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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

If Florida teachers aren't going to strike, then it is time they just worked to the contract

If teachers aren’t going to strike, something I believe we should do and would win, then starting now, they need to work just to the contract. The entire education system depends on teachers giving millions of unpaid hours, sacrificing their time with friends and family and what little money they have to make sure things keep moving. Enough, if we aren’t going to be treated with respect and compensated appropriately then from now on the system should just get an honest day’s work and nothing more, you know like every other profession is expected to do.

Two things, you might be thinking you can’t do that, that your students desperately need all the extra you do, well in the moment you might be right but in the long term you are hurting them and every student that will come afterwards. The system has no incentive to change if we keep giving and giving while receiving nothing commensurate in return. Then how about this, try it for a week. When your day is over instead of staying and working go home every day for a week. I guaranty you, things will not fall apart. People will survive, and if grading piles up, give fewer assignments. If we are not going to strike then we need to exercise what power we have, and that’s just to do our job, nothing more, nothing less.

For the last couple years’ teachers all over the nation tired of being blamed for society’s ills and both paid and treated like second class citizens rose up in protest and demanded more pay and better working conditions and they won too. Sadly, Florida’s teachers did not join them, partly because it’s illegal to strike, what teachers did in Arizona, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma and so many other placed did, and partly because half of Florida’s teachers are at will employees and can be fired for any or no reason. In short Florida’s teachers felt stuck, they felt powerless to do anything. Well I say no more because even without striking we have power.

I would like teachers to seriously consider something. It's not reviewing the latest scholarly article or their pedagogy. It’s not putting yourself in your children or their parents’ shoes to see where they are coming from either. Where those things are important what I ask you to do is much more so and much less at the same time. What I am asking you to do is just work to the contract, nothing more and nothing less.

For decades now, school systems have only been able to function let alone succeed on the backs of the unpaid labors and sacrifices of their teachers. If it wasn’t for millions of teachers working late into the night and on weekends, often at the expense of their own friends and families’ education would have grinded to a halt and the powers-that-be both know this, depend on this and have taken advantage of it.
Teachers by their nature are givers and I am here to let you know that their altruism is a big part of the problem. It might sound counter intuitive but if teachers were a little more selfish, both they and the system would be better off.

Why should state legislatures and for that matter the nation properly invests in education when they know they have millions of suckers who will shore up the cracks with both their free time and own money?

The truth is this may have been an acceptable arrangement when teachers were just required to teach but that’s not the case today, along with being a psychologist, social worker, nurse, and tutor, we are expected to collect and analyze data, be experts on technology, differentiate our curriculum to meet every child’s individual needs and make individualized materials. Teachers are now disciplinarians and truant officers because administrations won’t get involved until you try multiple interventions or attempts, and we are paper pushers, and boy oh boy do we push paper. When I started teaching just nineteen years ago my lesson plan was a little box on a calendar, now it’s a two paged, 8 font monstrosity and then there is the data I am required to take on every student, in every class, every day. Data that for the most part just sits there helping no one. Teachers today often have fewer and fewer resources and more and more demands and responsibilities. These demands also often take away from the number one thing we are supposed to do, teach.

In short teachers are given way too much to do and not nearly enough time and resources to do it, all while their actual pay because of the rising costs of benefits and inflation is decreasing. Then societies demands are increasing as well as teachers have become the scapegoats of much of society’s ills. Because of this the dam broke in a half dozen states and those teachers said enough and its time in teachers in Florida said enough as well.

Somewhere along the way things changed. Teachers went from revered members of the community to the face, often presented as the lazy and selfish face, of America’s problems. If only Mrs. Mcgillicutty could have gotten little Billy up to speed instead of spending so much time in the teacher’s lounge complaining is a sentiment heard from Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Betsey DeVos, the Trump Clan and so many others. They blame teachers at the same time they cut budgets or raise them at a rate that doesn’t keep up with inflation. They invest in high stakes testing, blame the teacher evaluations and charter schools rather than the people doing the work and teachers, as well as loading teachers up with more work, piling on responsibilities while stripping them of authority, you, we, me, have let them.  

Does anybody see the irony in the fact that in a job that is routinely ridiculed and mocked, that many imply is easy has seen defections and shortages like never before?  

This must stop and step one is working to the contract. Teachers need to start just showing up and giving an honest day’s effort for a day’s pay but when the dismissal bell rings, just leave and don’t take home any work with them. If it doesn’t get done that day then it goes on the pile for the next and if it gets to the point where there is too much to get done, then so be it. This is not a system created by teachers, but it is a system that teachers have allowed to fester, and it is a system that will never change unless we say enough is enough.

I'm not saying we should throw up our hands and quit. Instead I am saying that if we stopped being afraid then we can make things better. The crazy thing is right now teachers have the power. Florida recently declared a critical shortage in just about every teaching position. States across the nation are facing exoduses and shortages.

We need to stop working for free. If enough teachers did that then this alone would send a big enough signal that things need to change.

I will be honest there may be consequences for doing and saying the right things but if enough of us do it then there will be rewards as well and not just for teachers though to be honest the better things are for teachers the better they are for their students, but students as well as they see benefits of their own.

A teacher not worked to death and pulled in dozens of different directions is a better teacher. Smaller classes, and teachers given enough time to plan, and who doesn’t have to rush to their second job or worry about paying for braces for their child or new tires for their ten-year-old car, will be better teachers too and that is a benefit that children would reap as well. 

Teachers must stop letting the powers-that-be get away with barely funding a system that all too often hurts teachers and students alike by putting them in a position where success is nearly impossible to achieve. The powers-that-be must be held accountable for the system they created, or the system will never change.

There is a quote by Gandhi that many teachers like to use and that’s “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The change I would like to see is teachers and students both getting what they need and if I have to do less to make sure it happens then so be it.   

So, teachers do you and your students a favor, work to the contract and not one minute before. Like many things it will be hard at first but if enough of us do it then we and our students will reap the rewards.

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