Tired of being blamed for society’s ills and being paid and treated like second-class citizens, last year, teachers all over the nation rose up in protest and demanded more pay and better working conditions—and they won! Sadly, however, Florida’s teachers didn’t join them, partly because in it’s illegal to strike here like teachers did in Arizona, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and partly because half of Florida’s teachers are at-will employees and can be fired for any or no reason. In short, Florida’s teachers felt stuck.
As we head back to school, I’d like teachers to seriously consider something. It’s not reviewing the latest scholarly article or its pedagogy. It’s not putting yourself in your students’ (or their parents’) shoes to see where they’re coming from, either. These are important, but what I’m asking you to do is much more so. I’m asking you to just work to the contract—nothing more, nothing less.
For decades, school systems have only been able to function, let alone succeed, on the backs of the unpaid labors and sacrifices of its teachers. If it weren’t for millions of teachers working late into the night and on weekends, often at the expense of relationships with friends and families, education would’ve ground to a halt. The-powers-that-be (TPTB) know this and have taken advantage of it.
Teachers, by nature, are givers. Their altruism is a big part of the problem.
Why should state and national legislatures invest in education when they know there are millions of suckers who’ll caulk the cracks with their free time and their own money?
The truth is, this may have been an acceptable arrangement when teachers were required to just teach, but that’s not the case now. Along with being a psychologist, social worker, nurse and tutor, we are expected to collect and analyze data, be experts on technology, differentiate our curriculum to meet every child’s individual needs and make classroom materials. Teachers are now disciplinarians and truant officers because administrations won’t get involved until you try multiple interventions. We are paper-pushers, too; boy, oh, boy, do we push paper! When I started teaching just 18 years ago, my lesson plan was a little box on a calendar—now it’s a two-page, 8-point type monstrosity. Then there’s the data I’m required to collect on every student in every class, every day. Teachers often have fewer and fewer resources and more and more demands. These demands also take away from the No. 1 thing we’re supposed to do: teach.
In short, teachers are given way too much to do and not nearly enough time and resources to do it all, while their actual pay decreases because of the rising costs of benefits and inflation. Society’s demands are increasing, too. Teachers have become the scapegoats of much of society’s ills. That’s why the dam broke in a half-dozen states last year and teachers said “Enough.” It’s time all teachers in Florida do the same.
Somewhere along the way, things changed. Teachers went from revered, respected community members to often being presented as the lazy, selfish face of America’s problems. ‘If only Mrs. McGillicuddy could’ve gotten little Billy up to speed instead of spending so much time in the teacher’s lounge complaining’ is a sentiment heard from Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos, the whole Trump clan and so many others. They blame teachers while simultaneously cutting budgets or raising them at a rate that doesn’t keep up with inflation. They invest in high-stakes testing, blame teacher evaluations and charter schools rather than the people doing the work. Teachers like you and me have let them do this.
Does anybody see the irony in the fact that in a job routinely ridiculed and mocked—one that many imply is easy—there are defections and shortages like never before?
This must stop. Step 1 is working to the contract. Teachers need to start by simply showing up and giving an honest effort for a day’s pay. When the dismissal bell rings, leave. Don’t take home any work. If it doesn’t get done that day, then it goes on the pile for the next. If it gets to the point where there’s too much to get done, so be it. This is not a system created by teachers, but it’s a system teachers have allowed to fester, and it’s a system that will never change unless we say enough is enough.
I’m not saying we should throw up our hands and quit. I’m saying that if we stop being afraid, we can make things better. The crazy thing is, right now teachers have the power. Florida recently declared a critical shortage in just about every teaching position. States across the nation are facing exoduses and shortages.
We need to stop working for free. If enough teachers did so, that alone would send a big enough signal that everything needs to change.
I’ll be honest: There may be consequences for doing and saying the right things, but if enough of us do it, there will be rewards, too, and not just for teachers. The better things become for teachers, the better they become for students.
A teacher who isn’t worked to death and pulled in dozens of directions is a better teacher. Smaller class sizes and enough time to plan and not rush to a second job or worry about paying for their kids’ braces or new tires for that 10-year-old car—all this will help make us better teachers.
Teachers must stop letting TPTB get away with barely funding a system that all too often hurts both teachers and students by putting them in a position where success is nearly impossible to achieve. TPTB must be held accountable for the system they created, or the system will never change.
Many teachers like to use something Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The change I would like to see? Teachers and students both getting what they need.
So, teachers, do yourself and your students a favor: Work to the contract and not one minute more. Like many things, it’ll be hard at first, but if enough of us stick to it, we and our students will all reap the rewards.
Guerrieri is a Duval County school teacher who blogs at jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com.