Born of government, public education is inherently political. It is subject to the political winds of Washington, DC and state houses, and thus to the politically motivated decisions and ultimate strategies of politicians.
To the point, there is a hierarchy in public education, a food chain. Government leaders, government agencies, administrative personnel—they’re at the top. And at the bottom?
Despite their costly, hard-earned, and neatly framed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, teachers are public education’s interns and errand runners. Or, its go’fers—go’fer this, go’fer that. Manage this problem, manage that one. And in being treated as such, it doesn’t matter which political party is in power.
The point here is simple: teaching in public education is no different than any other job. At least, it shouldn’t be any different. Yet, allowing their employer to ignore the fundamental rules of business, and allowing their union to ignore their employer’s disregard for the fundamental rules of business, teachers seemingly think their job is different.
Despite what teachers allow, their job is not different.
Yet, teachers do indeed have a different employment reality, an abusive reality, in fact, one that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world of commerce. It is a truth teachers need to recognize, and a problem they need to address and solve.
As to this abusive reality, I made some general notes. I offer the insights to teachers:
1) Teaching is a job. Meaning: teachers are employees who punch-in and punch-out—and not just physically, but checking out mentally and emotionally, too. Teachers don’t take the job home, as public education is not their company to manage. Employees, teachers are exempt from ownership’s responsibilities, worries, and obligations.
2) It isn’t the responsibility of teachers to figure out how to get a volume of work into contract hours, aka, paid hours. That’s administration’s responsibility.
3) Teachers aren’t a lot of things they are asked/required to be on the job, namely social workers. In fact, teachers are degreed professionals paid to instruct, and only to instruct. Issues that require social work are administrative concerns.
4) Teaching is a vocation: a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action, as in a divine call to religious life.
In other words, education is more than a job to teachers. It is a calling, a predestination—for which teachers become more emotionally involved in their work. Passionately invested, teachers are then more readily given to feelings of responsibility and guilt for professional failures—in this case educational failures, and specifically, public education’s failures. And this unwarranted and misplaced guilt isn’t discouraged or left to waste, either. It is employed to advantage, if but implied, by public education hierarchy:
“Do it for the children” whom you have clearly failed based on test scores and statistics—“it” meaning: whatever we require (for your professional failures), even if you have to stay late, take it home, and work for free.
So, however passionate toward their work, teachers shouldn’t allow that passion to be exploited.
5) When does government accept blame for the problems in public education and its failures? More pointedly, when do politicians and administrators accept blame? When are they filling out yet another form on their own time?
Politicians and administrators don’t fill out forms. They generate forms—for the interns and errand runners to complete. And while teachers are filling out forms on their own time—meaning: without compensation, and at the expense of their families and social lives—politicians are either blaming teachers for public education’s problems and failures, via classroom observation and effectiveness ratings, or they are allowing teachers to take the blame.
Administration, namely politicians, manufactures forms and tasks so as to appear concerned to their various voting constituencies, and proactive on their constituency’s behalf. It is political strategery at the expense of teachers, who are expected to selflessly and charitably participate “for the children,” whom teachers have clearly failed based on test scores and statistics.
6) Public education is a cake with many ingredients: government and politicians, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and curriculum. When the cake doesn’t turn out well, why are teachers the problem ingredient?
Why not the curriculum? The provided curriculum, no less—designed, chosen, and approved by administration. Common Core math, anyone?
Why not administrators?
Why not entitled, lazy, negligent parents and recalcitrant students? Why not related family and social issues?
The facts are, government isn’t going to condemn its curriculum, and thus blame itself. Administrators aren’t going to blame the boss, the boss’s curriculum, and themselves by extension. Products of their environment, students are never to blame, recalcitrant or otherwise. And entitled, lazy, negligent parents?
The boss needs their votes, of course.
Teachers—the problem ingredient. They’re given forms and programs and an ever increasing list of things to do to, so that administration doesn’t have to condemn itself; so students receive Mother Teresa-like compassion they lack; so that entitled, lazy, negligent parents are pleased, and moreover accommodated, for their much desired votes on Election Day.
Bottom line: administration doesn’t hold any other ingredient in the public education cake to account. All the responsibility—the work—is placed on teachers.
Don’t like it, teachers? Here’s a complaint form. Take it home, fill it out on your own time—take you 15 minutes, at most.
7) Clearly, public education feels itself entitled to teachers’ time.
8) Teachers unions—they’re part of the political, public education paradigm, too. In other words, teachers unions are loyal to public education, not to public education’s employees.
I asked a friend, a union representative for an international company, what he would say to union members were the company requiring them to work for free, and past contract hours.
Contemptuously grinning: “That’s not going to happen. We work; we get paid—overtime and double-time, too.”
So, teachers. Is your union standing up for you with this sort of loyal defiance? Is it raising holy hell about your unpaid time and defending your contract provisions? Defending your families and personal time?
Is it dealing with the mounting stress and strain of too many responsibilities beyond classroom instruction?
Is it saying “No” to out-of-pocket classroom expenses?
Is it championing teachers and addressing problems with the remaining ingredients in the public education cake—government and politicians, administrators, parents, students, and curriculum?
Is it demanding that unnecessary and failing programs be abolished, that there be less forms and paperwork, and that work be streamlined to fit contract hours?
So then, union dues—what are you getting for all that hard-earned money? A one-percent raise every 5 years? An increase immediately swallowed-up by rising insurance premiums and more classroom necessities.
“I know, I know. It’s hard on everybody.” Or, “It’s those damn Republicans!” Is this the union representative response to your complaints about unpaid hours, the growing workload, and the ever-increasing stress and strain?
Well, a union paid to protect and serve your interests has nothing whatever to do with Republicans, or any political party. A union’s defining purpose is to defend teachers from employment injustice—a service purchased with union dues.
9) While public education clearly feels itself entitled to teachers’ time. The union clearly feels itself entitled to teachers’ money—sans the service and protection.
So, question: where in the private sector would these employment conditions be acceptable?
Answer: they wouldn’t be acceptable. In fact, aggrieved private sector employees would march directly to their union stewards or to the Department of Labor to lodge complaints, which would be fiercely serviced.
Yet, when it comes to the employment injustices in public education, teachers not only bite their collective tongues. They log countless unpaid hours in dutiful, Mother Teresa-like service to the public education cause—while being blamed for all of its problems, no less.
So let’s briskly review: teachers are to blame for public education’s problems and failures—despite being mere employees, despite teaching established and supplied curriculum, and despite being but one ingredient in a multi-ingredient public education cake.
Meanwhile, administration caters to voters with endless forms and programs and ideas, while it overworks teachers to accommodate those voters. The endless accommodating creates a workload that strains and surpasses the limits of union-negotiated contract hours, yet is a workload nonetheless required to be completed on teachers’ personal time, without compensation, and at the expense of teachers’ families and personal lives.
And finally, all of this occurs without protest from administration officials and teachers’ unions.
So, beginning with a few fundamental principles, let’s talk solution:
One, the problems in public education are not your problems, teachers; they’re the boss’s problems.
Two, it’s not your job to organize and streamline work, and to figure out how to fit 12 hours of tasks into however many contract hours.
Three, it’s your job to instruct for however many contract hours, and to leave thereafter not only physically empty-handed, but mentally and emotionally disengaged, too—as does every other employee.
To that end, four: it is administration’s responsibility to make this the standard for teachers, by organizing and streamlining work.
And lastly, five: it is the union’s responsibility—it’s paid obligation, in fact—to see that this standard is established and enforced and upheld.
Now. If teachers want this new normal, as opposed to the abusive normal, it requires the collective, and collective action. Teachers can begin with a potential pay raise for themselves by demanding the new normal in exchange for union dues.
The Mother’s Milk—it’s always the place to start.
Normal is what we allow it to become.
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