by Christopher Paslay
The Philadelphia School District’s recent contract proposal offers a dismal future for new teachers.
In light of the recent contract proposal the Philadelphia School District made to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, I have some advice for college graduates considering teaching in the city next fall: don’t bother.
Documents recently circulated by the PFT about the proposal paint a dismal picture for future Philadelphia teachers.
First, pay. Under the current contract, first year teachers make $45,360. Under the proposed new rules, however, first year teachers will be required to take a 10 percent cut in pay, and contribute 10 percent to their health benefits, bringing their salary down to about $39,000. Because there is a pay freeze in place under the new contract, this will be their salary for the next four years until 2017.
“Benefits” under the new proposal, for the record, no longer include dental, eye, or prescription, as the PFT’s Health & Welfare Fund would be eliminated.
After 2017, teachers will be eligible for a raise based on a performance evaluation from their principal. But because of the budget, they’ll most likely be responsible for buying things like paper, paying for their own copies, and using outdated textbooks and technology.
They’ll also be responsible for safety, as school security has been cut. According to the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning,” from 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents. There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies. Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall. Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.
The ways in which this could impact a teacher’s performance evaluation are many.
Statistics show over half the teachers who start in 2013 won’t even be in Philadelphia by 2017. But those skilled and strong enough to remain in service, the new contract will ensure that they will have no protection to keep the programs they’ve worked years to build in place at their schools; the elimination of seniority will leave them vulnerable to be separated from their students and transferred anywhere in the entire city.
Conversely, those teachers struggling at a particular school and who are not a good fit with their students will be stuck there; the new contract no longer allows teachers to voluntarily put in for a transfer.
The proposal lifts the limit on the number of classes taught outside a teacher’s area of certification and on the number of subjects taught. In other words, an English teacher could be required to prepare and teach algebra, social science, Spanish, chemistry, and British literature, all in the same day.
The new proposal lifts class size limits and opens the door to mass lectures, like in college. Imagine 50 plus teenagers in one big room listening to a teacher lecture about the Pythagorean Theorem, or the periodic table of elements, or iambic pentameter in a Shakespearean sonnet. A winning formula for sure.
Teachers, under the new proposal, will work unlimited evening meetings without pay, and cannot leave the building without principal approval.
Because the district wants flexibility, the new proposal includes no specific grantees for teachers’ lounges, water fountains, parking lots, accommodation rooms for disruptive students, clothing lockers, or desks, among other things. Just because these things aren’t specifically mentioned in the contract, as Superintendent Hite recently noted, doesn’t mean the School District won’t provide them.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the School District will provide them, either. That’s the catch. When an organization is strapped for cash, like the School District currently is, there’s no telling what they’ll do.
“We believe teachers are professionals, just like architects, lawyers, doctors,” Superintendent Hite said. “We want a contract that reflects that.”
The only problem is, architects, lawyers, and doctors don’t make $39,000 a year with no chance for a raise until 2017, and aren’t subject to assaults, sub-par working conditions, and outdated materials and technology.
Hence my advice to future teachers: stay away from Philadelphia and seek a district that respects its educators.