Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

commentary- working for free September 11, 2014

Filed under: Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:05 pm
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One of the interesting things that happens on a picket line, is that people talk to one another.  In a school, most teachers are so over-worked, they rarely get out of their corner of the world to interact with their colleagues.

This week, we were discussing an interesting situation that we’ve seen increasing over the years.  I work in a VERY small high school with grade 8-12.  There are generally only 25 students in the whole grade, so class size isn’t a huge issue for us, though composition definitely applies.  In our staff of 10 teachers there are only 5 who work full-time.  Of those 5, four of them have non-enrolling blocks (library, counselling, distance ed- that is, blocks used for data entry or dealing with one or two kids at a time, rather than a class)  The fifth teacher is single (and exhausted!)

The other five teachers on staff, could be full-time, but they have all chosen to take part-time leaves.   That means they have chosen to take a cut in pay to buy some mental health.  Aside from occasionally coming in a bit later, those teachers are in their class rooms working when they’re on leave.

Working.

For free.

Most of the population has been to school, and you’re used to seeing teachers in the class room, presenting lessons, coaching, directing plays, etc.  When student teachers arrive to do a practicum, they are prepared for their brilliant and innovative lessons, planned with care.  They are astonished to see the rest of the job.  Teaching is a lot like an iceberg.  What you saw as a student is only a small fraction of what we do.

When I present workshops at writing conferences to adults, I will spend about ten to twelve hours planning, creating a power point for one hour lesson.   Participants crowd around to ask additional questions, and shower me with praise.  I think when I started teaching, I imagined that was how teaching was.  It’s not.

If I have 4 blocks in a day, I will have spent hours reading materials, planning lessons, learning innovative ways to present the material to meet the four learning styles, laying out a long term schedule to cover all the learning outcomes of the course, developing unit plans, structuring group and individual instruction, creating projects, arranging speakers, finding resources, etc.  Because I’ve been teaching a long time, I have a lot of resources and experience to draw on, but even so, it seems that planning time is at least equal to the time the lesson takes, so 5 hours of class time probably equals 5 hours of planning time.  For a new teacher, it will be longer.

A full-time high school teacher teaches 7 of 8 blocks.  In a regular large, semestered school, that means 3 classes and a prep block one semester, 4 classes and no prep the other. I am predominantly an English teacher.  Throughout my teaching career, I have aimed to work .857 FTE so that I have a planning/prep block each semester.  I make it a goal never to bring work home, but  I work in school until five or six o’clock to do marking, make phone calls, manage my school webpage, enter data into my electronic grade book, and photo copy.  At home in the evenings and on the weekends I’ll make hand-outs or plan units, read, and research.  That is in addition to the assigned prep time in my schedule (usually 75 minutes a day).

A high school class generally has 30 students in it.  At 7 classes that’s 210 students to keep track of.  210 interesting young people with unique problems, fears, joys, and concerns.  That’s 210 parents to inform, 210 paragraphs to mark each day (at 5 mins each that’s 18 hours of marking), 210 essays to mark three or four times a semester (if each takes 15 minutes, that’s 53 hours of marking).

There are not enough hours to actually do the job.  Employment Insurance says a teacher’s workday is 9 hours, and I think they’re probably under-estimating, because a part-time teacher will work 9 hours to manage two or three high school classes.  A full-time teacher?  Let’s just say, they’re not sleeping.

So if a teacher wants to spend time with her husband and children, she will give up a block, which is between$5-10,000 of pay.  She will drop to 180 students,  (180 essays will only take 45 hours to mark).

The teachers on part-time leave are still in school for the same amount of time, working to get enough completed at school that they can have a life in the evenings and on the weekends.  I have a friend in Alberta.  She is paid $15,000 more than I am, but her classes are 40 students.  I don’t think the extra pay is worth it, if you can’t do the job well.  That’s why class size and composition becomes important.

If you have a CEA supporting a student, you need to brief the work, provide different materials, and meet to discuss the student’s progress.  If you have a student with an IEP you have IEP meetings with student, parent, and the Learning Resource teacher who manages the caseload.  If that student has a CEA, you’re lucky.  Most of the time you will be trying to give specialized attention to several children without a support worker.  In my school 25% of the student body has a designation identifying them as having a special need (these include things like gifted, mental health concern, violence concern, autism spectrum, Fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum, hearing or vision impaired, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, English as a Second Language, etc).  In practice, generally 25% of every class has a special need and requires specialized individual attention.  In Physics 12, you probably won’t see more than one, if any.  In Drama or Art, we’re going to see more of them.   Kids with designated needs require extra time, and there simply isn’t any.

I bring this issue up as a talking point.  I’m interested to know whether subsidizing public education by taking a part-time leave is a common phenomenon throughout the province.  Does the public know how many of us are taking part-time leaves and subsidizing the Ministry of Education by working for free in those class-free blocks, just to be able to do the job and maintain our mental health?

What would happen if we stopped doing it?

What would happen if we only used our assigned ‘preparation block’ to do marking, planning, etc?

How would it impact our schools?

Could they function?

.

I brainstormed all the meetings that happen throughout a school year just out of curiosity.  Some are optional, but most are not.  If you’re a member of the public, did you know about these?  If you’re a teacher, are there any I’ve missed?

Meetings:

*Informal staff meetings weekly to high light the week’s events, check on kids, disseminate information like a police incident involving a student or family, suicides, family traumas, etc.

*Formal staff meetings monthly

*Committee meetings- montly Pro D, Safety, Sunshine, Staff, Literacy, Numeracy, Athletic, etc

*Department meetings- monthly for teachers in multiple departments (a regular thing) this can be several a month  Math dept, Science, dept, English dept, Socials dept, Phys Ed, Applied Skills, Fine Arts, Business

*Student Services- weekly Students that draw concern for any reason are brought up to put a plan in place to see to their safety and success, this inevitably leads to more meetings

*Student meetings- as needed with individuals for extra help, tutoring, planning, concerns

*Parent meetings- as needed either by phone or in person.  These are rarely short

*IEP meetings- 2-3X year to go over students’ individual learning plans

*Support Service meetings- as needed with community health workers, mental health workers, aboriginal support workers, band counselors

*Staff committee- monthly meetings about school organization

*ad hoc planning meetings for things like dances, assemblies, and other events

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allegory of the rich man and his gardener June 21, 2014

Filed under: anecdotes,Commentary,Pondering — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:20 pm
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An allegory:

Chris has the most beautiful garden in the city.  He has a gardener who has been working on it for years, carefully cultivating special plants, and creating special features that are the envy of people who come from all over the world to admire the garden.  The gardener is paid a fair salary for his expertise and years of training, so he is happy.

Years pass.  The gardener hasn’t had a raise in years, and things are getting more expensive.  Gas for his car now costs double what it did when he started working.

Chris asks the gardener to put in a fancy water feature, and several fruit trees. “I’ll cover the bill when rents are paid,” he says.  That’s fine, the gardener makes a good wage, and he loves the garden.

Chris goes around to his tenants to collect the rents.  To the small houses, he says, “The view improved now the neighbour’s tree is down.  You owe more.”

To the really huge houses, he says, “Never mind. You don’t have to pay your rent.”

Then he pays all his bills, but because he didn’t make the big houses pay their rent, he doesn’t have enough to pay the gardener all he’s owed.

Chris tells the gardener he still expects the fancy water feature and the fruit trees, as well as the lawn to be mowed, the beds weeded, and the shrubs pruned.

The gardener loves his garden: the new water feature is going to be stunning when he’s finished with it, and the fruit trees are amazing, blooming gloriously, but some fungus is creeping onto the petals, and then insects are bothering the fruit.  He can’t quite figure out how to stop that, but he’s read about a great fungicide that should work.  He just needs to test to see exactly what the problem is.

“I don’t have any extra money for this!” Chris declares.  “I pay you enough!  Your demands are ridiculous!”

The gardener wants his garden to be perfect, so he does his best, working in the evenings and bringing things from home.  He can’t afford to subsidize the proper fertilizer, tests, and fungicide, and when the mower runs out of gas, he can’t get more fuel  since he no longer can afford a car himself, so he can’t drive to get some.  He asks for an increase in his wages, and a budget that covers the demands Chris as made.

“This is not in line with what other gardeners are paid!” Chris shouts, though the gardener knows he is not asking for anything more than every other gardener in the city gets for the same kind of garden.

He begs Chris to please provide him with the budget necessary to do what he’s been asked, but Chris glowers and tells the gardener he’s being greedy and lazy.

The gardener tries repeatedly, feeling guilty about the way the fruit trees are dying, and he is frustrated because he knows if he could just get the proper funding for what is required, he could produce the kind of show garden Chris he wants.

With so much work, no extra staff, no supplies and not enough money to buy them, the garden inevitably falls into ruin.

“What a terrible gardener!” Chris says.  “I’m going to take back pay because he’s not working hard enough!”

“What a terrible gardener!” his golf club cronies in their rent free big houses agree, adding.  “It’s so hard to get good help cheaply any more.” Then they shout, “FORE!” as their golf ball sails over the artificial turf and the plastic flowers of their golf course.

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.

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In case you missed it:

Chris is Premier Christy Clark, the garden is the education system, and the gardener is the teachers.

 

 

poem- last May 27, 2014

Filed under: Poetry,Teaching — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:06 pm
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You are the quiet voice

who never asks for help.

You struggle to work it out while

the loud kids,

the needy kids,

the busy kids

demand the teacher’s time.

You never cause a stir

so you are rarely served

when funding’s cut

and more needs surround you.

The teacher will

always get to you last

if she can get to you

at all.

We’re not okay with that.

But the government

says teachers

are just greedy.

 

 
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