Friday, September 12, 2008

Rabble Rouser

My school district is in budget crisis. There are a multitude of reasons for that, but the main two are declining enrollment and an ignorant city council that recently forced huge cuts which they justified by saving the average property owner approximately $8 in property taxes (really, I'm not just being snarky. Eight. Dollars. A year.) because, you know, what does a crime-ridden, floundering city need with educated children? Makes 'em uppity, all that book learnin'.

As a result of the declining enrollment, about 70 teachers are being laid off. Normally these "surplussed" teachers would just get moved from a school with lower enrollment to one with too many students for the current staffing level. Apparently, this year we're not so much with the latter. At my school, we lost a single science teacher because our numbers are down for the first time in several years. At this time last year, we got eight additional teachers who had been surplussed from other schools.

As a result of the budget cuts, over 100 non-teaching positions, both filled and vacant, are being eliminated. 40 of those are within the school board and are held by licensed teachers. Those 40 people now have the option, under our MEA-negotiated contract, to "bump" teachers with lesser seniority from their positions.

As a teacher, I'm not that worried about being bumped because I have ten years in the system, and within my department there are probably five teachers less senior than I. (Of course I don't want to see any of them go, though.) But as a parent, this really gets my hackles up. I have three children in a single elementary school in this district. All three of them love their teachers. Calvin, the fifth grader, is especially enamored of his main teacher this year. What if he got bumped by some bitter old hag who left the classroom because she grew to hate the sight of children after thirty years of teaching them? I find myself hoping that this teacher's disability (he is legally blind and active in organizations that lobby for the rights of the visually impaired) will secure his place. Joshua's main teacher is experienced and has won prestigious awards, so she's probably safe. But both of Somerset's teachers are young and have only been teaching for a few years. Will they be bumped? Or, to put it another way, will I have to organize a protest and go raise hell at the board?

I have refused to join the teachers' union every year that I have taught. I'm not opposed to unions in general--I think that workers should have the right to organize and that they should be protected from the arbitrary whims of management. I don't believe that loyal employees with solid histories in their jobs should be systematically replaced by younger, cheaper versions of themselves. I do not, however, believe in closed shops because no one should ever be forced to join any organization, ever, under any circumstances. And I have a specific problem with the MEA: they act as though the school system exists to employ teachers, and I believe that it exists to educate children. It's as simple as that.

It is not in the best interest of children to disrupt their education once the school year is in progress. Teachers and students have spent six weeks establishing procedures and good work habits, getting to know each other, and building the trust that is essential for real learning to take place. Yanking that security out from under them is wrong and could be disasterous in the lives of individual children.

I said as much to a colleague in the library earlier, and she looked at me as if I had three heads. I like this person and we chat each day in the library while in mutual exile from our rooms (we all have floating teachers in our rooms during our planning periods), but the fact that she used to be an MEA area rep somehow never came up before. Oops. I told her why I'd never joined the union and she said "That's fine unless people are trying to plan their lives. You have ten years; if you got surplussed, you wouldn't bump someone else?" And honestly, that's a tough question. I teach high school and those kids are used to being shuffled around and having their schedules changed multiple times, and I might be better at my job than less experienced teachers, and I need my paycheck, so yes, I see that. My students would already be affected by my having been surplussed, because their schedules would change and they'd be crammed into classes already in progress. I think that's different from people who chose to leave the classroom to take a cushy board job. And ultimately, if I had to I'd just find another job. That's life, right? No other business guarantees perpetual employment. Teachers enjoy more job security than most professionals would ever dream of, but sometimes even we will have to suck it up.


Mel Spillman artwork said...

Amen sister.

Blaine Morgan said...

You gotta love Memphis. If only Mayor Herenton had been put back on the throne of the School Board, surely he would have protected those who dedicate themselves to the future of our children. Right? Spend your eight bucks wisely...

Shannon said...

great post!

sf said...

So, Memphis is closing libraries, trying to build a big new convention center when they just renovated the old one and they have a huge empty pyramid shaped building just down the street, firing teachers and cannot control crime because the police dept. is too busy trying to find out who is blogging about them ? All of this and they wanna take my Hickory Ridge mall and make it a Satellite office? I miss Memphis but right now I am glad I didn't move back. When I hit the lottery, I'll see you on the coast. Seriously, firing teachers---that's what Memphis needs, a lower student/teacher ratio.