From the new July-August 2013 issue of News & Letters:
East Bay Area, Calif.–I am a public school teacher in California. The students’ last day was Thursday and mine was Friday. People may imagine that teachers here hit the beach or kick up their heels poolside, sipping cocktails and working on a suntan. What is closer to the truth is that the first week or two is needed as a recovery period from a job that far exceeds 40 hours a week and regularly requires our labor during the envied off-periods of winter and spring breaks. For me and many other teachers, though, Monday will be the kickoff to the summer routine of registering for unemployment benefits and looking for work, as, once again, a year’s contract has come to an end.
Teachers are one of the last unionized groups of laborers in the U.S. What that means is sometimes hard to qualitatively differentiate from not being represented.
In the 13 years I have worked as a California public school teacher, I have signed contracts that read: “I understand that I can be released for any reason and no reason.” Teachers, on the other hand, are not allowed to break their contracts. If we do, the district will go after our credentials. Twice I have been hired in November, once in February. Districts save money by dragging their feet on hiring a “permanent,” as opposed to substitute, teacher. The “permanent” teacher, if it is someone who has just been hired, is actually only a temporary employee who, like me, will be out of work come the end of the school year. Where teachers are itinerant and so precariously employed, our children are cheated with understaffed schools, disrupted instruction, and unstable learning communities.
None of the above touches on actual working conditions. Class sizes, the myriad needs of students, and no limit to the number of preps (the different courses a teacher is assigned), are harrowing and not in the interest of students. Districts take a bottom-line approach to education, when it comes to students. It’s all the neurosis of capitalism.
Teachers are coached to sell their subject matter. Administrators are treated as CEO’s, receiving cushy salaries and being just about unaccountable for waste, incompetence, and out and out wrongdoing.
Many students and their families see education as a transaction, rather than a process. Where I’ve worked in poor communities, this attitude engenders a regard for education both as irrelevant and as a foreign imposition. What value, read as monetary value, does going to school have? The answer: None. There are no jobs. Where I’ve worked in affluent communities the attitude engenders a regard for education as an entitlement. The question here is a demand: Where are our A’s and positive comments in the remarks columns?! And serve it up with a smile and any way we like, just like at Starbucks.
Revolution cannot come soon enough. Marx should be on everyone’s summer reading list.
–California public school teacher