Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Baltimore Teachers Call for Superintendent Ouster

Well, that didn't take long. The Baltimore Teachers Union, upset with the progress of contract negotiations, over planning time, plan to call a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Andres Alonso, who has been on the job for only four months.
The dispute centers on what would seem to be a minor issue: 45 minutes a week of planning time. Alonso wants principals to have the authority to require teachers to spend one planning period a week collaborating with colleagues. The union says teachers don't have enough planning time as it is.

The contract for the union expired July 1, and negotiations are at an impasse. The two sides have reached an agreement over pay and benefits.

"This is absolutely asinine that we are out here fighting over planning time," said Loretta Johnson, co-president of the union, which represents teachers and aides.

But Alonso said after the board meeting that he's not budging.

"The city has to make a choice," he said. "Is it about adult interests, or is it about kids?"

In a meeting this week with The Sun editorial board, Alonso said of the union dispute: "It's almost like defining the terms of engagement. I'm working from principle, not a political stance, and I think for some people in this city, that is so new."
Alonso is right. For far too long, school boards and superintendents have caved when it comes to contract negotiations. But Alonso is right, the issue is not really about planning time, that is only the context of the battle. The real battle is whether the kids will take precedence in a school system or the adults. For many people involved in education, the protection of the adults has seemed to take priority of what is best for kids.

I think that the dispute over planning time is asinine. We are talking about nine minutes a day. In a previous post on this subject, I made these comments:
The thing that really chafes me is that the impasse is over planning time--planning time. In a work day that is already an hour or so shorter than the rest of the world but France, and includes a 45 minute lunch break, further shortening the work day, the Baltimore teachers union is upset about planning time. Not having too many kids in the class, not pay, not benefits, not even the condition of classrooms (i.e. no heat or A/C) but planning time.

I don't know of any other job, unionized or otherwise, that even considers planning time a negotiable condition and the cause for a labor demonstration. The fact that heartens me is that I know many teachers will ignore the union and go about doing their jobs for our children the best they know how.
In return, I got the comment that because a teacher spends six or more hours a day presenting material, they need planning time. But that is a false argument. By that standard, a teacher would need forty-five minutes a day to plan presentations for the entire day. Are you seriously telling me that an extra nine minutes a day is really going to help you? The same commenter noted that she/he works a 7-7 day and usually takes work home.

Well, welcome to the world of professionals. I work a full day, often 8 to 6 with another three to four hours of work at home. That is that nature of being a professional. You cannot claim to be a professional deserving of professional work standards and then complaint about the work conditions.

I also got the comment that I don't know what it is like to teach in Baltimore and that I should follow a "dedicated" teacher around for a week. Well, that commenter is right--I don't know what it is like to teach in Baltimore but assuming I could get paid on my job to follow a teacher around, I can guarantee you this--they won't like my assessment, even if I do sympathize with that teacher.

But what I do know is that if the teacher's union really believes their own rhetoric about wanting to put kids first, then the would just give up this silly little objection (and yes it is silly). I like the fact that Alonso is standing up and saying that it is non-negotiable. That is what a leader does, set priorities and stick to them. The union has agreed to a pay and benefits package. They should take their money and then perform. If you can prove to the students, their parents and the community that they are worth the money spent on their pay package, then at the next negotiation, they can revisit the planning time issue.

What the teachers union really wants is a group of stooges, both on the school board and in the Super's office. That is not what the students of Baltimore need. They need leaders, and teachers, that will actually follow my Ten Commandments of Education. The first one reads:
Commandmant One. Thou shall never forget that the most important people in schools are the students, first, last and always. Nothing trumps their importance, not your job or your cousin/uncle/aunt/mistress' job, not your favorite policy, not the school principal, not the school board, not even the teachers. Nothing!!
Far too often, the adults involved in the education of our children look upon their role as somehow more important than the kids. Any policy or program that employs more adults should be looked up skeptically and properly disposed of. Educating kids, while a noble vocation, does not make your personal profession more important than those you serve.
Your "clients" must come first.

Demonstrate that, prove that and then we can talk about planning time. Until then, teachers must take a back seat to the kids. Only Andres Alonso appears to truly have his real clients interest at heart.

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