What are Teachers looking for in Contract Negotiations Besides Money
As a former teacher for ten years I have some knowledge of teacher contracts. I always read mine front to back, besides I am weird like that. Other teachers always came to me and asked me random questions about what was in the contract during the school day so they could look into different things. I live in the Chicago area and although the CPS strike does not affect me personally it does affect many people I know. I stand behind Chicago teacher Union and support them. I had the opportunity to join in their professional ranks this year and even though i decided to take a different route in my career I think about what it would be like right now if I hadn't.
Teacher contracts are the glue that binds a lot of district but it is all about interpretation much like the constitution. I know many states don't have unions and there are even smaller districts in this are that don't have unions. Sometimes it works and sometimes the teachers are just surviving because they have to. Wisconsin saw some interesting politics in the last few years in regards to bargaining rights and unions. What people outside of education don't realize is that very rarely are we fighting for money, yes we want a raise like the rest of the world, but there is so much more at stake and we are usually fighting for your children's education.
What Teachers are Fighting for
The teachers are fighting for so many things besides salary and that is why negotiations take so long.
The classic maneuver by school districts in negotiations we will give you a 3% raise but you need to pay $100 more a month in your benefits. Wait stop the presses. Didn't you know that school district rarely pay all the teachers benefits. There used to be a time in this country where teachers has extremely good health insurance but those days are long past. When I started teaching in the early 2000's the good benefits were gone. I couldn't deliver my children at the nicer hospital because it cost too much. I eventually stopped even taking my school health insurance because my husband in corporate America had much better benefits and it was cheaper to add the family onto his. It would have cost me over $400 a month to add my family onto my health insurance at school.
Many of the teachers assistants I worked with did not bring home an actual pay check, they simply brought home health insurance for their family.
School district want teacher to continue their education and sometimes even require teachers to get a new certification. The district I am living in right now is requiring all the teachers to get their ESL endorsement by 2014. Okay great, the next question is who pays for that? Some school districts pay for a certain amount of credits or tuition amount every year in order to keep our teachers learning.
Yes, class size is a part of the teacher's contract. We are fighting for small class sizes as much as the parents. We don't want classes of 30-40 any more than the kids or the parents. This is part of our working conditions and we fight for it.
Student: Teacher ratio
Don't let those school district fool you this is different than class size. This takes in account every teacher that is in the building, including ones that may see kids on a one on one basis. So if you think that the ratio is 20:2 just remember that could look like 19 kids in one place and 1 in a another. Deceiving isn't it?
What we are fighting for is more of those teachers though. We need special education teachers, speech pathologists, therapists, social workers, classroom aides, and everyone else to meet the needs of our students, the classroom teacher is not superman/woman we need help.
This is one things that Chicago Public School Teachers are fighting for. Many schools start well mid August and it is still HOT outside. Many school buildings do not have air conditioning. So let's stuff 30 kids in a classroom on a 90 degree day, it is probably closer to 100 in the classroom by midday because the windows may not open at all or if they do it is only a few inches for safety. I admire the union for tackle this issue but I have to admit putting air conditioning in those building will cost a great deal of money. So let's look at it from a different point of view, the school calendar need to change to reflex the buildings limitations. Schools that are not air conditioned should not start until September, should not hold summer school, and should at least provide fans or a way to keep the air moving.
In the last 10 years that amount of busy work teachers have to do have grown exponentially. While in some cases this work creates data for teaching and help our students learn better there is a lot we do because the state requires it, the district needs it, or basically just we are told to. Teachers need time to complete this work. We are fighting for time to work on the other stuff so that class time is spent 100% on teaching and working with kids and not filling out paperwork.
Sometimes there is a love hate relationship with the professional development that is supplied for teachers. We will be happy to admit that we need professional development and we need training on different aspects of our jobs as new ideas and concepts evolve. The professional development we receive is rarely in best teaching practices and isn't always the training we need. None the less we know these times are also important to unify the staff and to keep us moving in the right directions. We know parents hate early dismissal days and random days off. Some school district are getting better at scheduling these times before holidays when a majority of kids are already missing an extra day of school.
You want a staff to be unified because it changes the school environment and create a better school. As teachers we want these days not to interrupt the school week in the middle, we want days that make sense, and we need days to be the best we can be.
There is so much more
There are so many more things that are involved in a teacher's contract. Most contracts are about 40-50 pages, it is a lot of information and there is a lot involved in the process. There are so many other things that play into account. Teachers didn't go into teaching for the money and most didn't do it for the summers off, but it also isn't fair that we should be underpaid.
I have a masters degree plus additional education beyond that, I won't even mention what I was making at my last position but if I had been a single parent it would have been under the poverty line. Teachers deserve our respect and we also need to keep in mind what they fight for every day.