Why Public Opinion Is Turning Against Teachers
August 22, 2012 5 Comments
People often criticize teachers unions for putting teacher needs ahead of students, and much of the time these criticisms take the form of the vague ideological talking points I often rail against. But not always. Earlier this month CNN’s School of Thought Blog published an article by award winning teacher Xian Barrett that makes it painfully clear teachers often do stand in the way of changes that will help students. In the article Barrett attempts to explain that Chicago should not extend the school day because teachers already work too many hours.
How much time do I really spend each day?
Most Chicago teachers give our all in very challenging conditions. A recent Gates study suggests that the average teacher works 53 hours per week, while University of Illinois researchers found that Chicago teachers work approximately 58 hours per week. Several years ago, I counted my own hours and found that I was consistently working between 70-90 hours each week. Through challenging conditions, we impact hundreds of students positively every day; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in earth shattering, life-changing ways.
Let’s take a step back and look a the basics of the debate. A change — more learning time — is proposed that will improve student learning. In an ideal world where student needs trump everything else the proper response is to say, “Great, let’s plan on having a longer school day, and then we’ll figure out what other changes have to be made to accomodate it.” But that’s not Barrett’s response. Without really considering the potential benefits to students, he says we can’t extend the school day because it won’t work for teachers. The current state of the teaching profession is not designed for a longer school day. End of story.
Barrett could argue that longer school days aren’t better for learning. He doesn’t. He could also argue that the drawbacks of making major changes to the teaching profession (e.g. hiring more part time staff, decreasing workload by creating more specialized roles) would outweigh the gains from a longer school day. He doesn’t do that either. (And the fact that this may be implicit in his reasoning speaks volumes.) Barrett simply says that the change won’t work for teachers, and therefore students should be denied its benefits.
This type of close-mindedness is at the heart of the ideological disagreements between unions and reformers. Teachers and their unions can’t comprehend what it means for an education system to truly be about students. For them, the general status quo of the teaching profession is our education system, and any reforms have to be built around it. Reformers, on the other hand, are able to see our system as more of a Tabula rasa. Let’s figure out what’s best and build it. If longer learning days are important, let’s start with a 9-5 school day and then build a teaching profession around that schedule. One reason criticism of unions is on the rise is that the political center and center-left are shifting toward the latter view.
What does all this mean for reform? My take is that it’s extremely important to continue stressing ideal scenarios and the long-term future of the teaching profession. What will a teacher’s job be like in 10-20 years? If we started a colony on the moon, how long should kids there be in school? The more reformers can get teachers to think less about tomorrow’s lesson and more about their job in 2017, the easier it will be for teachers and reformers to envision the same kind of changes.