Friday, January 15, 2016

Money's not our main motivator

This op-ed by NEIFPE co-founder Phyllis Bush appeared in the January 15 edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Even though I retired from teaching a number of years ago, I still care about what is happening in and to our public schools. Consequently, I am troubled by the potential effects of Senate Bill 379.

Sen. Pete Miller’s use of economic references like market forces and supply and demand display the stark contrast between the business world and the education world. The bottom line in business is money; whereas, when we talk about educational outcomes and bottom lines, we must be mindful that children are not products and that learning should not be a business. Building a cooperative and caring community is imperative in a healthy school environment, and the effect of this bill would, most likely, drive an unintended wedge into a school community.

While I appreciate Sen. Miller’s desire to find a solution for the teacher-shortage issue, this makes me wonder how much legislators really understand education. What seems to be missing from this legislation is that it flies in the face of why most people become teachers. Most choose teaching either because they love their subject or because they love working with kids or because they want to make a difference. For most educators, contrary to many legislators’ beliefs, it has never been about the money!

When I look back at my years in the classroom, some of my most important work happened when I was collaborating with my colleagues on projects that would help our students. As a veteran teacher, I made it a point to help new teachers by sharing my materials and insights with them. In the world of education, collaboration is of the utmost importance; for those in schools, collaboration provides ideas, support, professional growth, shared responsibility, and a sense of “we’re in this together sharing goals as well as frustrations.” Human nature being what it is, I wonder how the spirit of collaboration would be affected if we start paying one teacher more than another.

Sen. Miller seems to have the utmost respect for teachers and the teaching profession, and I appreciate his desire to find a solution for the teacher-shortage issue. In an email exchange I had with him regarding this bill, he said that his mother is a retired English teacher. I would, therefore, ask Sen. Miller these questions:

Do you remember seeing your mother come home near the point of exhaustion with a stack of papers to grade?

Do you remember watching her put in many more hours than her contract required?

Do you really think that she would have had the time or the energy to go to her unit head to bargain for her salary?

Since one of the points of SB 379 is to address the shortage of both STEM and special education teachers, a friend who is a special education teacher told me that she has never considered herself more important than other teachers, nor did she wish for more money than her general education colleagues. Since the job of a special ed teacher is slightly different from other teachers, rather than a different pay scale from other teachers, what she wanted was time – time to collaborate with other teachers, time to prepare the monstrous amount of paperwork, time to talk with therapists and parents and administrators.

So, what is a possible solution? While collective bargaining is not perfect, it is a good process to address the parts of the teacher shortage in this bill. Local school boards participate in collective bargaining, and a contract is an agreement between the two parties with both parties involved and responsible. It’s open, it’s fair, it involves both sides, and it illuminates the school’s and faculty’s financial, professional, student and community considerations. Pitting teachers against one another in a bidding war is a sure way to shortchange not only teachers but also students.

Would most teachers like to have a pay raise? Of course they would. While SB 379 tries to address that, the basic inequities that the passage of this bill would cause would further undermine, disrespect and devalue hard-working teachers, and I do believe that it would increase the possibility of driving even more teachers out of the profession.

Phyllis Bush is a retired Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher and one of the founders of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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