Now that the Washington Teachers Union and the D.C. Board of Education have reached agreement on a new contract, and since Parents United for Full Funding and The Washington Post have commented on the extended workday and school year, merit pay raises and salary increases, I'd like to take my turn.
As a veteran of 81/2 years of teaching, I feel that I speak with the voice of one who has undergone the baptism of fire that each D.C. teacher undergoes. From my vantage point in the classroom and from my conversations with other teachers before the contract settlement, I have a different perspective on some of these issues.
Based on an unscientifically conducted poll of my colleagues, I have yet to find a teacher who favors a longer school day. Not even the prospect of compensation for additional work entices the typical teacher.
The fear in the teaching profession is that this added half-hour will be filled with more paper work and even some busy work to make sure teachers are not sitting in their lounge doing nothing. No one seems to believe that this extra time will be used to develop lesson plans, contact parents or complete clerical duties.
As for lengthening the school year, most teachers won't grumble if the four more days agreed to are devoted to quality professional development and not merely busy work.
The idea of connecting pay increases with better-than-satisfactory performance is intolerable. How many other professions connect step increases with better-than-satisfactory work?
Administrators already have the means to improve teaching. When the Teachers Appraisal Process is properly utilized, inferior teaching can be identified and the less-than- satisfactory teacher can be given assistance. If no improvement in the teacher's performance occurs, the teacher can be fired.
Unfortunately, the Teacher Appraisal Process is most often abused rather than used. Pre- appraisal conferences are not held, observations are not made, or proper documentation is not obtained. Thus, weak teachers hang on, and the overall teaching suffers.
Usually at this point, critics of the Washington Teachers Union jump into the fray to accuse the union of protecting incompetent teachers. These critics don't seem to understand that the union cannot protect an incompetent teacher if the evidence needed to prove the teacher's incompetence has been properly documented and the grievance procedure has been followed. In essence, the key to improved teaching is already in the hands of school administrators. They just need to use it.
Teachers in the District are aware of the fact that test scores must improve and quality education must be provided. However, these ends cannot be met if the teachers are dissatisfied. Broken teachers, like broken horses, cannot carry a full load. Nor can broken teachers improve the quality of education in the D.C. public schools.