Uncertainty is the only certainty…

24 02 2010

At a certain school in a certain town in a certain state a certain school board has made a certain decision that will leave the students with a very uncertain future.  The school is Central Falls High, the town is Central Falls and the state is Rhode Island.  The decision is to terminate the jobs of every teacher at the school.  It isn’t immediate, it goes into effect at the start of the next school year.  

The school superintendent, Frances Gallo, has a motto much like that of any other superintendent across the globe – Integrity, Transparency, and Trust.  She states in an address to the families of her 800 high school students “You are the reason we are here. The children of Central Falls are the precious gifts this world needs for peace and prosperity. We know that our children are our future. You and I must work together to demonstrate to the state that our children are bright and eager learners who can read and discuss, problem solve and experiment.” So one must wonder, with so much determination and purpose, how is it that this school has failed to a point that this superintendent has chosen to fire all of the teachers?  And how is that decision better than the alternative – allowing the students to have teachers?

In the defense of the decision makers, I did some research on their claim that the school is failing and the blame rests on the shoulders of the teachers and it’s true, the scores are staggeringly low.  These scores are from the RI Department of Education, based on test scores from the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program).  Graduation rates for this school stands at 47.7%.  So the determination that this is a failing school is obvious – and without argument.  But where does the blame lie?

I argue that it does not fit solely on the shoulders of the high school teachers, these 800 some students didn’t arrive at the high school fully versed and educated and then somehow these 74 teachers managed to make them unlearn what they knew.  It seems clear to me that this problem began in the elementary and middle school grades and was laid at the feet of the high school staff to fix what these other teachers had passed on for years.  Whatever happened to holding a child back a grade level when they don’t comprehend the minimum basics of the class?  It appears to me that rather than be stuck with these children for another year, their teachers chose to hand them off to be someone else’s problem and burden.

The superintendent demanded that the teacher’s union agree to teachers making themselves available an hour before or after school for tutoring, increase the length of the school day by 25 minutes, stay after school for 90 minutes extra one day a week to analyze scores and develop means to improve teaching methods, and eat lunch with students at least one day a week to improve student – teacher relationships.  And attend a paid two week developmental course over the summer at a rate of $30/hr.  While I am not sure if Ms. Smith eating mooshy pasta and mystery meat meatballs once a week with Jack and Jill will improve their grades, everything else seems to be a great starting point on cleaning up the mess left behind by teachers in the lower grades.  The teacher’s union though, rejected the offer because the pay wasn’t enough.

Pardon me, perhaps I am out of touch as I am not a teacher and never could be.  I wanted to be one, but I don’t deal well with kids I can’t spank.  My dream job would be a history teacher at a military school or Catholic school, where corporal punishment isn’t frowned upon.  But I digress.  I always believed that the reason teachers became teachers wasn’t out of a belief they would become rich, but rather they would enrich the future generations.  I thought it was common knowledge that teachers aren’t adequately compensated financially for their efforts.  And while that is certainly an issue, these people knew that issue up front, before they chose to invest in learning to teach.  Why now when their students, of whom 96% come from economically subpar families, would these teachers decide to turn their backs on the children who need them most due to a lack of sufficient overtime pay for their efforts?  As a side note, the average household annual income for residents in this town as of 2008 was $28,000; the average teacher salary for teachers at this school as of 2008 was $74,000 (per Providence Journal).

I can’t say that I agree much with the superintendent’s decision to remove the teachers entirely and give these children zero hope though either.  While the teachers might not be agreeable to doing more for the same money, certainly what they are doing now is better than nothing at all.  This is evidenced by the increase of scores in one school year.  The student teacher ration sits at 12 to 1, which is far better than most public schools across the nation.  But if she wanted to begin waving a hatchet about, perhaps she should have started where the problem began and work her way up.

Ultimately, I believe the problem boils down to teachers passing on their problems to another person to deal with coupled with parents failing to be involved enough in their children’s educations to realize and intervene.  I was one of those parents once.  Once.  My youngest daughter was in kindergarten.  Her teacher met with me in October, shortly after the start of the school year and she told me that my daughter had ADHD and needed Ritalin.  I knew only enough about ADHD to know my daughter didn’t show the normal signs of it and that a lot of children were improperly diagnosed with this disorder.  I asked her why she thought this and she told me that Kayla was easily distracted, chatted with friends and spent a good deal of her time colouring and drawing instead of listening and paying attention.  It was kindergarten though and she does have a very effervescent personality.  While I had found she was easily distracted at home when we worked on reading, she quickly regained interest after being re-directed.  So I refused to take her in for a diagnosis and I told the teacher as such.

Over the next few months, she improved.  She would bring home A’s and her papers always were marked with a smiley face.  And as I was pre-occupied with my life, I didn’t pay attention except to offer a yay!  In May, my life slowed down a bit and I finally caught back up with our old habits of reading together and me actually paying attention instead of merely telling her to read a book to me.  As she began reading the book, one of my favourite – The Lorax – I noticed it wasn’t right.  I sat down and began pointing to words on the page and she would only guess.  After taking out the stacks of papers with smileys she had brought home, I began to notice her obvious mistakes and wrong answers were being checked off as correct.

I went to the teacher, the same one who had mentally diagnosed my daughter as having ADHD, and I confronted her about the grades.  She told me that it was all she could do because obviously with Kayla’s condition she would never actually do better.  I went to the principal and demanded action and a new teacher.  There was little he could do he said, it was too close to the end of the year.  Then hold her back again.  He said I would need her current teacher’s approval, which she refused to give.

At the start of her first grade year, she was blessed with a lovely teacher, Mrs. Heritage, who came in early and stayed late to work closely with Kayla.  Mrs. Heritage would work with her in the morning to prep her for the day’s assignments and then at the end of the day work with her on her homework.  By the end of the year, she officially passed the class.  But she struggled.  A lot.  Her teacher and I sat with her many times as she cried at the frustration of the overload we were pushing on her.  In the end, despite her passing the grade, I chose to hold her back.  I wanted these skills to be natural, not crammed into her head hours before a test.  And I am so glad I did.  I’ve not once regretted it and she now is often an honour roll student, she is a member of the National Honour Society, has won awards for her academics and she hasn’t lost that bubbly happiness along the way.

I owe a lot of thanks to that teacher and I am glad that she never asked for additional pay for the early morning hour tutoring and late nights and summers and calls to her house for help.  I wish Central Falls High School 74 Mrs. Heritage’s to replace the money hungry teachers they fired.




5 responses

24 02 2010
Marcille Wallis

This is a tough one for me, as a former teacher, to respond to! Certainly anyone who goes into the teaching profession knows that the pay isn’t adequate, when compared to the pay in professions requiring similar educational background. But I shuddered when I read the number of hours that were to be tacked onto the normal day — it’s not so much about the pay, but the feeling that your time is undervalued, that was probably the “sticking” point in the minds of a lot of those teachers.

So many of my colleagues had taken second jobs to supplement their incomes — to require extra hours would take that option away for them.

For my own self, teaching dominated my waking hours. I went to school and put in the regular school day, stayed after whenever I could if a student needed extra help or just to talk, then went home to grade papers, write lesson plans, etc. My friends were mostly people in the profession — even when we went to parties on the weekend, guess what we talked about?

I think the one lunch per week seems like a grand plan! I can certainly see how it might improve the climate in the school. However, that precious 22 minutes is often the only time in the workday when you can speak to someone in your own age group! Stay-at-home moms go crazy, with only their kids to talk to. I used to think that I had some insight into that craziness, since the only people I really talked to during my workday were 15-year-olds. And 30-35 (often more) of them at a time, I might add!

Another issue that I just realized: the union would have been unable to approve the scheme because secondary teachers were the only ones to have the additional hours tacked onto their day. That would be most unfair — they would not be able to offer them more pay, nor would they be able to ask them to work more hours.

Ah, I wish I had the answers! But I know full well that if I were a teacher at Central Falls High, I’d be seeking employment elsewhere. Call it money hungry if you will, but …

20 05 2010

Just to update, much of the staff was rehired recently.

24 02 2010

I have a lot of respect for teachers, and in re-reading my post I think I came across as rather damning of them, and I’m not. My damnation opinion of teachers is only in regards to the demands for more money by these teachers who already have a significant compensation. I don’t know about other areas, but I looked up Lee County and the pay grade starts in the 30k range and goes up from there. These teachers have the lowest paid teacher at 72k.
I can understand part of where you are coming from Marcille, if there was a need to supplement incomes and such. But these folks are earning more than 3 times the annual income for the town residents! The town is 1 square mile in size, the average income is 28k and the lowest paid teacher is earning 72k, they said the rate of pay is $90/hr. Plus for their extra time they’d earn an additional $30/hr on top of that base rate. To me, that’s astronomical income and to demand more than the $30/hr for the overtime of 25 more minutes in the work day, plus an additional 90 minutes a week, plus an additional 120 minutes one day a week- that’s 335 more minutes a week total – almost 6 hrs more a week at a rate of $30/hr. No moonlighting job is going to pay them that well!
I do agree though that it is unfair to only demand more of the high school teachers. I think they should have started at the bottom and worked their way up. I couldn’t find test results or statistics for the lower level grades, but certainly there are some – if even just under the no child left behind act testing. They need to locate the drop off point, at what point are these kids not meeting the standards – and focus on those teachers. The superintendent seems fixated on looking at the teachers at the graduation level and saying they need to fix the problem they’ve created – but these kids came to them with this lack of education. They need to go to the source of the problem and start there.

21 05 2010

Hi Everybody…

The teachers were hired back so I don’t see the big deal here. If you lived there you would see what these students grow up to be and why they had to do something.

1 06 2010

I dont know that hiring them back was right but they got bullyed into it I guess

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