Monday, October 12, 2009

ICE platform, Part V

V. Working conditions, professional autonomy, seniority, salary and benefits

“Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

The union contract, and only the union contract, allows people to make teaching a career. Many educators often spend their entire professional lives serving the children of a particular community. This is an inestimable social benefit that is often overlooked.

The union must be willing to:

Fight against the de-skilling of educators, marginalization, intimidation, and unionbusting.

“School reform” is premised on top-down management of instruction. Decisions made prescriptively through packaged programs place enormous restrictions on a teacher’s ability to service the needs of individual students. Union officials choose to take a weak stand again violations to Articles 8 and 24 of the contract, which call in different ways for an enormous amount of teacher input and participation and offer ways to resolve differences.

New and less experienced teachers are prevented from becoming good teachers when they are denied opportunities to try strategies and take risks. Ill-prepared and poorly trained administrators (many with little classroom experience) and regional personnel (some still politically connected), have reduced professional support to a checklist. In many cases they instill fear, and in fact, programs like PIP+ have been specifically designed to remove teachers from the system rather than improve instruction. The UFT has allowed these methods to distort teacher training and leave teachers open to attack.

Teachers with long service in their schools can be a valuable resource in reaching out to the community and formulating models for success. Neither the DoE nor our present union officials appreciate how spending years or even decades working in the same neighborhood might yield valuable knowledge for enhancing learning.

There are times, however, when teachers wish to change schools, and the seniority transfer system the union gave up in the last contract, based on non-discriminatory criteria, afforded them somewhat of a chance to do so. In its place, we now have the "open market," which permits a greater ability to transfer for some teachers, the newer ones in particular, but allows much discrimination against senior and disliked teachers, chapter leaders, or anyone else. In the face of school closings and reorganizations and principals finding it easy to hide vacancies and hire at will, a disproportionate number of senior teachers are unable to find new positions through the open market. They become “teachers without positions,” or ATRs (Absent Teacher Reserves), sometimes for the rest of their careers. Changes in the way salaries are funded have also made newer teachers more attractive prospects than the higher paid vets.

Apart from obvious salary discrimination (and possibly age and race discrimination as well), members are being removed from positions on improper 3020a procedures and false or perfunctory charges. In many instances these people are whistle-blowers, union activists, and educators who stand up to principals, and they face serious fines or losing their licenses. Union officials have shown a disappointing acceptance of the DoE’s maneuvers and rationale, almost to the point of collaboration. They also ignore the early retirement of so many teachers who have been frustrated with the current working conditions or who have been treated unfairly.

One of the most troublesome aspects of the 2007 contract was the gutting of the grievance procedure. Having negotiated a new set of procedures that puts no check on principals who misuse their authority, and having afforded principals access to teams of lawyers, the DoE has been able to deny all Step I and II grievances across the board. Since the union can only take a limited number of cases to Step III arbitration, educators are left feeling intimidated and maligned, with no contractual means to address the widespread abuse. It is not only the teachers who suffer in this kind of environment, but the students as well.

The ever-increasing demands on the time of educators seriously impairs their ability to work with children. For teachers, the extra 37 minutes for small-group work has morphed into a range of activities that include teaching an extra period per day. New calls for more paperwork and computer entry have also cut into what teachers can accomplish during their time at school, especially in the single prep period they are allowed each day, which should by contract be self-directed. Social workers, guidance counselors and school psychologists struggle with case overloads, and secretaries seem to be increasingly overburdened.

ICE believes that:
— A teacher’s ability is highly dependent on training, experience, talent, and style. Teachers must accordingly have a say in how instruction should be delivered in their classrooms, and planning for instruction and curriculum must be collaborative and respectful. Violations to Articles 8 and 24 cannot be tolerated.

— The union must oppose one-size-fits-all methodologies at all levels (regional to school-based directives), as these do not take into account the talents and skills of individual teachers or their students.

— The teacher’s right to design the structure of his or her lessons and the written plans that accompany them must be protected, as long as such lessons adhere to the characteristics of good teaching outlined in Teaching for the 21st Century

— The union must defend against the DoE’s notion that teachers are replaceable parts.

— New language needs to added to the contract that separates salary levels from hiring decisions.

— An iron-clad no-layoff clause (as in Article 17F of the last contract) must be restored.

— There can be no new hiring until ATRs seeking positions have secured them.

— The union must renegotiate a grievance procedure with teeth.

— Principals who make frivolous charges or exhibit a pattern of acting with malice against members of their staff must be censured, fined, and/or prohibited from receiving bonuses.

— The Teacher Reassignment Centers must be closed. Members should not be spending days, months or years in holding pens. They should be reassigned to another school, not punished, while waiting for their cases to be heard.

—The caseloads of guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists must be reduced, and reasonable limits be placed on what secretaries are required to achieve in a normal work day. These issues should be enforceable through arbitration.

Demand fairness in the licensing and evaluation of educators.

Whereas the UFT has temporarily fended off the use of tests to evaluate teachers, it has allowed contractual language that opens the door for such practices. It must lobby for the end of any exams that do not give a fair measurement of who is or can become a good teacher. Thousands of teachers who had earned satisfactory evaluations for many years were dismissed several years ago because of their failure to pass specific exams. The misuse of testing can be as unjust and harmful for teachers as it is for students.

ICE believes that:
— Certification measures should be simplified and based on meaningful written and oral tests as well as performance in the classroom.

— The UFT should seek the establishment of an apprenticeship system for new teachers.

— Learning communities are diverse, and student tests do not generally reflect the skills of individual teachers. These tests must not be allowed to influence the granting of tenure or annual ratings.

Maintain competitive salaries and job security

The median salary for a NYC teacher in 2009 is essentially unchanged from what it was fifty years ago when adjusted for inflation and the longer working day and year. Senior teachers today are less secure in their jobs. New teachers today pay a far higher percentage of their incomes for student loans and housing. The turnover rate is higher and the rate of retention is lower than it was fifty years ago.

No comments: