The BTU came to our school again on Monday, and gave another presentation about why we should vote for the new contract.
I like the woman who presented to us. She is a veteran of the system and is obviously passionate about the contract, which she helped negotiate. However, I asked her this question:
"The contract seems like it could have some good things for teachers, but you're asking us to put our faith into a system that none of us have very much faith in. Almost everyone in this room can tell you stories of paperwork lost by North Avenue or certification issues because of gridlock up there. You say there is a contingency plan by the union if North Avenue cannot keep up their end of the contract and that the union can get out of the contract if that is the case. But... who decides if the system is working or not? I've found Ms. English to be unresponsive to my concerns; she hasn't answered the numerous e-mails I've sent her requesting a 12-month contract, for example. BTU didn't hear teachers' concerns about the contract going too swiftly until we voted it down. If my AUs aren't counted expeditiously, when does this 'contingency' plan come into effect? As a veteran of the system, what is giving you this faith in the system?"
Her answer was basically for me to e-mail her if I have problems and to get more involved in the union if I want more responsiveness. Hmmm.
Basically, the way I figure it, the contract will give me a nominal raise. By the old contract, I was going to make $1300 more in each of the next two years. With this contract, my step increases $200 or so, but I get a 1-time signing bonus of $1500 for this year. Next year, I get a $1750 bonus. So, there is a small raise, of around $400 or so from the previous contract. However, I don't believe the few hundred dollars would have been more than a cost-of-living increase on our old contract, so I'm not jumping up and down about it.
There's a chance that I could become a model teacher, but that has still been left so undefined by the revised contract that I feel like wishing for that might be an exercise in futility. But, maybe... that raise is $20,000 or so, so it would be awesome. I wish there was a National Board stipulation in there.
When asked how the system was going to sustain this contract with the rising salaries, her answer was just as vague as any I've heard: "apparently there has been some grant money found," she said, and that was kind of all. When teachers asked her what happens when the grant money runs out, she didn't have any answer. It's all so weird, and disappointing. I want to love this contract, to have faith in it.
All in all, the whole thing is making my head hurt.
Basically, I believe:
1) that I'll be fine with the new contract. I'll make basically the same amount of money and there's a chance this "model teacher" thing could work out. It's not the great, it's not that bad, it's... eh...
2) teachers will be on annoying AU chases and it could very well end up hurting their performance in the classroom. As a teacher who has taken 6 credits at a time during the school year, I know it severaly affects classroom effectiveness.
3) sometimes, however, the AU will make me do things that I normally wouldn't do. For example, I spent a thousand bucks out of pocket to go to NCTE last year. I can't afford it this year, but, perhaps, if I know it will count for 1-2 AUs, I would be willing to do it. That's not in the contract (they can't even define AUs that nominal amount), but everything that I hear is that it will be. Though I don't know who to trust.
4) the new contract could alleviate some of the unfairness I feel about the teachers who do the least work making the most money in our system
5) The new contract seems ripe for the same type of disparity and unfairness that I now see with the simple every-year thing. Maybe more cronyism, though. But there's always going to be that, I guess. One thing that bugs me is that it seems like the teachers who already have low teaching loads are the ones who will be able to rack up AUs easier, because they're not overburdened with 5 classes and 150 students. Imagining how the AU thing will work in my school, for example, kind of makes my head spin.
It all kind of makes my head hurt. And I'm tired of the rhetoric from both sides.
From the pro-contract side, I'm most sick of the whole "the evaluation-being-set-by-performance is coming anyway, from the state" thing. That's, to me, not a big deal. It was a necessary product of Race for the Top. What we're doing here is tying that untested evaluation system to our salary, which is a whole different thing. Teachers have a real right to be concerned. We have known evaluations to be done unfairly. Some of us teach classes that have no easy test to evaluate how the students learn. We get no say in how a school is run (schedule, class size, especially), so we our hands are tied in many ways regarding student performance. So, yes, we're concerned. But the BTU's insistence that this is coming from the state, when it's not, is really grating on me. Evaluation is. Tying evaluation to pay isn't. That's a huge difference. So many teachers don't understand that because the rhetoric from the pro-contract people has been so effective.
From the anti-contract side, I'm tired of the mixed messages. It's so hard to be unified on anything, agreed, when you're against something. It's like the Republicans now. They're being voted into office because they are the Party of No, and now we will really see what they have to offer in terms of actual governance. But the anti-new contract side has so many different stances on the issue that there is no clarity at all. You have the guy (who I really like, actually) who says this is a war contract, a move to standardize national curricula and indoctrinate youth for whatever the government might need. You have the guy who thinks we need a 7% raise over the next two years and that young teachers who want change are the bane of his existence. Then there are others, who just want to hold out because it would set a possibly worrisome precedent. I respect these people, but their message is being muddled, I think.
As for me, it could be a worrisome precedent, but it also could be a good one. The old system was broken. And I'm not worried for myself. I don't buy that this is merit pay that will encourage competition between teachers. Therefore, I'm a probable yes. I wish the contract was better defined, still, but I don't want to keep hearing about this, honestly. I wish we would wait a year seeing how the state develops the evaluation system before we blindly tie it to pay, but it doesn't appear this is happening. It all makes my head hurt. And all I want to do is teach, honestly.
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