August 3, 2020

Issues aside, it boils down to respect

posted on: Thursday November 8, 2001

by Stephanie Pietros

The state of the Providence Public Schools is a constant source of public attention and debate. A few years ago, it was a teacher’s strike that brought the schools into the public eye. More recently, the whirlwind arrival of Superintendent Diana Lam shook up a system that for many years lacked any real central control. This fall, the schools are once again in the headlines, this time because of ongoing and controversial teacher contract negotiations. As seems to be fairly typical of this type of situation, teachers and their unions receive lots of bad press that the general public accepts at face value. As is also fairly typical, there is a lot more to the issue than teachers simply being “selfish moral clods” (Providence Journal, Letter to the Editor, 11/2). The “selfish moral clods” who keep the Providence Public Schools operational have been the lowest paid teachers in the state of Rhode Island for many, many years. It can be argued that as teachers in an urban, inner-city district, they have the toughest job of all teachers in the state of Rhode Island. They deal with the problems commonly faced by teachers in the city: less parental support and involvement, more children with behavioral problems and special needs, larger class sizes, less per pupil spending, etc. Teachers handle all of this on top of working on staff development to help improve test scores and conform to new state standards, and spending countless time outside the confines of the school day. Inevitably, the minute contract negotiations start to sour, teachers are seen as lazy and selfish, people who have easy jobs with school vacations and summers off, and who apparently live off the fat ‘o the land without a care in the world. Never mind that the proposed 12.5% raise proposed over the three-year period of the contract will only bring the pay scale in line with other school districts throughout the state. Never mind that there were many issues other than the superintendent’s proposed monthly meeting that caused the union to reject the contract proposal Oct. 16. Never mind that if it weren’t for teachers’ unions, class size might still be out of control, teachers wouldn’t have as much incentive to get their master’s degrees, and there wouldn’t be any attraction to the profession of quality individuals because of abysmally low salaries, all things which, incidentally, benefit students tremendously. Of course, there are those teachers who do fit the “selfish moral clod” description, those teachers who do the bare minimum, who are safe simply because they are tenured. There are probably some teachers who have no desire or intent to improve the Providence Public Schools. Indeed Superintendent Lam and the public have every reason to be concerned with these teachers, as they are indeed detrimental. But it is grossly unfair to say that simply because they the rejected the contract proposal Oct. 16, Providence teachers have in some way rejected progress and reform, as seems to have been implied in public discourse. Sadly, what all of this boils down to is a lack of respect for educators in our society. In our increasingly complex world, teachers are not only supposed to teach, but they are expected to mentor, inspire, discipline and play parent in a society that clearly doesn’t grant them much respect as professionals. As a culture we should be doing everything within our power not only to improve those nebulous test scores and work towards educational reform, but also to elevate the status of those who make of the heart and soul of our school systems-teachers themselves. This does not mean blind support of every position a union holds. Rather, it requires that we educate ourselves about the issues affecting our teachers and our schools. We cannot continue to simply rely on the “selfish moral clod” rhetoric every time there is controversy between the unions and the administration. Our teachers deserve the courtesy of an educated population who attempts to understand both sides of an issue.Related links:Providence Public School DistrictProvidence Teachers Union

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