I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Sorry, I Gotta Teach..."

I'll try not to make this too whiny, but there's a point I'd like to make that has nagged me for a while:

Ken Bernstein, Diane Ravitch, and John Jackson were at Netroots Nation yesterday. I would have loved to have been there, and maybe get a chance to ask a question. But a trip to Providence this time of year is out of the question, so I would have settled for watching the live feed and participating on-line.

But it was at 10:30, and I had to teach my Fourth Graders.

I don't fault the NN folks for scheduling the session when they did; Diane is very busy, as is Ken and I'm sure John. You work these things out as best you can. But it seems that there are many events and meetings and policy debates and discussions that directly affect teachers that are nearly impossible for us to participate in, just because they take place when we're teaching.

Chris Christie's vaunted "Town Halls" almost always take place during school hours. And he's not alone: getting these things timed correctly with the news cycle is more important to the modern politician than making them available for a constituency like teachers.

So if you want to know - as many folks do - why teachers' voices aren't being heard during the reformy debate, let's start by addressing this problem.

"But what's the big deal?" you ask. "Just get a sub!" Well...

- I have had some great folks sub for me, but it's always a drag on my students and myself when I take a day off. You have to write a plan for someone who probably isn't an expert on your content area, who doesn't know your kids, and quite often has limited teaching experience. That's very restrictive and not so great for your students.

- Contrary to what you've heard, we teachers don't get a lot of time off. I get three floating "personal days" that I use for "personal" stuff: taking the car in, meetings at my kids' school, etc. I can't use my vacation days, like many other professionals, because they are locked to the school calendar (and it's not like I get so many of those, either: bank holidays, a week in the winter, and a week in the spring; anyone want to convince me that's outrageous?).

- If I were a partner in a law firm, I'd probably be able to attend things like this - within reason - if the firm thought it would help me become more fluent in my field of expertise, or would help me develop contacts. That's true with a lot of these events: they're not professional development per se, but they are all about one's profession.

If, for example, I were a copyright lawyer, and there was a panel on copyright law - even one nakedly political - on a webcast, do you think anyone in my firm would have a problem with me watching it during the day?

But teachers are different. We can't work with a webcast like this on in the background. We can't shift our hours around to skip out for an afternoon to catch a panel on topics in our field. We can't put in for just one of our vacation days next week so we can attend a convention.

Again, I don't want to come across as whiny: I knew what I was getting into when I signed up. I knew the summers were off but unpaid. I knew winter vacation would always be the week between Christmas and New Years, no matter what. That's fine.

But we should acknowledge that teachers' voices are not going to be present when school's in session. It's too detrimental to our students and ourselves when we aren't in school, and, even if it weren't, our discretion to take time off from work is quite limited.

NN12 did schedule some other education stuff on Saturday; good for them. I'll be watching.


deciminyan said...

I was there and wish you could have been. There were plenty of teachers here; perhaps their administrations are a bit more progressive.

How about getting NJEA to invite Jackson et al to the November convention?

Duke said...

I'm all for that. I'm guessing some teachers down South came up, as they are now all off. And I'm sure there were folks who took their personal days as well.

Just saying it's really not that easy when you're on the job.

Everyone, are you reading deciminyan? You should: