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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Strike

The Teacher's Strike seems to have two disparate and very angry sides.

Side One says: teachers only work part-time and they get all those holidays off to boot, and just what's the matter with these people who are holding our kids' education hostage and think they deserve to be paid like MKs?

Side Two says: teachers work long, hard hours in hideous conditions for miniscule pay and deserve to make a living wage and get some recognition and "fix" from the Ministry of Education regarding the more awful conditions in our schools.

Neither is totally correct.

I went to college to be a teacher in California, as did a number of my classmates who ended up doing something else also. Demographics killed teaching in my generation -- too few people married and of those who did, too many didn't have kids. By the time I was a sophomore in college, the university I was attending closed their teacher-training program, told us bluntly that there were no jobs and we should seriously look at doing something else with our lives.

I went to law school instead.

However, many of my friends taught; one of my best friends was a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District, a feat which is comparable only to teaching in Gaza. Another was a substitute teacher while her daughter was small, but eventually went back to Marketing. As she put it, "I love teaching, it's what I went to college to do--but frankly, my husband and I can't afford for me to take an $80,000 pay cut, so I'm back to Smith & Jones next week."

That was it in a nutshell. Teaching paid peanuts. At the time she told me this, teachers in California with MASTER'S degrees made $22,000 per year. You couldn't live in California, even then, on $22,000 per year.

It was widely believed then, and I believe now, that this is largely due to two things: the mistaken belief that most teachers are women and therefore their income is "supplemental income" and not what a family needs to survive, and also that teaching is some rarified calling that is a reward in itself and doesn't need real financial remuneration.

Horse pucky.

Teaching is extremely hard work. GOOD teaching actually teaches children not just the basics of education (reading, writing and arithmetic) but it should also teach them to think for themselves and to work out problems. One should graduate from high school with a firm grasp of world and local history; the basics of sciences; know how to write an essay; know how to debate an issue and especially know when the other side is being misleading; know how to do fractions and balance a checkbook and calculate speed and distance equations.

Teaching should NOT be a bagrut (or SAT) factory.

Teaching, like all important work, deserves recognition and excellent pay. If you're willing to pay an attorney 6,000 NIS to make sure your contract is correct (a one-time only write, review and meet with the opposition) then why aren't you willing to pay a teacher the same way? After all, the teacher is responsible for your child's physical, mental and emotional health and education 6 days a week. Isn't that worth a decent salary?

That said, I need to point out to teachers that there is an expectation out there which the teachers are not meeting.

It has nothing at all to do with the 'they-get-too-much-vacation' argument. I, personally, and many other parents-of-children, know exactly how demanding and exhausting 2 or 3 or 4 of them can be -- so we have no problem imagining how difficult it is to herd 30-40 of the little darlings during the day, as well as try to insert something into their highly agile and easily distractable brains. Hence, many of us completely understand that teachers need vacation days.

And these vacation days are not unreasonable, even though not everyone has the same number. In my law office, in recognition of the complexity of the work and demanding hours we spent as prosecutors, we worked our way up the seniority ladder to the maximum vacation time---8 weeks. This happens to correspond almost exactly to the amount of time teachers take for various chagim.....I only know this because I spent my vacation days on chagim in the US where Yom Kippur is NOT recognized as an official holiday.

Yes, this is more vacation than the average office clerk or secretary gets....but unlike the clerk, who routinely gets coverage at work so she can take a few hours to see Shoshana's school play, or needs a couple hours off to take her elderly mom to the doctor, or takes a 'long lunch' to take Yossi shopping for his sports uniform, teachers don't get this kind of flexibility. They're in the classroom and can't just split for a couple of hours to take care of personal business. So, yes, they get more vacation than the clerk at Bituach Leumi...but on the other hand, the clerk at Bituach Leumi has a less demanding job, more flexibility at work and gets paid more to boot.

I, and a number of my friends, sympathize with the teachers' call for more pay and better working conditions in the classroom. I come from California where parents recently insisted on class sizes of no more than 20 students in grades One through Three--an experiment that was SO successful in raising student score that parents are now calling for all elementary classes to have no more than 20 students per class. It is a given for me that small class size means better learning conditions for students.

No, my problem is the teachers' rejection of Dovrat's call for more teaching hours. I read an interview in the Jerusalem Post in which one teacher insisted that teachers are already teaching four to five hours a day, and its just exhausting and demanding that they teach more "frontal" hours in classrooms is impossible.

Horse pucky.

Teachers all over the world are teaching more hours (and sometimes in just as crowded conditions as Israel) and still producing intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful and literate young citizens.

Why? Well, let's start with something really basic. Most teachers in Israel don't have a college education. Right...even though California requires a BA and a year of practice teaching (ideally done while pursuing a Master's Degree in Education) before being licensed to teach, in Israel, one merely gets out of the army and goes to a two-year teaching college.

Why would I want to pay someone with an AA from a junior college a salary commensarate with someone who has spent five to seven years in university?

Let's look at what are called "professional hours." Most professionals, and that includes doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. are relatively well paid for their expertise. Teachers aspire to be treated and paid as professionals.

Doctors spend many years in school and complete interships and residencies before being accepted as full-fledged doctors. They work many long, exhausting hours with little pay in order to qualify as MDs.

Lawyers don't have it as badly, but I know from personal experience that lawyers clerk for long, long hours for very bad pay while going to law school, and after passing the Bar Examination, they then qualify to work again for very long, long hours with no guarantee of tenure (unless its a civil service job) in the hopes of finally making it as a junior associate on a 'partnership track.' Finally, after years of brutal hours and low pay, lawyers finally make 'partner' and then get paid the money that folks stereotypically think they've been making all along. Civil service is different--work for the government, and once your year of probation is over, you have tenure....and a relatively low salary compared to the rest of the profession for the rest of your life. You'd better really love being a prosecutor (or public defender) because the money isn't very good. Most folks who don't love it, bail after two, three or five years. In essence, they come to the prosecutor's office to do trial work almost like an apprenticeship program, and then leave to make more money in the private sector.

My father's CPA friends tell the same story of long hours, long, brutal apprencticeships for many years before finally making it into 'the Firm' and getting paid like a professional.

By the way, in all these professions, the 'long, brutal hours' never stop. As a prosecutor, I worked 6 days a week (in a nation where most people got a two-day weekend) and spent the majority of my work days either coming in between 0500 and 0600 to prep the day's calendar or hearings, or staying late (oftentimes until after midnight). A truly bad day was one where I did both...

So when I hear someone with the equivalent of an AA degree demanding more pay and no more than four-to-five hours of teaching a day, I am not going to support that position.

Sorry. If you want professional pay, you have to be a professional. That means that not all teachers are equal. The teachers with a Master's Degree in Special Education is going to be on a higher pay scale than the 1st grade teachers with a certificate showing two years of Teacher's College.

If you want professional pay, you have to work professional hours. That means that like doctors and lawyers and other professionals, you put in a full 8 hour "public day" ( in my case, in the courtroom; in the doctor's case, treating patients; etc.) and you do your prep time outside of those 8 hours. Class preparation, grading papers, parent conferences--these are all outside your teaching hours. Do you think I only met with victims and witnesses between 0800 and 5:00pm? No way!! Most people work for a living, and I often met my witnesses well after 6:00 pm in the evening.

So, I'm ready to join Israeli teachers in demanding better pay, smaller class sizes and better working conditions -- but in return, I want true professionalism:

(1) GET a university degree in Math, History, Science, Hebrew Literature or whatever you're teaching in high school, or in Special Ed if that's your field. If you want to teach with a Teacher's College two year credential, do so--but with the understanding that you're "an apprentice" and will be paid poorly until your education, experience and teaching hours match that of a "professional."

(2) TEACH a full day -- that's right, teach from 0800 in the morning (or 0700, for that matter--all the Advanced Placement classes are taught from 0700-0800 in our high school district in California) until 4:00 pm in the afternoon. Use flexible scheduling if that makes the job easier, rather than 8 identical periods daily. It's more interesting for the students, too. ("Apprentices" can teach fewer hours, if they need the time to go to school and finish their degrees.) Yes, you'll have to do class prep and grading at night, but hey, welcome to the professional world.

Teachers in Japan, in Germany, in California and France all teach longer "frontal hours" than teachers in Israel--and generally these longer hours result in better test score results as well as better educated students.

If I know my child is being taught by a qualified professional who is dedicated to his/her students and, this teacher has worked to get the education and experience to teach my child, I'll stand out there with a placard myself.

But until then, don't whine at me that you aren't paid enough when you have neither the education nor the actual number of working hours to justify a professional wage.


Blogger Emah S said...

The problem that I understand is not that teachers just don't want to work longer hours, but that the powers that be are saying that if teachers want more pay they should work more and then they'll get more (at the same rate). The current rate though is just insulting, even if one is NOT a professional.

I happen to have a Master's Degree, but the paycheck I got on Nov. 1st was one to stop your heart. My paycheck for all of Sept. AND Oct. was just about equivallent to what I was making as a teacher in TWO WEEKS in Florida (one of the lowest paid states in the US)!!! We're not just talking that teacher's are paid poorly here, it's a disgrace.

I agree though, there is nothing wrong with a full day, but they still need to increase the rate. Tehre are of course many other arguments on the docket that I don't understand. But if you're interested, go into any teacher's lounge in the country and ask, you're sure to get an earfull!!!


Monday, November 19, 2007 at 6:50:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Yours is the perfect example--you have a Master's Degree and teaching experience previously--you should be paid like a professional (doctor, lawyer, etc. even on a civil service scale).

I also think its a scandal that parents have to purchase books and workbooks for their children. These are provided in California BY THE SCHOOL--that's what my taxes pay for. There is a state-wide curriculum we all use, and we're all literally on the same page. Supplemental assignments, readings, books are encouraged but the basics are the same.

The RATE of pay needs to be increased; the overcrowded classrooms need to be addressed; the lack of schoolbooks and materials needs to be addressed. I'm not struggling on the budget that a waitress and taxi driver are trying to get by on, and I was appalled at how much I had to lay out for school texts and supplies. How does the working poor do it?

Monday, November 19, 2007 at 6:32:00 PM GMT+2  

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