Friday, April 24, 2009

Teachers are Whiners Too

Tuesday: Professional Development

Kids love "short" Tuesday's; an hour and a half sliced off the end of the day so the staff can hold meetings. There are department meetings, PLC meetings, staff meetings, trainings, awareness meetings, accreditation meetings, and to top it all off: faculty meetings. Sometimes there are two meetings, or two-fer's, one for the department and a second one for the entire faculty.

Today we're in the middle of a scorching two-fer, it's 97 degrees outside, and the faculty just wants to go home. We file into the auditorium, the air conditioning runs full blast, causing the heat to evaporate from our bodies as it transforms into chilled sweat.

Most people sit towards the back. The first ten rows are almost completely empty.

"Maybe I should give this meeting from the back of the auditorium," the principal jokes.

Someone chuckles.

He has news on the pink slips - it turns out that the way the budget is falling out it looks like most teachers will be able to keep their jobs. Unfortunately, the school doesn't get to decide who will be teaching, it can only save the position, not the teacher.

Translation: If someone else in the district wants your job and you got a pink slip - time to move on.

The teachers grumble, no one knows what is going to happen, but at this point everyone is too tired to actively complain about it.

The principal brings up the next item on the agenda: the school schedule.

Four years earlier the school was founded on the 4x4 block schedule, four ninety minute classes taught over a semester. Half the year the kids are in math and science, the other half in English and History - on the 4x4 block schedule classes move at lightning speed. Miss one day, you might as well be missing two.

Many teachers prefer the traditional 6 period one hour schedule, they like having the same class all year round and feel they can cover more material. It is also better for testing because no one forgets what they learned months earlier.

The 4x4 has one huge advantage over the 6 period schedule: you can fail an entire year of classes under 4x4 and still graduate on time. (No summer school required.)

The principal states that on Friday we'll vote on whether we want to keep the 4x4 for two more years.

For the first time, a number of teachers start to wake up. What! We didn't know! Why didn't anyone tell us? Why does it have to be two years? What committee? This is absurd, you are ramming this down our throats!

The principal tries to explain that he likes the 4x4 system and that he doesn't think that with the uncertainty of the pink slip crisis it's unwise to change course admist all the chaos.

He's spitting into the wind.

The three teachers (out of 150) that joined the schedule committee explain that they made announcements weeks ago at other meetings to come sign up, but no one seemed interested in researching different schedules and the possible impact it would have on the school.

I can tell this is going to take awhile.

Wish I had a snickers.

I turn to Busamante and Duran - we're all in the back row. "Would you rather sit in traffic, wait in line at the DMV, or be at this meeting?" I ask.

Busamante's response is instantaneous. "Traffic. I can listen to music."

"What about the DMV?"

"At least there I can read a book."

I have to admit he's got a point.

One teacher is in the middle of explaining his daughter's schedule at her elementary school - his research consists of having her bring him a schedule. "It works for her fine," he states, "I don't see why it can't work for us."

Other teachers jump in, angry that other proposals are not being considered. That none of these teachers proposed alternatives when they had a chance is irrelevant, all that matters is that the administration screwed the faculty by not giving them more time.

"Would you rather have a colostomy, a root canal, or attend this meeting?"

"I've had a root canal," Duran chimes in. "They're not that bad."

"Colostomy." Busamante grunts. "At least they knock you out."

The bickering continues. Teacher after teacher gets up to gripe about why the 4x4 is a bad schedule - no reasonable alternative is provided. Einstein's theory of relativity kicks in and the minutes drag out to a crawl, then time literally stops.

"Would you rather be tortured by water boarding, or attend this meeting?"

"Water boarding."

"Water boarding."

I'm stunned. "You would both rather be tortured then go to this meeting?"

Duran disagrees. "Think about how you would be able to brag that you were tortured. Not many people can say that."

One of the special ed teachers rises like a sleeping leviathan, enraged by the stupidity of this pointless conversation. "This is bullshit!" he cries out. "At my last school people put serious time and effort into researching a schedule, we didn't just offer something up half-ass."

The principal jumps in. "I'm sorry, we don't use that kind of language here." He goes on to add he respects passion, but we have to remain civil.

On the one hand I applaud the teacher for voicing what most of us feel, on the other I'm grateful that I'm not the one getting in trouble.

The principal puts an end to it. "I propose we vote on whether we want to table this for next year." The staff agrees.

Postponement. Love it. The key to all good leadership.

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