether, and we are teetering on that brink now. You can blame the economy, rising health care, state legislators, who or whatever; it does not change the fact that we can not go on like this. When will we face it?

Please, put money back in schools, put control of the money and time back in the buildings. Simplify, but simplify with students in mind.

1 comment:

  1. I find it absurb and awfully unnerving that some of those professions that have the most impact on the future generations receive less than equal compensation for their contributions. It's all too disturbing this downhill direction that public eduction is taking. But I am thankful for teachers like you who are passionate about the need for change!