Wow. That was weird.
Well, last night I had a surreal experience. I went to my first large group teachers’ union meeting. I’m still trying to untangle how democratic the process was, what benefit it created, or detriment the outcome threatens. But before I go any further with my thoughts, I will say this: I am darn glad I know how to read. Why? Because these are some life-changing issues, and I really needed to be informed on what both sides were saying and doing about MY JOB, MY LIFE, MY PROFESSION, AND MY FUTURE. I am not that different from many of the 1,500 or so teachers packed in that gymnasium last night. Many have my same credentials: a Master’s Degree in Education, many additional college credits, many hours of professional development classes, hours spent developing top-notch lessons, creative ways to motivate students, the latest teacher’s professional publications such as In the Middle by Nancie Atwood or anything by Robert Marzano. I have spent a large percentage of my salary on setting up my classroom library, only to find that if a student lost or stole a book, there would be no recourse on my part, no chance of reimbursement. (But at least they have a book, right?) I am in the process of seeking National Boards’ certification to sharpen my reflective skills as a teacher, always asking myself, “How can I do better? How can I help one more student reach his or her potential? How can I motivate my students to be the generous and courageous young men and women I know they can be?”
So, last night, here’s what happened: For months, the union and the district had been in negotiations over workload, time, and compensation. The numbers are there, but they’re a little fuzzy. There’s no clear answer on what money is there. (And mind you, this is the most precious money of all: taxpayers’ money.) There were some clear cut recommendations on class size. I do think reasonable caps need to be put on class sizes, and when I say “caps” I don’t mean they all need new hats. That means a stopping point, a lid, a maximum number. (I know the adults reading this blog understand the idiom, but some students may not.) Also, they couldn’t agree on the reasonable amount of meetings. We do have too many, maybe, but most teachers complain bitterly about them. What upset me is I’ve been in charge of many of the meetings, and I strive to make them meaningful, informative, and time well spent. I’m not going to take it personally, however; planning those meetings for the department or the school is hard work, and mostly I’ve found them fun and a good time for everyone to get together as a school. Perhaps other schools don’t do such a great job with the meetings. One of my colleagues has a difficult time getting to the meetings because of childcare issues, and when “they” take roll call during a last-minute meeting to check who’s there and who’s not, well, that might get a little demoralizing. The class size issues are valid. It is very difficult to meet and confer with each and every student if a class size is over 25, much less so if over 30. The heart of this issue is, many of our students do not have the home structure they need in order to succeed in school. In my own household, we have two working parents, and it’s extremely difficult to juggle home and our jobs. I get it. So, my job is to, before, during, and after school (when I”m not going to a meeting, running Anime Club, or trying to figure out what to make for dinner) is to be there for every student, every day, because every one of my students counts.
Now, as far as compensation goes, well, every teacher will tell you they didn’t go into this job for the money. And, I really hope that if the first two issues are resolved, then maybe they can come to an agreement about reasonable pay. Some have said we’re top heavy as far as administration goes. I also know that I know many of the skilled and dedicated professionals who have ambitiously and purposefully risen to the ranks of administration, and they are some of the most dedicated, intelligent, and creative people I know and have the honor to work with. So, the vilification on both sides is very tough to hear, too.
I wish there was a third option for public schools, where there wasn’t this “us” and “them” dynamic, but truly a “we,” a genuine professional learning community. I do think the seniority scale needs to be reviewed, meaning one doesn’t keep their job simply because they’ve managed to do it for 30 years. I also think one should reach the “top” sooner than 25 years–having entered this career later in life, there’s no way I’m going to make it for 25 years! Well, maybe I will…who would want me for a teacher when I’m 70 years old? (Shivers and horror, I know!)
All of this is my opinion. I’m still trying to sort it out. And, I feel a little powerless in the process, too. The only thing that helps me feel better is reading about it, and writing about it. Those are the only things I have true control over–keeping informed and working it out with words.