Retired educator seeks support for colleagues from School Committee contract negotiators
I write to express my concern to School Committee members about their lack of support for a fair contract for our teachers. While I no longer work in the schools, I have many friends and former colleagues who do. I hear stories over and over again of exhaustion, burnout and feeling disrespected. I find the offer of a less than 2 percent raise to be insulting after the past two years when teachers have had to work under extremely difficult conditions. I would also like to address a few other proposals specifically, to help give a little perspective.
One proposal is to allow principals to assign teachers extra, non-instructional work such as cafeteria, recess or bus duty. Why are teachers so resistant to this, you may wonder. It is not because they don’t care about the safety of their students in the cafeteria, on the playground or waiting for the bus. It is because they have very little, if any, free time. While teachers’ schedules may look like there is time, that is not the case: A 45-minute lunch and recess break is not 45 minutes of free time. It includes organizing your class to get to the cafeteria to make sure they are settled there; it is meeting with kids who didn’t understand a lesson or are having trouble at school or home; it is running off to make copies for the next lesson. I often saw teachers gulping down their lunch at their desks in the 10 or 15 minutes they had while their students were at lunch. Sometimes I saw teachers eating their lunch at the end of the day because they hadn’t had any time to eat sooner. I was often asked to watch over a classroom while the teacher made a dash to the bathroom because she hadn’t had a break in hours. When you add 10 to 20 minutes of an extra duty, what are you taking away?
The second proposal I especially object to is to allow the district (at any time) to assign a teacher, without their consent, to any other building or position. This is absolutely insulting. Schools are communities that are built on personal relationships. It takes time to build a teacher team so they develop trust to work together well. People are not interchangeable parts on an assembly line. These are human beings, with feelings and with connections to others and to the bigger community of their school.
The third extremely problematic proposal has to do with evaluation. I believe a good evaluation process is important. People need to get feedback to help them grow and improve their work. But the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education rubric, especially if it adds student test scores, is not the answer. Have any of the committee members ever followed the state’s process, either as a teacher or a supervisor? I have been in both roles. And in both there were endless, and often pointless, hoops to jump through that contributed little to the quality of teaching. To add in MCAS standardized test scores as a measure is an old proposal that has been debunked many, many times.
Teachers need and deserve to be treated as professionals. Please work with the Cambridge Education Association to give them a contract that honors that professionalism.
Kathy Greeley, Erie Street
While our teachers deserve a lot of respect after showing up these past few years, I’m not sure if Ms. Greeley is aware that almost no jobs offer time off during the day, paid lunch, or autonomy over what role they have in an organization when their skills are needed in another department. Most jobs also have silly evaluation procedures but it’s just part of the game. Unfortunately, thats how the vast vast majority of workplaces are, and teaching unfortunately, is no exception.
While I don’t think teachers are particularly entitled, the reason many people do right now, is because the common complaints we hear from teachers apply to most other jobs that the rest of us have.
Great letter! The Mayor and the School Committee don’t seem to understanding that treating teachers as professionals and paying them fairly is absolutely necessary for the quality of our schools and the education our children receive. It’s ironic that a city with some of the best schools in the country and plenty of cash from industry has decided that the bast best to skimp is on education
Do those other jobs also expect employees to arrive 1 to 2 hours before their shift, leave 2 to 3 hours after it ends, and work nights and weekends?
Sure, some do, but the ones for which “unpaid lunch” is a concept (hourly-paid workers) mostly do not.
I would also like to point out that being moved around is not merely an inconvenience. Schools have different curricula and being switched to a new job, for me, means at a minimum a month of (unpaid, since you brought it up) work to prepare for the new position. A typical job that is allowed to move you around at will also pays you for the time you spend learning your new position and role.
Finally, even the original letter did not clearly point out here that a 2% raise in a year of 7% inflation is, in rough terms, a 5% real-income pay cut. That again may well be what happens in other jobs too, but just because worker abuse happens elsewhere does not mean it is fine here. Rather it should be an impetus for better working conditions and reasonable salary or wage increases everywhere. “Other people are suffering too” is never the right answer to a demand for employers to do the right thing.
I left out an important remark. When teachers are evaluated on a standardized test, it is not the teachers alone who are hurt. It is first and foremost the students. It is not hard for me to teach to a test, except insofar as I wish to actually help students learn to think and to enjoy school and all that that entails. I can produce higher test scores if that is all you care about. But at what huge, horrible cost?
When we measure one particular thing above all else, it raises that thing in importance above all else. Yes, plenty of jobs have silly performance reviews but in most cases I am familiar with those reviews do not prevent people from doing their jobs at least most of the time and reasonably well. In this particular case it is my opinion, and that of many other teachers I know (though certainly not all — there is a reasonable difference of opinion here), that the specifics required to raise test scores precludes one from teaching well.
Sadly, DBA, Yes, almost all professional “white collar” jobs exceed 40 hours a week and include take home work evenings and weekends which is rarely on the clock, except perhaps for lawyers, but even junior lawyers are rarely reimbursed for al of their time.
Retail and manufacturing /wage jobs are a different story.
Again- I don’t think it’s right, but it is a reality.
Likewise being transferred to a department or location where your skills are more demand, and the startup costs and learning is on your dime/your time. It 100% stinks, but its standard practice. Good management will move good people where they are most needed and avoid redundancy.
Lastly while many standardized tests are generally marginally useful in education and other fields, I’m not sure what other evaluations make the most sense and most folks. Parents and policymakers would absolutely support better measurements and metrics for performance if we had them, but they are often time consuming and receive a lot of pushback from educators when reforms have been introduced. Moreover, I don’t think many of us have heard of a case when bad performance reviews /MCAS impacted a teacher’s employment but I’m certainly willing to hear about any.
The system is often lousy DBA and teachers deserve a COLA raise at least, but I’m not sure its much worse for educators than the rest of us!
That said, thank you for being there for our kids, I appreciate the work you do!