It's not often I climb up on the soap box, but today I feel the need. I also have time because we have parent conferences tonight. This means that we had a half-day with students.
What a perfect segue into my thoughts. Right now we're in the proverbial storm. We have a new state superintendent who took office this year. He's making himself known quickly. Now I'll be the first to say that our current education system is broken. Do I know the perfect fix? No, I wish I did. I can tell you from a business perspective that our new superintendent is making a classic mistake. He's making big and sweeping changes without input or consideration of the fallout.
The first happened in January when he terminated a large number (sorry, I'm too lazy to look up how many) of people from the state office for the Department of Education. About two weeks later, he let another 70? people go. Since I'm always complaining that there could be a lot of money saved in administrative cuts, I can't really complain about this. Except.... Isn't there always an except?
Except that he's let the state specialists for some departments go. This makes all the teachers who teach in those departments wonder what the future holds for them ... err... us. I can't speak for any other department, but I can speak for my own. The woman who headed business education for the state of Indiana is an amazing woman. She made it a point to get to know almost every business teacher in the state. The future of business in Indiana and our students were her highest goals. I've rarely met anyone who put as much of themselves into a job as she did. She would send us a weekly newsletter letting us know any news that was pertinent from information regarding curriculum, professional development or training opportunities, scholarships for our students to birth and death notices for those who impacted our field. I had the opportunity to work closely with her when I agreed to work on a couple of committees to re-write our standards and to help bring keyboarding to the 21st century. In fact last week when I was in Indy, she was the first to come and congratulate me on how well my students did in competition. This was an event that she was no longer required to attend as she's no longer employed, but she came anyway because she cared.
Okay, that was a digression.
What brought me to the keyboard today was the ongoing reaction from this week's press release. The rampant hostility towards educators is somewhat shocking. I realize that part of it is the troll factor. People will post things they'd never say.
I went into teaching knowing that I was going backwards on the salary scale. I knew the workload, and I chose it. No one forced me, and I'm okay with that. I like being a teacher. There's nothing better than connecting with a student. There's also little more frustrating than dealing with the constant change for change's sake attitude or working with a student who is blatantly hostile, but that's part of it. No job is perfect.
The announcement this week from our new superintendent was regarding the school calendar. Our school calendar is 180 days. As part of those 180 days, we have 2-3 days (depending on the school) that are 1/2 days for parent-teacher conferences. Students are released for the afternoon and teachers come back in the late afternoon/evening for 3 1/2 - 4 hours (depending on the school) to meet with parents. We also have six days when students are released 2 hours early. On those days, we have professional development workshops. In addition, there are weather-related closures. Some school corporations are smart (like mine) and add a few days to the school calendar for snow days. That way we still meet our 180 days. If we don't use the snow days for closures, then we have some extra 3-day weekends in the spring. Others don't add the days and have to extend the school year in other ways or request a waiver from the state.
The professional development is a required as part of NCLB. School corporations must provide a set amount of professional development to the teaching staff. In addition, we are required to pursue our own professional development including graduate coursework. Graduate credit is required prior to license renewal.
This announcement stated that 1/2 days for professional development,parent-teacher conferences, and end-of-term grades and weather-related closings would no longer be counted as part of the 180 days. This is in effect for the 2009/2010 school year.
On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with this decision. On the other, it opens a huge can of worms.
The school calendar for 2009/2010 is already completed and approved. In fact, so is the one for 2010/2011. They're working on 2011/2012 now. It's not as easy as it may appear to get that calendar ready.
Our contracts are for 180 instructional days with two days at the beginning to get our rooms ready and attend some additional professional development and one day at the end to close out our rooms. There is now a need to add six days to this contract. The six days we have early release can be combined into three work days, plus three days for parent-teacher conferences.
Where's the money going to come from? I've already talked about our community making national news regularly now due to the economy. We have the highest unemployment in the country. People can't pay property tax, so schools aren't getting all their funding. We'll be very lucky if we make it to the next school year without lay offs.
The consensus of the comments is that teachers are lazy and should volunteer whatever extra time is required. I won't claim to work harder than I did in my previous career, but I do work just as hard. I can just imagine the reaction I would have gotten in any previous job if I had told my employees that I expected them to work an extra week without compensation.
Does this mean I never worked "overtime" in my previously salaried positions? Of course not. I did, and I did often. I was in the hotel/restaurant business. There were some weeks when I was only home long enough to grab a few hours sleep. But I was also allowed to take comp time to make up for it. With some small exceptions, I could schedule my vacation for whenever I wanted. There was a lot of flexibility there. When I worked in offices, there were plenty of days when people showd up to work, but never really did. They would get nothing done for a myriad of reasons. Some were hungover, upset about breaking up with their girl/boy friend, just having a low energy day or whatever. No one got too upset about it because they'd make up for it the next day. It was understood that sometimes you have an off day.
I dare you to have an off day in front of 30 students.
The biggest challenge for me when I entered teaching was the lack of down time. When you're here, you're on. There's no wandering down to the coffee pot for a cup and a chat. Do you know what's happened to the break room in my school? It was turned into another classroom this year. During my 25-minute duty-free lunch, I eat at my desk while allowing students to catch up in the computer lab. I deal with the mercurial emotions of teenagers all day long, and then I take them out of town for three days.
I say all this not to complain because I'm not complaining. I enjoy the interaction, most of the time, with my students. I enjoy what I do, but I don't enjoy being raked over the coals, figuratively or literally.
Even so, I'm one of the lucky ones. Yes, there are some negatives with teaching, and we're all to quick to point them out, but there are some great positives, too.
It is nice to have two weeks at Christmas and one week in the spring as breaks. It is also nice to get two months off in the summer, but I can only do that because Jim works them. He works all summer school sessions. This means he gets about two weeks off during the summer. My actual work day isn't shorter than anyone else's even though many think it is, but I do get more days off during the year. In exchange, I get less pay.
If the public wants us to work a longer year, I'm fine with it. Let's go to year-round schools and rewrite the contracts. I agree that something needs to change, but please respect us as professionals. In return, I won't ask my doctor to volunteer and treat me for free six days a year.