Monday, June 27, 2011

Demoting Teachers

I do not live in the school district for which I work. I vote, pay taxes in, and will someday send my children to one where the relations between a popularly-elected board and the teachers has taken a toxic turn.

The teachers refused to accept a pay freeze in the midst of this contract, an agreement that is barely even one year old. In retaliation, the board is doing something I've never heard of: it's demoting teachers. Several dozen secondary staff will be relieved of their "duty assignments." In other words, a man or woman paid to teach six periods a day and supervise lunch or study hall will no longer supervise that lunch or study hall, and their pay will be reduced accordingly.

It's a stinky move, one with long-term consequences.

In a good school, a lot of relationships are maintained or forged in those non-teaching duties. Teachers know a broader base of students than just those they have in their classes. Teachers get to better know students who are on their roster, and get to see them in a different setting. Also, in a good school, a lot of teaching happens on those non-duty assignments. A math teacher supervising study hall is likely giving some help to a struggling student in such a setting. I remember from my own high school the geometry teacher on lunch duty even interrupting conversations to share results from a quiz with his students. Demoting the teachers robs some students of good opportunities to connect and learn.

Moreover, the district's decision to "demote" staff sends an ugly message about counting hours. Teachers are paid a salary rather than a wage. We accept a working arrangement in which we will do more than the contractually-stated minimum. The district, in slicing off small parts of the work day, is implicitly pushing teachers to count the hours and minutes they do spend doing their job, and rational creatures will likely shut themselves off and away during these times since their pay has been reduced by 1/7 or 1/8 or whatever the rate at which the district values these non-teaching duties.

For much of this year I've bemoaned the fact that I'll likely steer my children away from a career in teaching. Now I'm wondering if I will become so disappointed at what I see happening in the district where I live that I'll want my kids to have a better experience elsewhere. I believe strongly in the mission of what a public school does. I cringe at moves that could significantly undermine the quality of that institution in this neighborhood.

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