Reality check

Am I right to be irked that my daughter’s public school teachers have missed three days of school to go on a charity walk? Charity is fine, but I feel that this is being done at my child’s expense. After all, we’re talking about a professional demographic that enjoys three vacation months per year.

And I don’t care if the teachers have “personal days” as part of their CAFE package. To the extent that they have an obligation to these children — especially because they’re marching along with a rigid curriculum — I think it’s unconscionable for them to vanish for any reason but their own or a family member’s ill health. Realty check, please?

UPDATE: Thanks for all the interesting comments. A few responses: I agree with Heather that most teachers care but, even if the ones who care are human. Give any reasonable human an opening, and that person will take it. If your peers and administration will laud you more for an enjoyable three day hike for charity than for droning on through the math curriculum at school, which would you take? Only a very disciplined person, who feels a deep commitment to the children, would turn his or her back on the laurels of praise heaped on charity hikes. After all, except for the quietly disgrunted parents, there’s no downside.

Re inservice days: I’ve worked closely with private schools and never saw anything useful come out of those inservice days. Usually, they were used for (1) touchy-feely exercises to help the staff get to know each other, despite the fact that many of the staff members had worked together for decades; and (2) diversity training, a subject that irks me. I’m all for the exchange of practical information, but practicality was always low on the totem pole.

Heather, you’re right about the two months vacation during the summer, but the teachers in my community also get two weeks in winter and two weeks in spring, for a total of three months. That’s more than enough time for them to carry out their charitable objectives.

My father was a teacher many moons ago, when he earned less than a stocking clerk at a grocery store. He spent vacations doing any work he could get — tutoring, summer school, writing for newsletters, anything. The teachers in our community, for their nine months of work, earn as much as a well-paid legal secretary gets for a full year of work. That fact, too, makes me disdainful of their using classroom time to pursue their own interests.

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  • Don Quixote

    Oddly enough, I’m with the teachers on this one. If its in their contract they can take personal days for any reason, and if they are taking personal days for the walk, then the problem is with their contract, not the teachers. They have no moral obligation to ignore what the contract allows them to do.

  • Bookworm

    If there are indeed personal days available, DQ, you have a point. I used to work with an institution that refused to give personal days because it was sure that its employees would treat them like unscheduled vacations. The organization acknowledged that its more responsible members would never abuse the personal days, but also acknowledged that you can’t expect this kind of ethic, especially from time-clock mentality teachers.

    Incidentally, I don’t know if there were personal days here. I would be really disturbed if I discovered that the school district gave these teachers unpaid leave to do the charity hike, putting the teachers’ private pursuits above the students’ needs.

  • Jeff

    I’d bet that a significant proportion of those teachers who are doing the charity walk also think that an important (and possibly dominant) purpose of education is to instill “social awareness” in students.

    And it strikes me as mighty curious that any kind of charity event would be held on a school day in the first place.

  • Mike Austin

    I teach middle school in Oklahoma City. I have been in this profession for 15 years in three different countries. The idea that teachers—who call themselves ‘professionals’— take three days for ‘charity walks’ absurd. It is not charity if you get paid for it. And who suffers? Your children.

    So these worthless teachers get three paid days off to walk thither and yon with silly buttons and all. At the end they get to feel so good about themselves! After all, their ‘sacrifice’ was for charity!

    Oh, should I remind you to what political party most teachers belong?

  • erp

    You will contort yourself into a pretzel until you accept and internalize that our public schools don’t care about your kids. Their mission to forward the liberal agenda.

  • Heather

    Most places only give teachers one or two personal days a year. Maybe this was classified as “professional development”. But regardless of what kind of leave it was, this seems very inappropriate. I am not with the teachers on this one.

    However, I will say that most public school teachers DO care deeply about their students. They may not be effective, or may want to forward a liberal agenda, but they do care. And, I taught in the rather liberal state of Maryland, and was surprised to find how many of my colleagues were actually quite conservative. Now, the bureaucracy was another story . . . .

    Not that I am saying that caring is enough to produce well-educated students. It is not. But at least give the poor teachers a little credit. Most do want to do well.

  • Al Jay Z

    I’ve been upset at my school system in Pickerington, OH for similar reasons. It’s the beginning of October, and our students have already had two days of early release and a day off for ‘in-service’ training for the teachers.

    This is obviously a different issue than taking time off for a personal cause (even though it was charity, it’s still a PERSONAL cause, otherwise teachers would still be at school). The issue is actually with the administration (which are teachers promoted to principals) — why not require the teachers to attend training DURING THE SUMMER when they have plenty of free time?

    This is a systemic problem — the entire school system & administration has an attitude of ‘entitlement’ typically associated with public employees, which I consider another form of welfare.

  • kevin

    Bookworm, I can empathize with your frustration but if the contract allows it, I have to agree with Don Quixote. I think erp pretty much sums it up in #5.

    Heather, could you please offer any insight as to why, if you had so many conservative colleagues, is the NEA so liberal?

  • Marguerite

    BW – if you think it’s bad now with teacher days off, just wait ’til November! Or maybe that’s just in my state?

  • Ymarsakar

    I don’t know what side I’m on, simply because I don’t know any of the teachers, I don’t like or dislike any of them, and for sure I don’t have to tolerate them.

  • Heather

    Kevin, I’m not really sure. However, not all teachers belong to the NEA (I didn’t). Many belong only for the lawsuit protection.

    Also, I think some of my former colleauges may not have classified themselves as “conservative.” One tentative hypothesis: I taught in a building with an older-than-average faculty. I think many had been around long enough to see the dismal results of years of educational fads, the breakdown of the family, etc. Small example: When the school (as proxy for the taxpayer) provides free notebooks, pencils, after-school tutoring, lunches, and breakfasts, and this generosity is met with waste and ingratitude, teachers tend to get a little disillusioned.

    I do think that the age of the faculty is a key, and so I cannot say that my experience is typical. Wasn’t there a post on here recently about how the young and single tend to be more liberal? I was an exception to that rule (being young and conservative), and I certainly was better friends with my older colleagues than the few younger ones in the building.

    At any rate, I still do think that young teachers care a lot about their students, perhaps even more than the older ones who may be cynical and burned-out. The caring is often misguided, though. Example: Lessons on self-esteem will help little Johnny feel better about living in a crack house. Once he feels good about himself, then he will want to behave and learn how to read.

    Anyway, I could ramble on forever, but my kids want lunch.

  • Heather

    Also, I do agree that most inservice days during the school year are very disruptive to the educational process. Teachers find them boring and of little practical use. Those days exist to justify the existence of the folks who work in central office. However, teachers usually have to attend inservice days in the summer also, which by the way, is only about two months long, not three.

  • kevin

    Heather, thanks for the reply. I think it helps to shed light on the situtation to hear from someone with experience.

    The phrase you used, “Once he feels good about himself” reminded be of the following quote from T.S. Eliot: “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm–but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” Based on your insight, it seems like this could potentially apply to many teachers as well.

  • Don Quixote

    Hi Heather,

    I agree completely that in-service days are useless and disruptive and I believe they should be eliminated. However, it is not the central staff who wants them (they gives central staff that much more work to do). The teachers’ own union bargain hard for them. The closest thing attorneys have is a continuing education requirement, but we are required to do that on our own time; we don’t get whole days off to do it.

  • Ymarsakar

    I guess it is a spirit of the law vs the actual wording of the law. Sometimes they aren’t the same, and conflicts may occur.

  • JJ

    Let’s see – they work nine months? I bet they don’t…

    They start – hereabouts, anyway – the last week in August. Vacations: two days for Thanksgiving. Two weeks for Christmas. Then there’s a week for “winter break.” Then there’s a week for “spring break.”

    Those are the standards.

    Then, in between, every holiday ever heard of or invented by the mind of Man. Labor Day, Yom Kippur, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, etc, etc. ad infinitum. At least fifteen days’ worth. So if you count in all the BS days – “personal” days,
    “conference” days (not parent-teacher, there are three days a year here when they get together to shoot the breeze with each other;) you can add in at least another six to ten – and if these people actually do work nine actual, real-world months I’d be amazed.

    You know, I’m old enough to remember when the Department of Labor used to define how many (or few) work days per year constituted a part-time job. They quit doing that back in the eighties: the teacher unions didn’t like it when teaching was defined as a part-time job!

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    Bookworm, your “CAFE package” line confused me. I’m guessing this isn’t about the jargon I know, where CAFE stands for “Combined Average Fuel Economy.”

    Re what is or is not in a teaching contract: I must, like Sergeant Schulz, declaim loudly that “I know nothing.”

    But I’m with you on this one. The fact that school days were missed shows that the teachers or admninistrators in question don’t feel compelled to even keep up the appearances, and that in turn comes from a “trust us, we’re professionals” attitude that all-too-easily slides into contempt for parents who question educational dogma (because, as the bumper sticker has it, “my karma ran over your dogma”).

    When I was an undergraduate taking a few courses from the school of education at my alma mater, the best professor I had there made waves by saying that all schools of education should be abolished, because they made an honorable, even exalted profession too inward-looking.

  • Ymarsakar

    My German professor, the Ph.D liked the summer vacations a lot, far more than the extra money he might have made at a higher level position.

  • Ymarsakar

    It gave him time to see the world, since he acted as a tour guide in Germany for tourists, and he spoke more than 5 European languages fluently, and some others so so.

  • Danny Lemieux

    There is no doubt that, in many districts, teaching has become a pampered profession. In my (very) blue state, it is not the teachers who are the culprits but the administrators. We actually have a local school district superintendent, not atypical, who collects close to a $200,000 salary (plus many perks) for managing a school district comprised of ….180 kids (that’s 180 as in three figures, in case someone thinks that I misplaced a comma). The teachers, however, are grossly underpaid and the buildings greatly in need of repair. The corruption here is so deep it is very hard to imagine how we will ever dig out of it.

  • helenl

    Why would anyone question how “personal days” are used? Teachers have a responsibility to their students but a greater responsibility to themselves. Life is more than a “job,” even if that job involves shaping young lives.

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  • Bookworm

    Helenl, are you being sarcastic or is that what you genuinely believe?

  • Helen Losse

    Hi Bookworm. It’s what I believe. I taught school for nine years. I used to believe that teaching was a “calling,” that a teacher’s students were like his/her children. But now that teachers are no longer autonomous in their classrooms (because they must teach, as legislated, to tests and may no longer pass along any values to their students), I think many see it as a “job.” I think that is very sad. But don’t worry I won’t be found in a classroom, where I might disppoint you. When the test is paramount, anybody can do the teaching! Right? After all, teachers are called out of the classroom for workshops and other such crap. So why not walk for something you truly believe in? Better that than using a personal day to fight a traffic ticket!

  • Bookworm

    That’s so sad, Helen, that teaching in schools leeched out of you a responsibility to the students. I’m not blaming you. Teaching by a practically militarized curriculum is demoralizing enough, especially when so much of the material is meaningless, politically mandated garbage.

    The fact is, though, that the students’ performance on tests is dependent on their teacher marching through that curriculum. If Monday’s math lesson is completely unintelligible because of an incompetent substitute, and if the curriculum mandates that Tuesday proceeds as if Monday was actually a learning day, the kids are lost — and the tests are failed.

    Indeed, my daughters math teacher was out for the fourth day today (two days of hikes; two days of meetings). My daughter told me the class was so chaotic under the substitute that another teacher had to keep coming in to quiet the students down.

    If you, as a teacher, are getting paid to teach, waltzing off to find your bliss and leaving chaos in your wake makes you a perfect candidate to get fired — as you would be instantly in an accountable world other than the union-controlled la-la land of public education.

  • Helen Losse

    It isn’t the unions. It’s the politicians. Waht do they know about education?

  • Helen Losse

    Gotta get to bed. Come visit me on my blog. You’ll love it! LOL

  • Danny Lemieux

    Book, Helen saw what she did as job. Others (including my wife) see it as a profession and measure their worth by the impact they have on childrens’ lives. Like many other “teachers” that we have known, she probably saw the school as a “system” to be milked for all it was worth. Sadly, it is people like her that drag down the morale of the real professionals in the system and it is the NEA union that enables them. There are two solutions: elimination of tenure and merit raises.

  • Helen Losse

    Book, Danny has no idea what he is talking about. I taught in private Christian schools (one for four years, one for five) in Cahrlotte, NC. In 1969, I started teaching for $450.00 a month. By the time I stopped teaching (to stay home with my children), I was making a whopping $650.00. I worked long hours because our schools were poor, and we often had to do things the hard way. The school was independent, not a system. I have never been a member of the NEA nor have i dragged anything down. But when my children went to school, we sent them to public schools. My observations come from comments from teachers there and from reading between the lines. I still say that if a teacher has “personal time” as part of his/her contract that it it no one’s business how that time is used unless someone finds out a crime has benn committed. Walking for charity is not a crime. Finis.

  • Ymarsakar

    Teachers have no responsibility to students, because responsibility is as loyalty, it must be a two way street and go both ways. In the military, that is usually not a problem because if you betray your troops, the next time you go into combat, you ain’t coming back if you have to rely upon your troops to watch your back. Since teacher’s relationships to their students are not dependent upon a life and death situation, there’s not a lot of loyalty going around. In fact, their jobs aren’t even dependent upon how loyal teachers are to students. So there’s little esprit de corps. No unit building, and no desire to do so.

    The unions by bribing politicians, make the problem bigger.

    Every school is a system, the inability to recognize the human need for bureacracy and political games restrains the mind’s eye. There’s a lot of things that are left unsaid, but what has been said is that Helen Losse believes a teacher has no moral responsibility to be loyal to any student needs or requirements, instead current teachers should benefit from fringe benefits because Helen Losse did not have these fringe benefits in her past. Thus we run into the curious situation of where people see things not as they are, not with the mind’s eye, but through the prism of their experiences.

    The reasonable point Bookworm made about how teachers taking specifically 4 days off at crucial junctures of the teacher’s own planned curriculum, is simply leaped over by Helen’s general finito argument that fringe benefits are there to be benefited from.

    Just a word of caution, Bookworm, but Helen has too many different logical axioms in relation to your position. Whenever you might be surprised or puzzled, just realize that her axioms are not common, let us just say. It’s not typically stereotypical, I mean. A belief in religion combined with Judaism’s weird juxtaposition of ethics with politics, is very uncommon. Especially when the religion is not Judaism, but Christianity.

  • helenl

    I am bothered by the generalization that all liberals and union members are uncaring and irresponsible. To me, being “liberal” means caring about more not less people. And unions protect workers from the rich (can we say often uncaring) enterpreneurs. My experience tells me most teachers in both public and private schools care deeply about their students. Sometimes they care so much they have to take time off to re-group. Teaching is hard work. Special education taechers are the ones who work the hardest. Burnout is huge among that group.

  • Ymarsakar

    Institutions don’t care because it is individual humans that care.

    The more people a person cares for, the less time and priority each individual acquires. One cannot satisfy everyone after all. Heisenberg’s UnCertainty Principle is inviolable by mortals.

    Since teachers are government jobs, there is no rich from which to protect them from via unions. The only thing worse than a bad institution, is an institution that does not fullfill its purpose (UN) because its purpose no longer exists.

    It doesn’t matter how much people care, it matters what they do. If they care so much that it becomes too much for their irrepressible souls, then perhaps they lack strength and faith. The military cares, but that matters not because the Marine Corps work 20 hour a day, through most of the year. Their duty is more important than their own personal selfish desires and weaknesses. Burnout is hard on college students as well, but they don’t skip 5 days just before the final exams. They take their vacations during no school, like spring break and summer, which is apparently enough as 90% of students aren’t cracking up about how much they care and how much time they needed to take off to regroup during the school year.