Archive for the ‘City Bosses’ category

Rahm vs. The Chicago Teachers

August 26, 2011

It’s been nearly a year since I posted to this blog.  I frankly considered it done.  I continued to leave it up for those who found previous postings useful while I used satire to comment on education elsewhere.   Satire is something I’m good at, but it doesn’t do a great job of encapsulating all my feelings at this particular moment.

What I really want to do is teach.  I got into education after working nearly 10 years in the private sector.  I got a bachelor’s degree in history and made the rather unusual jump to broadcasting.   I got into teaching  just before programs like Teach for America hit, so I moved back home for 2 years and took classes in education while taking a huge pay cut to work at a comic book store because the hours worked around my schedule.   It also gave me the opportunity to look after my dad as he suffered through the Alzheimer’s Disease that finally took his life.  I point this out because for some reason I feel the need to justify that I know what hard work is.

The Chicago Public Schools were supposed to give their teachers a 4% raise this year.  This was an agreement that was negotiated 5 years ago.  We got a decent pay raise, but we made other concessions that made me vote against the contract at the time.  When the raises were not granted, the city didn’t even pretend that it was because of a budget shortfall.  Instead, they actually said teachers really didn’t deserve the raise that we had negotiated with in good faith.  At the very same meeting that we were denied a raise, the top brass were granted large pay raises.

Chicago now wants to expand the school day 90 minutes and the school year 2 weeks.  They want us to take their word that this time will be well spent and in exchange for working 29% more hours, we will be paid 2% more salary.  I really don’t care about the money.  Frankly, the $3.50 an hour or so I’d make comes to less than I spend in my classroom on a yearly basis.  What I care about is that I believe the city’s big idea is to use its teachers as wardens.

As I read press releases from city hall, the big push seems to be keeping these students off the street where they cause crime.  That is so wrong headed, maybe I shouldn’t be the most insulted by this plan.  My students have a right to be far angrier than I do.  Is it so much to ask that this time be used for quality and that teachers be fairly compensated.  Our day is short, but that is because in the 70s teachers agreed to not take their 45 minute lunch and instead get out 45 minutes early.  We actually have more instructional time than New York or Los Angeles, but we have no planning time.  I would be happy to stay an extra 45 minutes if it gave me more planning time.   I am less enthused about the extra two weeks when classrooms are over 90 degrees in summer and most are not air conditioned.

I urge the city to show us a plan that is for quality time.  I currently use my time after school for tutoring, planning, and two days a week I do an after school improvisational comedy class.  If this is being replaced by more drill and kill, there is no point.  I just want to teach.  I am not unreasonable, but quantity isn’t the same as quality.

Teacher Tenure and Patronage

November 28, 2009

I think one of the hardest things to make non-teachers understand is tenure and it’s purpose.   Tenure for public school teachers grew out of the same movement that awarded tenure to college professors.   It was also a byproduct of movements in the late 19th century to professionalize civil service jobs.   No city could be expected to have a functioning and competent police force, fire department, or public school system, if your employment was based on loyalty to a political boss and not some sort of professional standards.

In order to earn tenure, teachers are required to show that they are quality educators through a period of transitional employment that usually lasts about 3 years.   Until that time, a teacher can be fired because the principal has a neighbor whose child is looking for a teaching job or because they wore a particularly loud tie.   What tenure does is require schools to go through a slow and labor intensive process to fire a tenured teacher.   Many times principals find other ways to make the teacher’s life difficult until they simpy quit.

So is tenure an archaic remnant of some earlier age when big city bosses like Boss Tweed of New York or Tom Pendergast in Kansas City used the public schools as giant patronage machines? I would argue that tenure has outlived it’s usefulness only if you believe we are living in a time of relatively corruption free good government.   Living in Chicago, I don’t share that belief.  Many of the city’s most powerful citizens serve on the boards of charter schools and are behind the efforts to privatize public education in the city.   One need only look at the ties between Daley’s corrupt Hispanic Democratic Organization and the UNO Charter Schools to see a very disturbing trend.

It’s easy to pick on Chicago’s Mayor Daley for corruption.  It’s also well-deserved.   However, there are other mayor’s in this country who are also quite corrupt.   When a state turns over the responsibility for a city’s public schools to that city’s mayor and away from an elected school board, that mayor is given an incredibly powerful patronage machine.   By deciding which companies will run the city’s charter schools or who will provide services to the public schools they have a great tool for patronage.

Improving the schools, of this country requires a professional workforce committed to the education of the city’s youth.   Programs like Teach for America which seek to replace career teachers with energetic and intelligent people wanting to spend a couple years teaching before moving on to their real job actually do a disservice.   Teaching is a craft and it requires time to develop.   I would rather have a certified doctor who had performed hundreds of surgeries operating on me instead of an energetic and intelligent 22 year old who didn’t even have any certification to practice medicine.  Our students deserve no less.