Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who needs good teachers? Not us!

So, here's what's happening at my school (and across the district in varying degrees):

Over the weekend, 42 teachers got RIF (Reduction in Force) notices that told them that as of June 30, their services are no longer needed. Forty-two! Nearly half of the faculty.
These are not just brand new teachers. Some have been with the district for nearly ten years. Many are our best, most successful, most charismatic educators. A few are stinkers, it's true.
These teachers received RIF notices because LAUSD is $718 million in debt. We don't know if we'll get any money from the state or the federal government, and we won't know until May. So these are "worst-case scenario" notices, and we hope the teachers won't really have to go. The district is offering 2000 people early retirement, and other measures may be able to offset the 8800 RIFfed positions.

Anyhoo, you might be wondering, "But who will teach the children????"
Who, indeed.
The teaching positions are not going to be eliminated. No, no. Class sizes will grow, it is true. But in most cases, the RIFs are to accommodate the downsizing of the administrative offices. You hear me right. The administrative offices are too full of people. Can you believe it? We have more bureaucrats that we need? I wonder if that has anything to do with our budget crisis.....
So, who are these people, working in the dreaded, hated Beaudry building downtown (and several other mini-Beaudrys around LA)? Some of them are clerks, secretaries, etc. Some of them are executives and the like. Many (dare I say most?) of them are former teachers. Teachers who chose to leave the classroom, chose to leave the school site, for various reasons.
What are these reasons, I wonder?
For some, it was a genuine desire to do something bigger, something that could impact more kids, more schools, and more teachers. I can understand this impulse, since I also left the classroom to work in the library. I wanted to impact more kids, more teachers. I think I do.
For others, it was out of fatigue. Get me out of here! They cried.
For still others, it was necessity. They were bad teachers. They moved from school to school, and still they got poor evaluations. Eventually, they were hidden in cubicles, protected by the union, to live out their days.
I am simplifying things, I know. I'm trying to make a point, here.
So, these former teachers have not been in the classroom for years, maybe even decades. But they have seniority over the teachers at my school who got RIFfed (I will get to seniority in a moment), and so they will not be laid off. No! They will be moved back to the schools, back to the classrooms that they clamored to leave. They will become educators again, and our school will change forever.
So many questions arise, don’t they?
How can the union let this happen? And what is the union’s reaction to the RIFs?
How will the children and the school be served if unwilling, outdated teachers are forced to return to the classroom or lose their jobs?
Where is the social justice, when 42 teachers from this school in South Central got RIFfed, and schools in the valley had only two, four, or six teachers receive pink slips?
These and many other questions will be the subject of my enlightened commentary over the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more dish on the state of affairs in LAUSD, please.
Before I go, however, I really need to address the union paradox that is going on right now. First, a disclaimer. I am a member of my teaching union, and I believe in unions in general. Having said that let me now anger many, many people.
In a way, this is our own damn fault. (pause for a lightning bolt to strike me down)
Of course, it’s not our fault that the budget is screwed up, or that the administrative offices waste money like nobody’s business, or that the entire country is in the middle of economic collapse. That is not our fault.
It IS our fault, however, that there are crappy, surly, outmoded educators scattered around the district, still on the payroll because the union makes it impossible to fire them.
I once knew of a teacher who knocked a kid down and kicked him in the ribs…..and just got transferred. I know teachers who read the paper in class, spend all their time online, tell kids that they are stupid, scream at the class to shut up, show R-rated movies on a weekly basis, and owe schools hundreds of dollars in lost and broken materials and equipment. They might get transferred to a new school, they might get transferred to Beaudry, but they probably will get to keep their jobs until they retire. I don’t like it, but it’s they way of unionized labor. We need the union to protect us. We do, I know we do, I pay my dues, I believe in the concept. The union, however, has done too good a job. We, as a union of educators, really need to revise the way we protect our own, because we are now (and by we, I really mean our students) are now going to suffer for it.
You see, the seniority system has been championed by the union. The seniority system is what will now allow the district to lay off motivated, wonderful educators and replace them with people who prefer an office setting to a classroom.
I don’t have a solution to the problem of seniority. I know that there has to be some objective way to evaluate teachers, and there is none, and so we rely on seniority because we don’t know what else to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased that I am protected because of my seniority, but I also believe that the quality of my work would protect me equally if that happened to be the measure used to determine who must stay and who must go. I work hard, I want to be here, I collaborate, I improve myself, I use technology, and I love the kids. I think I could stand on that. I think a lot of the teachers who got RIFfed could stand on their performances too. I know they could, because I watch them perform, and they (many of them) are excellent, natural-born teachers.
Think of your very best teacher, and then imagine you never got to have that teacher because s/he got RIFfed. Urg.
So, the union wants to strike. They want us to start by coming in an hour late every Friday. Huh? The union wants to punish the district, but the union’s policies helped create the district’s solution to this budget crisis. The union wants the district to cut waste in order to spare teachers. Me too! But I haven’t seen any kind of balance sheet that would tell me if that is even possible. Tally it up people! Can we save 8800 teachers by cutting paper waste, external consulting contracts, unnecessary testing materials, multiple academic coaches at each site, and software licenses that nobody uses anyway? Does that equal 8800 teachers’ salaries? And if it does, doesn’t that just mean that 8800 people working at the administrative offices stay in their cubicles and continue pushing carbon paper in triplicate? And is that really ok?

Man oh man, I could go on forever.

If you’ve read this far and you don’t hate me yet, that’s fantastic. If you do, just let me reiterate: I don’t know what the solution is. I think the district and the union need to do more, need to give a little, need to reevaluate their overall philosophies of what is best for our students. I think that bad teachers should find another job. I think that administrative offices should reduce waste by using new technologies. I think that good teachers should get to stay and teach whether they got their contracts last year or twenty years ago, because I think there are people who can teach and people who cannot teach, and I think it is an art, a science, an instinct, and an intense love of children that requires more work that most people ever put into anything. I am so sorry this is happening, and I hope that when we are on the other side of it, our schools are better, not worse.

Like I said, stay tuned.


Library Practice said...

And, of course, if the union had just agreed to the four furlough days that were discuss last year, most of those 8800 wouldn't be in this position.
I agree that seniority isn't the answer, but I know that there are simply too many admins who have grudges and use evaluations to punish the teachers they don't like. It all become sooo personal that there really isn't an objective way to evaluate teachers.
There is no other career out there that relies on other people's test scores, grades, etc... to judge them. With merit pay, teachers need students to pass for a raise. So what happens? Good teachers get punished for students who purposefully bomb tests (or protest them by refusing to take them as happened at a former school of mine) and grading based on quality of work submitted. Bad teachers get rewarded for teaching to the test, giving out candy to kids who "tried" and passing all students whether or not they deserve it.
It's a vicious circle of unfair practices no matter which hoop you jump through.

katiesmurphy said...

hooray!!!! for you for posting this. but booo for this mess.

Keep blogging about this, I can't wait to read what you write next, but I agree you should take this issue about the distribution broader and higher. Warren Olney or someone like him might be interested. And maybe the lawyers at the ACLU who brought the big school funding case against the state or another group that cares about the disproportionate impact on poor, non-white communities.