A “hard-line” opinion: Pay Teachers!

In her column this week in the Sunday Boston Globe, Yvonne Abraham praised the turnaround at the former Gavin Middle School in South Boston, now the UP Academy, an in-district charter school. It sounds like there’s a lot to praise and I hope the work is really paying off for them.

However, there are two problems I have with the piece.

First, the only measure of success Abraham mentions is MCAS scores. I understand why she wants to focus on them, I’ve never heard of such a quick improvement of scores in one year. She reports that proficiency rates doubled. That’s great, but is that your only measure of success? If so, then all I’ve learned about the school is they know how to teach kids test taking skills. I hope there’s more than that.

My second issue is her explanation of some of the reasons behind the turnaround. One is the extended school day, which was allowed by members of the Boston Teachers Union through a waiver of work rules. OK, sometimes teachers take that hit for the betterment of their school. But, that’s not a sustainable solution. You can’t keep asking people to work twice as hard for no compensation. Abraham, however, suggests you not only can, but you should. “The teachers union has fought mightily to avoid adding extra minutes to the school day without compensation. But there are plenty who disagree with that hardline”. Hard line? So, now it’s hard line to demand to be paid for hours worked? Oh, Abraham says “extra minutes” – that’s 90 minutes extra each day, plus 25 extra days each year of professional development work. More than a few minutes.

I love the idea of those professional development days worked in to the teachers’ schedule so they have time to collaborate and develop a mission for the school. And that longer school day allows for more personal attention for each student, for more authentic, long-term projects, and for time for teachers to work together to address concerns and plan for enrichment immediately. All great things.

But, we can’t forget that these people have to make a living. I know too many teachers who take on second jobs to make ends meet. When you ask them to work longer days, and longer years, they can no longer hold those second jobs. You are requiring more work while decreasing their pay.

And I know many teachers who have family obligations they could not meet with a longer day. Now they would have to hire babysitters or home health aides or pay for after school care for their own children, all without an increase in pay to fund it.

Teachers go into the field out of a love of learning and of teaching, out of a vision of doing good with their lives. Still, they accept JOBS, not volunteer positions. We should value the work they do and recognize that they should be compensated when we ask more hours.

Congratulations to UP Academy on your turnaround; I hope the students are now receiving a complete education that both enriches their life lives and prepares them for the next stage.  And thank you to Yvonne Abrahams for spreading the word about their success. Now, recognize the work and pay the teachers for their time.

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