One Extra Hour

Teachers are told that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the School District administration are working hard to negotiate a new contract.  But teachers are not allowed to participate.  So “negotiations” is a series where I bargain with the only person who would listen – myself.

[Hite]:  “Most of our teachers already work eight-hour days,” he said. “Most work weekends, holidays and into the evening. … I applaud the teachers for putting in whatever time it takes to make sure students are successful.”

But, he added, “The [teacher] workday is defined as not just standing in front of children, but a time for teachers to develop themselves, collaborate, analyze data, and learn best practices.” The Notebook

Sweet, sweet words.

I like developing my craft.  I originally joined Twitter follow #engchat and #edchat1.  I’m for the intelligent use of data, sharing best practices, and cross-curricular collaboration.  Yes, this is this is a backdoor pay cut which comes on the heels of an actual pay cut, but I’m not horrified.  And in 2013, “not horrified” is pretty good.

 But this is not my first rodeo.  There are some pretty serious household cleaners I would rather imbibe than sitting through 60 minutes of District mandated development.  So, you want an extra hour?  Here are my demands:

 Administrators will not call more than 1 full-school meeting every 5 days.  Another lecture on the Common Core?  Platitudes on teaching and learning?  Stamp your feet about data?  Pep talks and housekeeping are fine – in doses.  If you want me to give up my time, you better not waste it.

 So Principals must make it count.  A parent wants to speak to the staff?  That’s your meeting.  New policy on cell-phones?  That’s your meeting.  A District spokesperson come to explain the newest of the new reading programs?  Sorry. If you have more, feel free to go to grade-group meetings, send emails, or have actual conversations with your staff.  But if you want to assemble and lecture, you get one.2

No paid presenters.   Don’t force me into unpaid work so you can send in some guy in a suit that costs more than my car to tell me about a product he wants us to buy.

 This goes for teachers and outsiders.  No giving EC money to a teacher leader to present whatever policy is coming down the pipe.  If the teacher really believes in it, I’d love to hear from them.  If you have to pay them to do it, why bother?3

 You get what you give.  The Administrator reads an email from their Assistant Superintendent, prints the email, and asks teachers to “analyze it” and write a report.  This process takes 3 minutes.  I may give you 3:30 of my time, because I’m a bit of an overachiever.  Then we’re done.

 No salespeople.  Before you scoff – I had a Principal bring in a group selling weight-loss products.  Moving on.

If you put on a DVD, I get to throw a chair.  So as to fit this in a contract:

The Teachers shall elect a team of one representative per 5 full-time faculty as Chair-Throwers.  Should a DVD or video/based media running longer than 30 seconds be shown, the designated Chair Throwers may elect to throw 1 chair or other implement of sitting so long as the aforementioned video media is running.  Chair-throwers will hereby not be liable for any damage to staff, administration, or equipment.

When I have 120 exit tickets to grade and a dozen parents to call, I am not going to tolerate a fifteen minute DVD on how a suburban Santa Monica district teachers Freudian analysis.  Please note the use of the word “elect”.  I might throw a chair.  I might not.  If you are going to take my time to show a video, pray it’s a good one.

 2 of those hours are for the teachers.  Mine.  Not for reviewing data, not for grade group meetings, not for analyzing another ACSD article that will (we swear, this one’s the one) completely change my approach.  My time.

Look, if Dr. Hite is serious that this is to reflect the time we already put it, then giving me that time shouldn’t be a problem.  I’m going to call houses, grade papers, make photocopies.  I’m going to make some quizzes for kids need remediation.  I might update my class website or sharpen a bunch of pencils or hang up the latest words on the word wall.  I’m going to do stuff that improves my student’s education; the stuff I do every night.

 And you know what?  I might be setting my fantasy roster.  I might be on Grantland.  I might have a conversation with a staff member that, and please don’t panic, is not about closing the Achievement Gap!  And if this is your nightmare, you’re doing it wrong.  If you believe that teacher’s time must be 100% structured or else they might waste it, you should not be running a school (or anything else).

 Any of these provisions may be waived by a two-thirds majority of the staff.  So long as schools rely on language in a contract instead of human beings acting in good faith, we’ll never get anywhere.  I need to trust Administrators to do their job if I want their trust in return.  I get it.  And  I’ve met Principals who earned that trust and, taking it a step further, I think you can’t have a great school without it.

But reality is a thing.  The SDP has experienced a massive turnover in the ranks of Principals.  Couple this with a long history of favoritism and a set of horrible incentive and, no, I don’t trust the average Principal to do the right thing.  Too many red flags.

In short, nothing about my experience in Philadelphia has shown me that giving up an extra hour at school will result in anything but an extra hour of drudgery.  Teachers will  sit placidly, running through the mental list of all the things they have to do with one less hour in the day.  Principals will smile because they can check all that CYA stuff off their list.  The SRC will crow about a modernized contract.

And the work to make my school a place where I would love to send my child will continue where it always has – on my time.

  1. and all the characters from “The West Wing” 

  2. And calling a meeting so that your SBTL can present the same stuff “voluntarily” is grounds for every single staff member to rock out on Candy Crush.  We’ve seen this movie before. 

  3. If you are saying to yourself “Hey!  This sounds a lot EdCamp!” you’re right! 

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