"The dilemma we are facing is, do you continue to pay fewer people more and tire them out, or hire more people?"
That was Medford School District Superintendent Phil Long's response to questions posed at a public forum on Tuesday. He referred to the $8.8 million increase in state funding this year, and admitted that the actual raise teachers would receive was about 1.9 percent.
As a veteran math teacher, I would respectfully suggest that any teacher who is not tired out at the end of a day, or week or semester is not doing his or her job properly. Teaching is a high intensity job. Nobody chooses a career in teaching for the money, and no teacher ever has enough time. As the Medford School District and its teachers' association continue negotiating a new contract, these truths may be lost in the public's perception.
The district's newest proposal, made on Jan. 10, "redefined teacher preparation time, grading time and Professional Learning Communities, 'the time dedicated for collaboration among teachers.' " (Mail Tribune, Jan. 11) Now the district must protect that time.
During my years of teaching math in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I had nearly 200 students each day, divided into five classes of varied content, including regular Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1, Honors Pre-Algebra and Honors Algebra 1. Each used a different textbook, or different material from the same book. During one experimental period mandated by California, all the math textbooks were changed to an "integrated math" approach.
Thank goodness for the one 50-minute period per day dedicated to preparation time. That is when I created or adjusted lesson plans, evaluated and recorded students' homework and quizzes, prepared supplementary materials and unit tests. It was impossible to complete these tasks, but I reduced the amount of paper work I would take home. At the end of the week, I used preparation time to evaluate students' progress and adjust future lessons to best achieve the semester's learning objectives.
All these teaching tasks take longer for new teachers, just as they would in any profession. For a school district to use it funds to hire more inexperienced teachers, rather than better compensate those already at the top of their game, is not a prudent policy. If the superintendent is concerned about "tired out" teachers, I can assure him that any diligent and effective teacher becomes tired.
Schoolteachers do not have secretaries. After creating the master copy of a worksheet or test, I used the school's copy machines to make copies for each student. Different courses required different documents. After giving tests, I graded each one, giving partial credit where students used the correct method to solve a math problem, but made an error which gave a wrong answer. I then recorded all the results in my record book. I used not only my 50 minutes per day of preparation time, but worked through the lunch hour, eating at my desk. Often I worked in my classroom after school, trying to reduce my homework load. Parent conferences, both in person or by phone, also had to be fit into the teaching day. Preparing report cards was another time-consuming and necessary task.
Time for teacher collaboration is a vital element of an effective learning program. Sometimes it is all the teachers within a department, such as English, social studies or math, meeting to coordinate content or textbooks or testing. Sometimes it is all those teaching a given grade level meeting to discuss issues common to those students. It could be teachers volunteering to help implement new programs such as the Common Core State Standards, or to help select new technology that the school district plans to purchase.
The Common Core, which has been adopted by Oregon, will likely change the curriculum — both the content being taught and the way it is taught — throughout our schools. It also requires frequent computerized testing to create databases of student learning. Ideally teachers would study the databases (of all their 150 to 200 students) and adjust their teaching to meet the individual needs of each student, even as they recreate course content to comply with the Common Core.
Where will teachers find the time for all that? Dedicated teachers, however tired, will persevere.
Betty R. Kazmin of Medford taught algebra for 20 years in Los Angeles public and private secondary schools, and served on the board of education in Willard, Ohio.