Friday, September 04, 2015

They Are Doing It For Your Children

Seattle's Public School's are scheduled to open their doors for the 2015-16 school year next week, although it looks very unlikely that it will happen. Our teachers have been bargaining with the district all summer over a new contract, yet the district waited until the waning days of summer to reject all of the teacher's proposals, making a teachers strike all but inevitable. Indeed, they have already unanimously voted to do so.

The union proposes scraping all standardized tests other than those that are federally mandated. The school district remains staunchly in favor of retaining the dozens of standardized tests that have increasingly come to comprise the curriculum of our public schools, forcing children to spend their time in test prep rather than actual education.

The union proposes ending the widely discredited practice of tying teacher evaluations to test scores. The school district remains staunchly in favor of evaluation methods that are demonstrably unfair and unreliable.

The union proposes tripling the amount of recess time for young children, demanding a minimum of 45 minutes a day on the playground (a number that this reporter still finds abusively low). The school district remains staunchly in favor of keeping the kids in their seats, even arguing for longer school days, a cruelty I can hardly stomach.

The union proposes establishing "race and equity teams" to help identify and address the institutional racism that leads to such inequalities as black children being four times more likely to be suspended than white children. The school district remains staunchly in favor of looking the other way.

The union proposes implementing case load caps for overworked and overloaded school counselors and psychologists in order to begin to adequately address the mental health needs of students. The school district remains staunchly behind inadequately funding this vital student lifeline.

And finally, the union is demanding a raise after six years without any, in the face of a skyrocketing cost of living in our city. The school district, despite receiving nearly a $100 million in new money, would rather continue to pay for-profit testing and curriculum companies than their teachers. In fact, the district wants teachers to work more hours without compensation.

The union's positions all seems reasonable to me. For more details, I'll steer you to teacher, writer, and activist Jesse Hagopian's excellent piece on his I Am An Educator blog.

No one wants a strike, of course, and most of the families I know are behind the teachers, many actively so, because they know that the teachers are really just asking for better schools. None of these proposals are outrageous and they are all long overdue. The district, on the other hand, is behaving very badly in all of this. It's almost as if they want a strike. In fact, their behavior suggests they're banking on a strike, especially a drawn out one, in the hopes of sparking an anti-teacher backlash to erode the currently strong parent and citizen support, 

Sadly, they might not be wrong. Teachers have become a punching bag profession. Leading politicians, even Presidential candidates, regularly seek to score political points by teacher bashing. Despite polls that show that Americans hold teachers in high esteem and that more than 80 percent would encourage their own children to pursue a teaching career, the anti-teacher rhetoric continues. Part of that is a result of the whole corporate education "reform" campaign, which has overtly used teacher bashing as a tactic in their longterm plan to fully privatize public education. Stand-offs in places like Seattle illustrate that those in power do not share the opinion that teachers deserve professional respect or adequate compensation.

I admire and respect teachers like Jesse Hagopian who are willing and able to stand up and lead, and while every teacher I know supports the union in this negotiation, every single one of them will also be heartbroken when schools do not open on time. You see, for most of us, teaching is more a calling than a vocation. Most of us would still do it even if we were paid less. We would do it even if our working conditions were worse. We would show up to teach every day no matter what, because we don't do it for the money or the prestige or the security -- we do it for the children. This is what makes our profession great, of course, but it is also a lever that our opponents use against us which is why we need our unions and our activist leaders. It's also why we need parents to stick with us, even when it's inconvenient like it is when teachers strike. Most of us, most of the time, are doing it for your children.

Whatever happens in the coming days, please know that: they are doing it for your children.

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1 comment:

KC said...

Beautifully put. And judging from the comments on the SPS Facebook page, a lot of people agree with you!