The Medford School District and School Board have launched a PR campaign designed to denigrate its teachers, as can be seen on their website and in newspaper ads.
When the district prints half-truths that misrepresent the actual situation, the Medford community is not fully informed. Let me complete several statements on the district website under the heading "The Union's Position," which can help ensure the Medford community has the whole truth. The words in bold face are the district's; the italics are mine.
"The union opposes increasing the school year" without being compensated for the extra days.
I support an increased school year. And I am a contract employee who is paid by the contract day. Case in point? Now that teachers have been forced to strike, the district will reduce our pay by calculating our daily salary. When the district wishes to increase teachers' contract days, it is only reasonable that it increase their pay accordingly.
"The union wants rigid rules on preparation time that cut into class time for students."
What we want are reasonable rules that protect prep time, which is essential for high-quality teaching. At the secondary level, we are only asking for what we've had in the past: about 60 minutes of uninterrupted prep time per day. Out of an eight-hour work day, that's hardly unreasonable. In fact, it is inadequate for completing all of the lesson planning, grading, parent contacts and student tutoring that are required by our job, but we also want to maximize precious class time. To paint teachers as valuing prep time more than teaching time is inflammatory and untrue.
"The union opposes using district funds to hire more teachers" at the expense and sacrifice of its current teachers.
No one feels the pain of large class sizes more than the students and teachers who experience them every day. We would all love to have smaller classes and reduced workloads. But let's be real: the 12 teachers the district wants to hire are a mere drop in a pool of nearly 600 classroom teachers in Medford. This will neither decrease class sizes nor teacher workload in any meaningful way. Class size is ultimately a state funding problem. It is unfair to try to solve it at the sacrifice of existing district teachers and during a contentious contract negotiation, especially when the "solution" will have so little actual effect.
"The union says district funds should go for higher salaries and benefits for current teachers" because that is what the district promised to do in our previous contract negotiation.
During the recession years, Medford teachers agreed to financial sacrifices because it was the right thing to do. Now that additional funding has returned to the district, they should also do what is right and keep their promises. Most Medford teachers make less now than they did five years ago, and pay more for benefits. Like most Americans, teachers are only striving to make back some of what they lost during the recession. The teachers are not asking that all of the additional funds be spent on their pay and benefits, but it is only fair that some be used to make up for past sacrifices.
The district and School Board's current strategy is to characterize teachers as greedy quitters who don't care enough about students. This is short-sighted and ill-advised.
May I remind the district that these are the very same teachers they were eager to praise as the best in the valley not all that long ago? At my school, they are the very same teachers who brought about the highest graduation rate in the valley, well above the state average. And these are the very same teachers with whom they will have to rebuild a working relationship when the contract is finally settled.
I suggest the district keep in mind what I do every day that I teach: Years from now my former students may not remember many details of what I taught them, but they will remember forever how I treated them.
Here is another truth that good teachers know: If we give a test to our students and nearly 100 percent fail, we know the fault lies not with the students but with ourselves. I was in the room when Medford teachers voted to reject the district's contract offer. It was a public vote, and although it was not quite unanimous, it was darned close. District administrators and School Board members, I ask you to assume the same responsibility for failure that teachers do in their classrooms: If nearly 100 percent of your employees have rejected your offer, isn't it time to consider the probability that your offer is at fault?
Mary Wieczorek teaches American studies at South Medford High School.