Teachers Suffering from Memory Loss
By: Michael R. Shannon
It’s been a busy week on the education front in Virginia. The General Assembly, concerned about academics and discipline, defeated the “Tebow” bill that would have allowed homeschoolers to try out for high school athletic teams.
And Assembly also defeated a tenure reform bill that would have made it easier to fire incompetent teachers mostly because of the fear that educators might be dismissed for personality conflicts with their boss. An outrageous state of affairs as former Washington Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth can personally attest.
So it was more than a little ironic when the day before local teachers were scheduled to hold a Saturday ‘grade–in’ at Wegmans grocery store to protest a budget that lacks a raise for next year; one of those homeschooled, academically–challenged, discipline problems the General Assembly is so worried about won the county spelling bee.
Lori Anne Madison took the crown at the 34th annual bee by spelling “vaquero,” which is quite an accomplishment for a 6–year–old since the word is not even English.
(It also makes me wonder if spelling bees held in Mexico City ever ask anyone to spell “cowboy?”)
Meanwhile, back at Wegmans, public school teachers were grading papers and preparing lesson plans among the arugula to demonstrate to a cheap, penny–pinching public all the work they do outside the classroom.
As Jim Livingston, a board member of the Prince William Education Assn. said, “The grade–in is designed so that the public can see that there is a lot more in the daily life of a professional educator than just 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 7 to 2.”
Livingston had also better hope the public doesn’t do the math, because both of those number sets only add up to a seven–hour work day (including lunch), which is at least an hour shorter than the work day of most taxpayers.
In addition to grading papers by the light reflected off the sneeze guards, county teachers are also “working to rule,” which means they will no longer come in early to help students or stay after school for extracurricular activities unless they are paid for the extra time.
This labor action only serves to prove teacher’s memories are as short as that of their students.
Let’s step outside the ivory tower of academia and examine what’s been going on in what I call Taxpayer World. Nationally unemployment for taxpayers is between 8 and 9 percent, unless you count those who have given up looking for work entirely, which puts the figure in double digits.
During the past four years approximately 300,000 public school employees lost their jobs outside of Prince William County where I live and, according to school board Chairman Milton C. Johns, those jobs are not coming back.
Yet here not one school employee lost their job or was forced to take an unpaid furlough. What’s more, last year when county government employees took a 5 percent hit in their paycheck to cover costs passed down to the local level from the state, teachers did not lose a penny and were even given a small bonus that did not affect their base pay. But somehow being sheltered from a recession that’s hammering taxpayers — no layoffs, no furloughs, no pay cuts and a one–time bonus — equals unhappiness.
It also indicates students aren’t the only ones with unrealistically high self–esteem.
Chairman Johns solution to this impasse is to give the school board taxing authority. This would be like putting beavers in charge of the dam–building budget. Right now a disgruntled school board gets 56.75 percent of the county’s general revenue, which is more than in Fairfax County, Alexandria, Arlington County and Loudoun County.
Prince William spent $12,650 per student in 2009 and 85 percent of that expenditure goes to personnel costs. In the state as a whole, between 2002 and 2009 per–pupil spending increased 44 percent.
So don’t talk to me about cuts in education spending. Teachers refer to themselves as “professionals” yet they cling to an assembly–line compensation regime and refuse to accept professional responsibility or establish measurable benchmarks for student’s education.
In keeping with my family’s innate sense of bad timing, my son has finally decided grades are important during a year in which teachers work–to–rule. Fortunately, the teacher in the class where he as the most trouble continues to stay after school to work with him and consequently his grade is improving.
She certainly deserves a raise. On the other hand, the middle school math teacher who decided to essentially retire during the school year instead of waiting for June deserved to be fired.
My advice for teachers is if you want to be paid like professionals, agree to be evaluated individually just like professionals.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.