Friday, April 6, 2007

We Like Our Tape Fire-Engine Red

Working in a large school district has its ups and its way, way downs. The worst part for me is my slug status in the grand scheme of things. In some ways, the district's apprehension about the conduct of teachers is a necessary evil. There are nearly 80,000 of us, and the odds that all of those tens of thousands of teachers are upstanding, hard-working, dedicated masochists is pretty low. There are indeed teachers who ignore their students in favor of email, grad school work, or just plain old online shopping. Others call in sick and leave no lesson plans. Some say horrible things to their students, things that would make you wince. However, most teachers I have known are lovely people. They have a strong work ethic (you would have to in order to wake up at the crack of dawn, take abuse from kids and adults alike, get paid less than all your friends and keep coming back), show up on time, think about how to improve their practice well after the school day is over, and pursue advanced academic and vocational degrees.

This is all theoretical ranting, you might say, but I have a concrete example of one small way the Almighty lets us know that we are not worthy. Occasionally schools will have what's called a minimum day, which in normal human language might be called a half day. These often happen on the day after teachers and students have been at school in the evening for parent conferences or an open house. One might think that such a half day makes a good reward for the hard work and inconvenience of the night before. One might even think that the teachers would be encouraged to take a couple extra hours (seriously, it's less than 3) for family, rest, and warm fuzzies about a job well done. Not so, dear readers.

Today is Friday. Good Friday to be exact. Today our students will go home at 12:40 to begin a holiday weekend (although I am not religious, I still appreciate a good chocolate-based holiday). We teachers will stay until 3:24 on the dot, under the watchful eye of our warders. Most of us won't do much work, to tell the truth. We will linger by the bitter, burnt coffee that is beginning to stick to the bottom of the carafe. We will check our email and read the LA Times. We will eat leftover half-doughnuts (these were the thanks given to the teachers for staying late last night), maybe make some copies for Monday, and probably spend a not insignificant amount of time thinking of how best to sneak out without being detected. Why do we stay, you ask? Why such inefficiency? This must be the reason our schools are in such bad shape, you say.

We stay, of course, because they make us stay. Our contract says that we are not allowed to leave. We are paid, after all, for the whole day. The whole 6.6 hour day. Wait a minute! 6.6 hours! That can't be right. School starts at 7:30. School ends at 3:24. That's (wait for it, wait for it) almost 7 hours and 54 minutes! Oh right, we don't get paid for our whopping 30 minute lunch, or the 20 minute morning break Californians call "Nutrition" in spite of the nachos that are served in the cafeteria. That's still more than 7 hours of work. Lucky for the district, our contract is so long and complicated that no one really understands how nearly 8 hours turns into 6.6. We also fail to get paid for time we spend at school before or after the official school day, time we spend grading and planning on the weekends and in the evenings, or time we spend agonizing over the daunting task that is our chosen profession. So, on a day like today, I can't help but feel that this forced teacher-detention is especially cruel. It is insulting. It is plain ol' rude.

For me, the light at the end of this tunnel is that, in its own twisted way, this vicious oppression actually helps to build relationships among teachers. During the two hours and some odd minutes that we are trapped, faces pressed to the bars of the enormous professional fence that surrounds us, we will talk to each other. We will actually stop and talk about our students, the subjects we teach, and the techniques we have recently used in class. We won't have to run full-tilt towards our classrooms at the bell, cutting off the conversation just as it's getting good. We will sit down with teachers who are new to the school, or those who a ready to retire, and we will be teachers together. We will bond over this foul treatment of our kind, and we may come out stronger for it. So HA! school district. IN YOUR FACE!

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