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San Clemente, CA, United States

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The End

I have a great friend who is a little bit nuts. Seriously. This guy is such a sweet sweet guy and such a nut job.

Yesterday he called me and told me to get my ducks in a row because it was the end. The signs are all there. The end is near. Haiti, and now Chile are his evidence. The end Jake, the end.

I think I talked him off the ledge by explaining some of the science behind the movement of the teutonic plates, and I think he'll get some sleep in the next few days. But the expression "the end" is stuck in my mind. Not the end of the world as my friend sees it. But the end of the status quo.

I'm a teacher and therefore a member in my local and national union. I am also closely watching the developments in one Rhode Island school district. You see the school board has fired all 93 teachers, administrators and support staff. All of them. Every last one.

The school is a trainwreck. Over 90% of the students live below the poverty level and on a recent math exam, only 7% of the high school juniors were proficient. Ouch. But the teachers weren't fired for the performance of their students. They were fired because they wouldn't agree to participate in a plan to turn the school around.

As I understand it, the turnout plan (that is what they called it) would have required teachers to do about 3 things. First, an extra 25 minutes would be added to the school day. Second, the teachers would tutor on a rotating basis about once or twice a week for an hour each time. Third, the teachers would eat lunch once a week with the students.

Pretty darn reasonable if you ask me. Oh, and the teachers would be paid for all this additional time. $30 an hour.

The teacher's union voted no. They wanted $90 an hour. This in light of the fact that the community in which they teach has a median income of $22,000 a year while these teachers make an average of $70,000 a year.

So the board fired them all. I can't stop thinking about this and the more I think about it, the more pissed off I get. Maybe I don't know all the details, but it sure sounds like these teachers could have stepped up and tried to do what the board was asking. It sure couldn't hurt. I know what it takes to teach. I know the hours and the out of pocket expenses. I also know the economy in which we live. I'm pissed that these teachers voted no. Don't want to do the job? We'll get someone who does.

But it is a fine line and a slippery slope. Lets just offer the teachers 40 bucks a year and force them all to quit. Then, we can replace them with lower cost new teachers. Well, in education, I've found, you get what you pay for. The best teachers are in the districts that pay the best and provide the best environment. Shoot us, but we gravitate to the better paying jobs in the nicer neighborhoods. But this only works for the best. The worst teachers are left to work the lower paying jobs. This school board may be very surprised by the quality of educator available, and willing to take a job with a trigger happy board and in such a down-trodden community. Might fill a bunch of slots, but what about Physics, Calc, AP Chem, AP Bio, AP Stats, AP Euro, AP US Hist, blah blah blah. Not so easy to find great educators.

But even given this, I think this needs to be a wake up call to all unions including my own. Business as usual needs to end. The status quo needs to be modified. In these tough economical times that may last for a bunch more years, teachers and their unions need to step up and be part of the solution.

What that looks like, I don't know. You see I've been teaching long enough to remember how badly I was underpaid for my first half dozen years. I remember making $18,900 in 1994 when all of my friend were making over $30,000. These guys weren't lawyers and businessmen. They were waiters and constuction workers.

And my pension? America thinks I'm getting too good a deal in retirement. Payment for life. But what I think America doesn't realize, is that I don't get Social Security. EVERY other American gets paid after they retire from the fund they paid into while working. Me too. I just get mine from a different source. The source that I paid into. I think America thinks I get my Social Security and my pension. Nope. And health care? Yeah, I think I'm covered in my retirement but so is everyone else. Medicare covers all retirees in the system. I'm just in a different system. But I sure as hell paid into it my entire career.

What I think teachers can do is more. I think we need to do more. I want us to extend the school day, extend the school year. I want us to do more. I want us tutoring after school and working lunch time "duty" on a regular schedule. I just think we can do more.

That's my solution. I don't want to take much of a pay cut, but I'm willing to do much more for no additional compensation

I understand if my salary is frozen for a few years and I understand if I have to take a pay cut to help my district make budget.

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