I spoke to a friend of mine who is a dedicated teacher at Reynolds High School, located in Troutdale, OR. As a member of the Reynolds Education Association, this teacher is currently on strike, along with the rest of the district over a budget conflict with the school board. For the Reynolds School Board, the situation is about two principle issues: money and power. The Reynolds School District is involved in an apparent political maneuver to break the union. The solution is far more nuanced than cutting teacher pay and making teachers work longer hours.
In an all too familiar move, the board is calling for a cut in teacher pay. Currently the board is sitting on a multi-million dollar surplus which it claims to need for future expenditures. This situation is familiar to boards and educators and will be resolved through compromise, as it has been for years. The integrity of teacher pay is critical to retaining a qualified workforce and should not be cut, as Reynolds educators have willingly forgone raises repeatedly. But this is not the key element in the negotiations; it is a bargaining chip which will be cashed to consolidate power in the hands of the increasingly autocratic Reynolds School Board.
“Time” is the coin of the realm in education: student contact time, scheduling, and teacher preparation time. Time has a direct relationship to pay. The Board is calling for an elimination of teacher prep time during the instructional day. I am all for education reform. The people of Oregon are all for creating the best school system possible. This is not education reform. This is institutional sabotage.
Teachers have a unique job: we make hundreds if not thousands of decisions per day that have an immediate impact on children. This job consists of three parts: preparation, presentation, and evaluation. The public associates a teacher’s work day with the six to seven hours of presentation time where teachers are in contact with students. Teachers spend additional time preparing, and even more time evaluating. A work day could consist of six hours of teaching, with two to three of preparation, followed by another one to two of grading. Teachers that work seven hour days typically do not grade student work, read material they assign, and put minimal thought into crafting each lesson. Teaching is mentally and physically exhausting and effective instruction requires prep-time during the school day, between classes. This gives teachers time to prepare mentally and physically to educate up to 180 children per day. Days without prep-time force teachers to work into even more unpaid personal time than usual. When most people go home from work, they are done for the day. Not teachers. The majority of teacher’s I’ve worked with spend at least 10 hours per day on their profession. Cutting prep-time will only degrade the quality of education by increasing teacher work load. This policy is setting teachers up for failure.
The truly Machiavellian nature of the board’s decision is in the nature of its second proposal. The Board has proposed contract language permitting the district to fire teachers based on anonymous complaints. Were this language to pass, the Board would hold an ethically dubious amount of power, allowing them to govern by decree while setting up teachers for failure. Teachers could face dismissal for virtually any reason were the district allowed to terminate based on anonymous complaint. This is not the way to reform the education system. This is a way to increase political power and it is inexcusable.
The problem with our schools is very simple, it is economic: if the Board wants the best possible instruction (because they’re in it for the kids), teachers need the paid time to do their jobs. Excellent teachers are retained when they are treated like professionals. To attract the best quality individuals, the Board needs to pay to attract talent.
The first step at the local level is as follows:
1) Eliminate the administration. Remove those from power who have a vested interest in maintaining their position which does not relate to classroom instruction or support. I currently work at a school with a minimal bureaucracy. I have two bosses. At my previous school, I had seven or eight supervisors. All but one of them was totally unnecessary. With less administration I am free to perform my job with less oversight with the understanding that I am accountable for my performance.
2) Increase teacher pay to levels tantamount to those of other graduate degree holding professionals. Starting salary in the 45-50,000 dollar range for states with a median cost of living.
3) Increase teacher prep time. Teachers need prep time, BETWEEN classes, at least once during the school day, if not twice. The school environment is dynamic. Time during the day is critical for teachers to be able to make necessary adjustments to lessons when the unexpected happens (which is every day).
4) Call upon the community and state to increase funding for the school district.
5) Recall the board. The members of the Reynolds School Board are elected officials. They appear to be exploring only one option to address the District’s budgetary issues. Elect individuals who will support an educational system that will create the best possible environment for education. This Board has failed in its duty to its constituents.
There is no magic bullet to fix the crisis within our school system. Society faces a very clear choice: invest in education and find the money for small classes with qualified professionals, or send your children to a sub-par educational environment.