Teachers tired of broken promises, unite! (Society’s Slideshow)

By Dave Palmer

Chicago teachers have decided that they have had enough of broken promises. Their story is gaining momentum in the national media, and is already drawing both criticism and praise.

Those who criticize accuse teachers of not considering the needs of the students, but mostly wonder what they are going to do with their children during the day when they would normally be going to school.

Those who praise the teachers say that it is about time that teachers stand up to school districts and governments that break promise after promise agreed upon in past and present collective bargaining agreements.

“You have a situation where the teachers feel totally and completely disrespected,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of the striking teachers. In this case, she said she blamed Mayor Emanuel for an aggressive push to extend the length of the school day and for a promised raise that was later rescinded. “He created the seeds of a lot of frustration and mistrust,” she said in an article in the New York Times covering the story.

The raise in question amounts to a 16 percent increase for teachers over four years despite what is expected to be a $1 billion deficit in the system’s operating budget next year. Also at stake is how to evaluate teachers and whether teaching openings should automatically go to laid-off teachers, other issues related to benefits, how to calculate raises based on experience level, training days for teachers, and more, according to the Times.

Republicans were quick to jump in with accusations that the interests of teachers unions were conflicted with the interests of students, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying as much in a statement he released to the press.

However, considering that it is the union’s job to fight for the interests of teachers, it is important to note that the Times stated that teachers spoke of rising class sizes, much-needed social workers, a dearth of air-conditioned classrooms and slow-to-arrive reference books, and the accompanying sense of disrespect. Based on the fact that all of these resources benefit students more than they will ever benefit teachers, it seems that the unions do have the interests of students at heart when they support striking teachers.

Any teacher who is worth their salt will tell you that class size is a huge difference maker in the amount of individual attention you can give students. You only have about 60 minutes to deliver your lesson, answer student questions, and offer further assistance to struggling students. It becomes much easier to divide your time between 20 students (about 3 min. per student if all you did was work with individuals) than if you have 40 students (less than 1 minute per student could be allotted in the same situation). Struggling students tend to fall between the cracks or give up if they feel they cannot get as much of the teacher’s attention as they need to help them understand.

School social workers have been slashed and slashed again in the effort to trim budgets. Teachers are often called upon to act as part social workers in addition to their normal daily responsibilities. If they are assigned an emotionally impaired student, they often do not have the training to deal with that student when he or she has a meltdown, and send them to administrators who are equally ill-equipped to deal with the situation at hand. Normally, that leads to the student receiving less education due to a suspension. In reality, the problem could have been nipped in the bud by a school social worker trained to calm agitated students with little loss of educational time.

Teachers are also required to keep students in the loop with new technology and abreast of the newest information on any subject. This can be decidedly difficult to do when (using my school as an example) you have a Economics textbook that was copyrighted and printed in 1998. Keeping up with new technology is even harder when your school still uses computers with a decade-old operating system.

The teachers in Chicago did not create their district’s deficit, and yet are being asked to forego a promised pay raise to pay for it while working longer hours without additional compensation. They are being told that their jobs are dependent on whether or not their students pass a test that is designed by the state and not based on a teacher’s individualized classroom instruction. True, their instruction is based on state curriculum, but not every teacher uses the same method to get there, and not every student absorbs all information at the same rate.

Imagine if you were a factory floor foreman, and the owner of the factory told you that your job was dependent on whether or not your subordinates could pass a multiple choice test that quizzed them on their job responsibilities, factory safety procedures, and Material Safety Data Sheets for every chemical the factory uses. It wasn’t your responsibility to teach them those things, and yet here you facing termination unless 60% of employees pass the test. Would you consider that to be a fair evaluation of your ability to do your job?

Politicians are doing the public education system a grave injustice by cutting budgets, increasing class sizes, eliminating school support staff, and arbitrarily evaluating teachers based on tests which are teaching students nothing other than how to take a multiple choice test. They point the finger at teachers for not getting their job done, yet continually make it more and more difficult for them to do their job.

This is a time when we need to be investing in schools and education. If we want to raise our worldwide ranking in terms of our performance in math and science, the solution is not making teaching a less attractive occupation for those who are willing to endure the long hours and expensive licensing and educational requirements of becoming and being a teacher.

This nation should build more schools, hire more teachers, and find a fair way to evaluate teachers that also involves evaluating administration, school support staff, and parents alongside their students. We are all in this together, and should all be evaluated together as well.

Kudos to the teacher for demonstrating that sometimes civil disobedience becomes necessary when the deck has been stacked against you. They are showing students how to peaceably organize as is their right under the First Amendment, and at the same time, fighting for intelligent reforms to education that truly put students first rather than blindly cutting budgets in all the wrong places and expecting teachers to pick up the slack.

The Same Old Education Song (Society’s Slideshow)

Legislators across the nation and here in Michigan all love to sing the same ‘ol education song. I’m sure you’ve heard the lyrics before.

It goes a little like this:

Let’s raise the standards for students while we take away the means for educators to meet them.

Let’s require that all students take the ACT and then moan when the students who are not serious about attending college do poorly on the test.

Let’s throw out collective bargaining agreements and require teachers to pay more for insurance, make less money and have the right to “Teach for Less.”

Any teacher will tell you that teaching for less does not sound like an appealing prospect.

Michigan Legislature is considering a bill that would forbid teachers from contributing to their union dues electronically. It would also severely limit their ability to collectively bargain for things like higher wages, better benefits, and better retirement plans.

This asinine idea must stem from brains are rotted from being too long out of school and spoiled from too many years of high-paying government jobs. This effectively tells Michigan teachers that they are not worth the salaries, benefits and retirement plans they demand. Whenever you tell an employee he’s not worth his salary, usually he will find a place where his talents are appreciated.

The result of such misguided legislation will be no different. It will serve to drive the best educators out of the state in search of school districts that are willing to pay top dollar for top talent. Once the top talent has migrated to other states, all that will be left are ineffective educators who will work as little as possible for the measly sum that they will be paid.

Of course, there will be some who will bust their tails for their respective districts. However, once they find out how little they are being paid in comparison to teachers in other states, they will follow their predecessors right across the state line never to return.

Out of all the ways one might think of to reform education, paying teachers less and requiring them to perform more should be dead last on the list. Cutting school budgets for things like technology and books should be just above this idea on the list.

Instead, politicians should be looking for a way to improve education through investing in it. Unfortunately for big business, that may mean requiring all of them to pay taxes here, and re-evaluating individual property tax structure. It could also mean raising the individual income tax rate by one percent across the board, which would more than pay for our current deficit and leave us with a healthy reserve.

The politicians we have in office need to wake up and smell the slate board. The reason many schools are lagging in adding a technological aspect to the curriculum is that they simply do not have enough money to put enough computers in every classroom for every student.

The reason that many schools are lacking in meeting expected AYP measurements is because they can’t afford to replace horribly outdated and equally worse for wear textbooks. The reason ACT scores have dropped across the state is because for some students, college is not the best option.

However, our legislature chooses to ignore these facts, and instead chooses to point fingers at the teachers. Surely it’s the teachers’ fault that certain parents could care less about their students’ education. Surely, it’s the teachers’ fault that one in every four children is living in poverty and can’t afford basic school supplies. Surely it’s the teachers’ fault that every time money is needed for anything in this state, the education budget gets thrown right under the bus.

In order to attract businesses with job opportunities to this state, we need qualified people to fill them. In order to get our economy going, we need people with jobs to spend money so businesses will need to hire more people.

Most of all, we need our legislature to quit targeting teachers for blame and sanctions every time a situation even remotely tied to the education system affects its overall outcome.

Write your local legislator and tell them to stop targeting teachers and start investing in the future of our state. Or better yet, just vote them out of office.