Hello Indiana legislators, I know you are tired of hearing from us teachers. You may be particularly sick of reading what I’ve been writing about you. I get it, we’ve been making a pretty big stink. You may be thinking about how we really don’t have it as bad as we go around saying we do. After all, we only work 180 days a year, right? Heck, even on the days we work, we have pretty sweet hours, right? I mean, my contract only requires me to work from 7:00 am until 2:55 pm. That’s pretty hard to beat, I know. I was thinking about that this morning when I pulled into my staff parking lot at 5:30 am and I noticed quite a few other cars already parked there. I was also thinking about it at 5:00 pm as I was still at work getting things ready for tomorrow’s classes. As I was walking around the building, two hours after my contract time was over, I made it a point to take note of the things and people I saw. I’d like to tell you about what some of my friends were up to while they were “off the clock” so to speak.
My teacher friends, like myself, have every right to get in their cars and follow the buses out of the parking lot each day. After all, they stop being paid at 2:55. But I saw very few empty rooms as I strolled around the building tonight.
I saw several classrooms full of students with teacher leading them in academic help sessions. I saw several rooms where a teacher was sitting down one on one with a single student giving them a tutoring session. I saw other teachers waiting for one of the few properly functioning copy machines to become available so that they could prepare for their classes the next day. We weren’t able to use our prep period to take care of any of these things because we had to meet with a parent, or make phone calls, or have a pre-conference for an upcoming formal observation, or we were working on a stack of IEPs, or grading papers, or any number of other time-consuming tasks that are impossible to squeeze into a mere 50-minute prep period. I left school at 5:00 pm, most of my friends were still working when I went home.
Those who don’t stay late are the early birds, like me. We get more done before 7:45 am than you could shake a stick at. You might wonder why we get up so early. It’s sure not because we want to. Usually it’s because we wake up in the wee small hours with our students on our minds. We try to go back to sleep, but we just can’t, so we get up and drive to work on the mostly abandoned highways and try our best to come up with some new twist to an old lesson that might hit home with some of those kids who seem not to care about learning what we have to teach them. We don’t start getting paid until 7:00 am, but there we are, morning after morning. We need that time because most contract time in the morning is devoted to professional development meetings. Just about every teacher I know puts in at least an extra hour or two either in the morning or in the evening–if not both–each and every day. So, please excuse us if we bristle a bit when we hear about how cushy our hours are.
I want you to think about this, legislators, as you continue to “reform” the profession I love and have devoted my life to–a profession of which most of you have very little first hand knowledge. Your policies have damaged public education to the point where I fear it may not be completely reparable. Your policies have driven a frighteningly large number of teachers out of the profession, leading to a critical teacher shortage. Yet, you continue to make it more difficult on us with every passing year. You have that power, but I want to warn you that those of us who are left to pick up the pieces of the devastation you’ve wrought also hold some power. You’ve been pushing us into a corner so long that we have no more room to breathe. We have reached the tipping point, triggered into the fight or flight response. Many have flown but we who have remained could be forced to fight. Sure, we could walk off the job, but that would be harmful to our students we care for so much. We don’t want that. But we could make a very big statement if we were to hold firm to our actual contract hours. That would mean that our parking lots would be empty until 7:00 am and would empty out again by 3:00 pm. Those rooms so busy with after school learning opportunities would be dark with locked doors. Those copy machines would remain at rest. Those stacks of IEPs and ungraded papers would remain piled on desks or filed away in cabinets. Teachers would spend many more quality hours with their own families at home and would sleep soundly until the alarm clock rang. But schools would all but grind to a halt by having to perform all their functions inside the limited hours of contract time.
Many of you legislators have a background in law. As I understand it, most lawyers don’t do a bit of work without counting every minute in their billable hours. Can you imagine how much it would cost you if teachers kept track of and charged you for our billable hours? It would put a mighty big dent in that “surplus” you all love to brag about, I can assure you.
But the good news is, we aren’t even asking for that. We put in the extra hours because we care about kids.
We are just asking that you start caring about us and do right by us and our students.
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