Monday, September 10, 2012

Wear Red

Curious what the CTU strike is all about? It seems there are so many questions and the messaging has been messy. Here's my take: It is about

A Quality Day in the Classroom (not creating a babysitting service so kids can be 'kept busy')
Reasonable Classroom Size (not the up to 55-students-per-class that has been threatened)
Necessary Social Services  (not the 'just sit here and breathe' response when a nurse is not present)
Investment in Schools (not 'step over the puddle in the bathroom, honey' facilities)
Fair Contracts for teachers (not 'suck it up' re-negotations that fail the sniff test)

How do these issues play out in real life? In my child's school, which practices an 'inclusion' model of instruction, the class size is more likely to be over 30 - even in primary grades.  Because everyone is included in an inclusion model class, that room will have several English-speaking students who are, at least, average learners. It'll also include several children with varying degrees of special needs - hearing impairment, speech impediment, learning delay or more severe concerns. That classroom will also include a few children who don't speak a lick of English and a few others who are still learning the language. And, not often understood but true, the classroom will include special needs children who are at another point on the spectrum - they need accelerated instruction and greater challenge. Over 80% of the children in that classroom - or at least 24 of 30 - meet the criteria for a free or reduced lunch. (In an ironic twist, when those same children apply for high school the system forces them to the bottom of the priority list because, according to census numbers, we live in a high income area.)

That's why we need a quality day - especially if it's a longer one - and we need a reasonable pupil-to-teacher ratio. 

In my child's school, the classroom can be extremely hot (over 90 degrees) or extremely cold (closer to 60 degrees) and the presence of either extreme is not necessarily tied to the current climate outside. The fancy new heating and cooling system they put in place as part of a rehab still doesn't work so today while it was 80+ degrees outside I was wearing pants and a full coat in the office and I was still cold. We've had tons of work done to our school and I'm grateful for it, but if we're still the mess we are, what's going on in poorer neighborhoods?

That's why we need investment in school facilities. Basic stuff.  Stuff we have in our cars, for crissakes.

In order to meet the needs of all children, teaching often occurs in smaller groups, with several children working independently while the teacher works with one group, and a resource teacher works others, if there's one assigned. Almost on a daily basis, you can walk through the halls of that school and see groups of children sitting on the floor in the hallway trying to read or work on group projects because there's no adequate space for them to do so in the classroom and no adult available to supervise or guide the learning. What did you do when you were left in the hallway with a group of your buddies at age 9? Learn?

That's another reason we need reasonable classroom sizes and pupil-to-teacher ratios and investment in school facilities.

A nurse is present only a few days a week and with the increase in allergies and other health concerns in the general student population we've had to make absurd adjustments to day-to-day 'normal' activities to accommodate the lack of a health professional on staff. 850+ children in the building on a given day. Think about that. Today, with less than 100 people in the building the nurse was called upon three times and one of those injuries required an ER visit. A child entitled to X number of minutes per day for his/her learning support needs gets exactly those minutes. So if they need a few more but the schedule doesn't allow, the teacher is forced to move on rather than stay with the child and get them to the next level. It's cruel and awful and the teachers are sickened to have to do it.

That's why we need appropriate levels of social services in the building at all times.

In addition to traditional curriculum requirements, teachers are required to meet testing requirements with their instruction. These tests currently serve to measure not only students but schools. The children who don't speak English? They take those tests. The children who are delayed in learning for one reason or another? They take those tests. The teacher whose student rarely shows up for class, or spends half his time in detention? He takes that test too. Children in our school whose parents take them to their home countries for weeks on end and must actually re-register when they come back because they've been gone so long? Yup. Test. Why do you think those scores look like that?

Again, if you want children to succeed - if that's really your goal - you need to have reasonable pupil-to-teacher ratios and invest in support services that work and can be measured by the teacher not a chart.

Send your child to a school building with mud instead of grass on its playing field, jammed doorways that didn't always work, an intercom system that frequently beeped without warning, inadequate heating and cooling so that your child might be sweating or shivering depending on his/her location in the building throughout the day, leaking plumbing in bathrooms, classwork being conducted on the floor in hallways, gym in the classroom because the gym is being used as storage, no textbooks because central office didn't get them to us on time, and a teacher who had to tend to 32 other children in the classroom during the day. OK? Still feel like you are in the third largest school district in the country? Still feel like you live in the richest nation on Earth?
That's why we need honest, meaningful and intentional investment in school facilities which reflects our high prioritization of education.

Now how about if I asked you to work in that environment and then promised you a raise and then renegged on the raise and then asked you to work more hours and offered to evaluate your performance based on how well those kids did in your classroom - would you be cool with that?

And that's why teachers deserve a fair contract. They deserve it. They earn it and are entitled to it and we owe it to them. Fair. That's all.

A friend of mine is considering leaving the city because he's afraid the end result here is that there will be a huge tax increase to pay for the resources the city needs to effect these changes. My answer? No. It's time to pay attention to how the budget is written so that our real priorities are reflected and dollars are spent where we want them spent. It's time to stay and fight our asses off to make things better for ourselves and our children and everyone else's. It's time to insist policymakers stop playing politics with our children's futures - and our own - as more and more ill-prepared children become ill-prepared adults and take our futures into their hands. The future of the country is at stake. It is really that important. And it's just that simple. Our teachers deserve our full and undivided attention, our loyalty and our support.

Because, really? Forget all that stuff I just said. You just need to ask yourself one question in order to sort this whole thing out: who among us has become anything without a teacher? Not one.

Wear red.

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