Note: The author of this article is a Philadelphia public school teacher who requested to remain anonymous.
After reading Ms. Dungee Glenn’s thinly veiled attempt to rally public support for a one year teacher contract (“School Progress and Contracts,” October 1), I am curious as to why she conspicuously omitted teachers from her list of stakeholders and strong education advocates. Who best knows how children learn and what they should be taught than we teachers with years of experience under our belts and more knowledge of what works in a classroom than the non-educators who dictate what we teach? Who spends more hours per day with the students than their own parents?
As a proud member of the only profession I know that does not govern itself, I challenge the plan created by the SRC to improve our city schools, once again dictated by non-educators who profess to know what teachers “should” teach and how they should do it under the misguided notion that anyone who attended school qualifies as an educational expert.
We had hoped that the appointment of former educator Dr. Arlene Ackerman as the new superintendent would finally shift the school district’s management from the big business sector, so far removed from education to be effective at all, to someone who sees things from an educator’s point of view, knows where the real problems lie and is not afraid to hold all the stakeholders accountable. Sadly, this has not been the case. Since Dr. Ackerman came on board, we’ve seen the same old teacher bashing that we had before. To coin a hackneyed, yet appropriate phrase, “That’s not change; that’s more of the same.”
Dr. Ackerman professes to be supportive of teachers, but her core beliefs fall short. In her agenda to increase adult accountability for the academic success of our children, she, like the others, has absolved parents and the students themselves of any responsibility and accountability in the equation. Education begins at home, and although it seems to be politically incorrect to say this, it needs to be said. Parents, teachers and students must all share an equal role in the academic success of our children. High school students, particularly, are responsible for their own actions and decisions that affect their academic success, but this is deliberately left out of the accountability equation.
It is far easier to “blame the teachers” for what is wrong with education than to admit that parents and students must also be called to task for the lack of academic success and that there are consequences when their responsibilities are not met. Although it is a hard lesson to learn, some students must learn the hard way that lack of work results in failure, both in school and in the working world. To place the burden and blame on teachers alone is unfair and unrealistic. That’s not change; that’s more of the same.
As we begin a new school year under the leadership of Dr. Ackerman, city schools are fraught with unaddressed problems. Although the PFT has graciously consented to extend the old contract while supposed good-faith negotiations continue, some school administrators have taken this as a golden opportunity to ignore the contract at will. Contract-breaking tactics cause low morale among dedicated, but unappreciated teachers who seem to have to fight to maintain what is legally theirs to begin with. The PFT contract is the only thing that protects teachers from administrative decisions that are too often self-serving and frequently not in the best interest of our students. The contract must be worded very carefully and for this reason, among many others, it is important that we have a long-term protection.
Now Dr. Ackerman and the SRC are pushing for a one year contract for teachers. A short-term contract does not provide teachers with any certainty or job security, and will encourage the younger, desperately needed teachers to look elsewhere for positions in which they will be better paid and treated with more respect. The 3% raise offered does not even reflect a cost-of living increase and is insulting, to say the least. Dr. Ackerman herself said that Philadelphia teachers are grossly underpaid and that our teacher salaries must better align with teacher salaries across the state. She wants a longer school day, although there is little documentation to support that students who spend more hours per day in school receive a better education.
Conversely, a longer school day may actually be detrimental to the learning process, and there are statistics that support this. What’s interesting is that increasing the school day would have to include a substantial salary increase for the already overburdened teachers, but that offer is not on the bargaining table. So in essence teachers would be expected to work a longer school day, pay more out of pocket for (reduced) medical benefits and higher co-pays for doctor visits in exchange for a 3% raise. Will we go for it? I think not. A one year contract does not benefit teachers or students in the least; it only benefits the administration, buying them more time to try to get more out of teachers while offering them less in return.
Additionally, instead of a concerted effort to offer incentives to attract and retain qualified teachers in all subject areas, the SRC and Dr. Ackerman have narrow-mindedly devoted themselves to looking for African American teachers, supporting the (racist) notion that black students are better served by black teachers. When justifiably outraged teachers of all races in my school surveyed their students concerning this matter, students unanimously agreed that they want good teachers and don’t care what color they are. It is not a coincidence that this notion of black teachers for black students is being promoted by Dr. Ackerman and Ms. Dungee Glenn, who are both African-American. It is difficult to teach and work in an atmosphere where each day we are given the not-so-subtle message that teachers of color would do a better job than the rest of our colleagues.
I think Dr. Ackerman and Ms. Dungee-Glenn should read the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who I dare say would not have supported their mission.