True confession: Although generally I adore my job, I do dislike a few things about it. In fact, there is one thing I truly hate: insecurity.
I dislike the current policies that lead to a cycle of teachers on temporary contracts. These policies ensure one can’t plan for the future more than a year (and sometimes only a semester) away. There is no incentive to take the time to develop innovative programs when you’re likely to be usurped the next year. I dislike that there is no continuity, so it is really hard for the kids who have forged connections and are eager to have you again the next year. I dislike the uncertainty of never knowing from year to year (or semester to semester) where we’ll be teaching or even what we’ll be teaching. Most of all, I hate days like the last day of school when in some schools the majority of a staff is out of a job, and good-byes are said to staff who have been told farewell several years in a row.
In the next breath the administration praises and glows about the amazing achievements of a staff member who is retiring after being in the school 30 years. Doesn’t anyone make the connection? Security brings excellence. When you have the sense of belonging and value, you can concentrate not only on what is happening in your class, but in the entire school. If you know you’re going to be there doing the same job the next year, you can work to develop cohesive strategies for excellence that build over several years. You can watch the progress of not just kids, but programs. You can arrange school trips. You can develop innovative programs and strategies. Is it any wonder you achieve amazing things when you can be in a school for ten, twenty or thirty years?
It’s not a coincidence.
This year, after several years in one school (renewed semester by semester), I’m laid off and back on the sub-list. I can work with that; there are lots of perks of subbing, and with my need to work with the editor on preparing Grace Awakening for publication, this is probably a good semester to have the flexibility of subbing. I’m really sorry about all the kids that have asked me what my course schedule is though, because they want to take English with me. They don’t understand why I’m out of a job.
What can I tell them? It was bad timing? The change to allow outside teachers to transfer seniority to other districts that meant those who had arrived in their chosen district before that contract change and who didn’t get to transfer their years are now caught in a no man’s land of yearly bumping? Short term thinking?
I’ll survive. I always do. But I really feel sorry for the kids who value the security and consistency of seeing the teachers they love. “What happened to…?” they ask. It doesn’t make sense to them. It doesn’t make sense to many rational people.
Business needs to understand this as well. Keeping your workers ‘lean and hungry,’ on edge and insecure does not make them work harder for you. It makes them stressed. Stress means sick leaves. Security means happy workers, and happiness improves productivity and engenders innovation. Some fascinating research has been done in this area, studying some innovative practices in factories with guaranteed employment. While other businesses were falling apart, they were thriving. If everyone followed this model, perhaps the workers would be happily producing more children, who would eliminate the declining enrollment statistics and ensure greater employment for teachers.
I’d like a permanent job.