Last week the Malden, Massachusetts Public School Teacher’s Union voted to strike and today the Haverhill, MA Public School teachers followed suit. Some of the gaps between district and teachers include left over issues from the pandemic, delayed salary increases, and working conditions. When outsiders approach this conversation they often cast it as union problems, whereas, the real issues are the questionable conditions under which we ask teachers to work so hard in a semi-professional environment.
Historical characterizations of a teacher’s life include babysitting children for seven hours and summers off. The current description of a teacher’s life is quite different and includes working most of the day and professional development in the summers. In particular, the influence of the standards movement on teachers was to ask them to do more with less. More uniform curriculum, less choices in how to implement for the growing student diversity, and less salary increases. What makes this environment so toxic, and helps to explain why teachers are leaving and unions are striking, is that there is no increase in progress toward a professional environment for teachers. This is where the most exciting improvement in quality of teaching can be gained.
Professional Environment for Teachers
For example, quality could be improved with an increase in preparation time, collaboration time, and assessment support time. Currently teachers spend on average 54 hours per week working on their job, of which five hours is grading, five hours is planning, and less than half of that is teaching (EdWeek, October 17, 2022).
In order to change this, parents and schools need to trust teachers in how they might improve the design of their day, including one hour of preparation for every hour taught, one hour per day of collaboration, and one hour of a break for lunch. Think of them as lawyers or business people and you will see the disconnect between their current work schedule and the type of person who would work under those conditions. If we can make progress towards a real professional environment, we can retain teachers and reduce strikes.