Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Longer School Year

Yesterday, the President called for a longer school year.  He mentioned that American children go to school about a month less than other industrial nations each year.  

Most teachers are in support of a longer school day and a longer school year. We recognize the learning loss that occurs each summer. We also wouldn't mind seeing kids getting high-quality tutoring after school, or having our kids for longer periods through-out the school day.

But please do not assume that teachers are willing to provide those added services free of charge. 

Many so-called educational reformers like to decry the number of hours teachers work. When they talk about this, they only mention the number of days and hours that a school district can mandate through their contract with the local teachers union. Using myself in Oakland as an example, that comes to 185 workdays per year and 7 1/2 hours each of those days. 

These so-called reformers never want to talk about the actual numbers of hours that teachers work. They don't want to talk about the hours I am grading student essays on a Saturday or Sunday. They don't want to talk about how I arrive at school 90 minutes early each day putting the final touches on a lesson, making photocopies, and writing on the white board. They don't want to talk about the stack of papers the average teacher lungs home each day. They never see the days I spend each summer revamping old lessons to make them better or dreaming up entirely new lessons I am excited to share with my future classes.  They seem to forget how the teacher answered the 8PM e-mail and made phone calls to parents around dinnertime.

This is all work, too. The reality remains, and is shown in numerous studies, that average teacher puts in the same number of work hours in 185 work days as other professionals put in over a 250 work-day year.

All the while, teachers are paid much lower than their colleagues in professions requiring similar education backgrounds. Using myself as an example, with a graduate degree and fifteen years of experience, I receive about $68,000 / year teaching in Oakland. That is less than a starting salary in the private sector for someone with analogous educational training.

The President’s idea of an additional month of school would result in about an additional 15% workload for me.  I would do it… for a 15% raise.

When teachers push back against school district and demand more money for extra work, the typical response is a guilt trip akin to, “We need to do it for the children.”  Teachers are then casts as children-hating ogres for being unwilling to work 11 hour-days instead of 10 for the same low wages.  Too often that guilt trip works on teachers, precisely because we love our kids.

I tried to see if “for the children” might actually be a silver-bullet for public education.  Perhaps we could make “doing it for the children” a plausible solution to the longer school day and longer school year dilemma.  So I did a little experiment.

First, I talked to my landlady.  I asked her a 15% reduction in my rent, “for the children.”  She said, “no.”  After that, I went to Trader Joe’s and asked if I could receive 15% off my purchases there, “for the children.”  The manager said, “no.”  After that, I went to Chevron to see if I could get 15% off my purchase of gasoline for my car, “for the children.”  Again, the answer was, “no.”  I got so discouraged that I stopped asking after this.  It seemed that no one was willing to give 15% more for free, “for the children.”

So I'm willing to work longer hours each day and more days each year in order to help my children learn and remember more... but I'm not willing to do it for free.  Is Oakland Unified School District, the state of California, or America willing to pay me to provide these services?  They should.  They should do it, “for the children.”

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