Recently I had a conversation with one young teacher and this conversation reminded me the time when I was a young teacher. I was very energetic, didn’t have time to eat lunch because I was running around serving My students. I was working all 6 hours and 20 minutes plus, of course, I was planning my lessons and grading the students work at home, like anybody else in this profession. I think the society and ourselves have the same image of a “teacher” as somebody who is grading papers at home at night.
Later at home I started to think about Mr. Heart. He was “old” in 1987. He was one of those who participated in the historic strike of the New York teachers in 1975. The strike that created Tier I in our Contract with NYC BOE. He was our chapter leader. He was an English teacher who never took any papers home and was grading all of them at school during his 6 hours and 20 minutes working day. He really knew the Contract. He fought all our fights with the administration and always won.
< Mr. Heart was the one who made me sit down and eat my lunch during the lunch time. He just walked into my classroom one day and said that he would be eating his lunch here because if he stayed in his room it reminded him of work too much and he needed a break. I am still thanking him for that. Whatever’s happening with my life I always have these 45 minutes to myself, does not matter what school I work at, who is my boss, or what is going on with the students. I learned later in life how important this is for my health and my sanity. During those lunch hours we talked about things other than work and this was the time when I learned the history of American teachers’ struggle. I came from completely different background. Teachers in the Soviet Union did not work inside the school building all their hours. They were coming for the classes they had on the schedule and were going back home after that. They hated the schedules with “windows”, what we call preps, time when you don’t teach the class but the school is in session. They liked when all their classes were scheduled together so they could go home right away. Of course, nobody ever had 4 or 5 classes a day every day. This kind of load was unthinkable. My grandfather read an article where 2 hours lecture by a teacher was compared with a whole day work of a steelworker in use of calories and stress.
This is what I learned from Mr. Heart: Before 1975 New York City teachers taught at school their classes and then went home to grade the papers. Every teacher was writing off the taxes the office workplace at home for that purpose. All the time the teacher spent at school was with the students, 6 or 7 periods every day. This is why they went on strike and won. (I skip the financial crisis and racial discrimination at schools on purpose.) When Tier I was created the teachers got 2 preps, time to plan for the classes and grade the papers, and their home-offices were not eligible for writing off their taxes any longer. That was an attempt to create normal work conditions, like all other white-collar, educated workers had, which means, you work hard at work, but when you go home you become a parent, a homeowner, an investor, an athlete, a human, not a teacher.
Of course, it sounds good on paper, but the image of a teacher in the society and the teachers’ own heads didn’t change. We still grade the students work at home. Very few years past before one of our preps was misplaced by “professional assignment”. Teachers started to work in cafeterias and hallways. Tier II, Tier III, and Tier IV created conditions under which almost every minute of your day you are being watched. 5 periods you have your students, one period you have your “professional assignment”, you have to deal with all the memos and meetings during your preps. In the next Contract 20 minutes of tutoring added teaching time. We also have afterschool professional development, and staff meetings. All together made the work of the teacher back to almost unbearable. “Almost” because when Mr. Bloomberg came he finished the task. He took over and brought Tier V and Tier VI which took away benefits from young teachers, all without even signing a new Contract. I still can’t believe what happened with our profession in the last 12 years. Teacher became a vocational occupation for young people while they are getting their “real” job.
From: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/mar/31/four-in-10-new-teachers-quit-within-a-year “Almost four out of 10 teachers quit within a year of qualifying, with 11,000 leaving the profession before they have really begun their career and record numbers of those who remain giving up mid-career, according to analysis of government figures. The exodus of new recruits has almost tripled in six years, resulting in a crisis in teacher supply in a profession that has become “incompatible with normal life”, according to Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. . . . with teachers exhausted, stressed and burnt out in a profession that was being “monitored to within an inch of its life”.
What does it really mean to be a teacher and how to last for 30 years. And the answer is … is … Only people who really and completely devoted to the kids’ education can survive all that. I can’t express enough how much I love and admire all my colleagues and how upset I get when observe small blown out of proportion conflicts that sidetrack us from the real and big problems that we all are facing.
The goal of UFT and its struggle for teachers’ working conditions should remain the same as it was in 1975: we want to have a normal work conditions, like all others professions.
Only self-employed business owners are capable of working for 24 hours a day, but they are not being watched, they are the bosses and they control their own income, but that's another topic.