Thursday, February 2, 2006

Sample Bill of Rights for Teachers -- Abridgement, 2006 Feb. 1

To:  Randi Weingarten
From:  Arjun Janah, New Action Caucus, UFT
Subject:  Sample Bill of Professional Rights for Teachers (abridged version, 2006.02.01)
Date:  2006, Feb. 1

This document has not yet been fully vetted by NAC-UFT.  It is an abridged version of the 2006, Jan. 11 entry, Sample Bill of Rights for Teachers, in the online journal, The Humble Subject Teacher, at http://subject-teacher.blogspot.com/2006/01/sample-bill-of-rights-for-teachers.html, prepared by Arjun Janah, NAC-UFT, in pursuance of the NAC proposal for a UFT Bill of Rights for each job title.

Preamble

Teachers have the right to be able to do their job properly.  This enables them to succeed, be creative, take pride in their work, and enjoy job-satisfaction. They then feel and act like professionals.
 
Only in this way can they become, and remain, forceful, hopeful advocates for their profession, their colleagues and their wards. Only in this way can they expect to last the thirty years on the job, that it now takes to reach retirement, while remaining encouraged and hopeful about their profession.

At present, increasing numbers of teachers find that they are unable to do their job properly.  This results, often, in undue stress, cynicism, and burnout.  It results in many teachers abandoning their profession. For many of those who remain, this inability results in a lowering of professional and ethical standards, a basic insecurity or diffidence, and an attitude of collective passivity.
 
This in turn often results in acquiescence to misguided or malevolent actions that harm both teachers and students. Teachers who try to do their job properly often run into abuse from miscreant students and adults, and frequently get little or no support from their own colleagues. All of these things contribute to further de-professionalization of our profession.
 
While some are still able to function and even do well, they often can only do so in little niches of their own or others' making. This is not enough. It should be possible for ordinary, sincere teachers to function, and flourish, anywhere in the system, and anywhen.
 
Individually, mostteachers are diligent. Some are still able to succeed, in various ways. Consequently, some teachers still retain strong professional self-esteem. There seems, however, to be an overall lack of collective respect for our own profession and our colleagues. A profession that lacks this -- that does not take collective pride in its work, that does not stand up, collectively, and fight back, when injustice is done, cannot be strong.

There is often no established professional core that sits as an equal partner with local administrators or legislators, makes alliances with those of these who are still sincere, and grounds others to the reality and vitality in the schools. We have not empowered ourselves -- practitioners, working classroom teachers -- to make practical suggestions, and act as a brake on misguided, expensive and destructive fads, whims or crusades.
 
We have thus effectively forfeited our professional rights, as well as our responsibilities, when it comes to the making of educational policy and its implementation. We have left others to do this, and the consequences are everywhere evident.

To rectify this, we suggest that we start doing the following things.

First, turn towards making the classroom a place where teachers can find some job satisfaction, and be happy, in all circumstances.
 
Or, what is the same -- turn towards an optimistic, compassionate, can-do attitude, grounded in reality, and powered by genuine collective pride.

What is the basis for this attitude and this pride? What are some of the difficulties that we can anticipate, and how can we overcome these? Space constraints do not permit a full discussion of this here. But let us take note of some things.

(a) Learning a foreign language, gaining proficiency in writing, becoming adept at mathematics, and many other accomplishments that we take for routine, are, in truth, amazing feats. They involve the effective transfer, over a short period of time, of a tremendous amount of complexity and subtlety, accumulated by our species over many millennia. That this is still proceeding, in what is, too often, an extremely difficult and hostile school environment, is a tribute to the persistent effort and ingenuity of many teachers and students. This remarkable fact should always be borne in mind.

(b) Teaching is a field that is as diverse and rich as life itself. It is also, like homemaking, a job that is taken for granted, and can be as exhausting of physical and mental energy. Thoseof us who are lucky enough to be able to do one-on-one work know both the struggle and the satisfaction of helping children in small ways. These things are frequently undervalued. Those children who are sincere often put their trust in us, but we are frequently prevented from fulfilling our own obligations stemming from the bond that this trust naturally creates.

(c) It will take many years to undo the damage done by decades of neglect and top-down fixes to the school system alone. We are powerless, moreover, to directly influence pathologies prevalent in the society at large. These have their own tangled roots.  But things will not get better by themselves. Judging from past experience and present trends, they will only get worse.

(d) Experience also shows, however, that thoughtful, directed effort usually results in some progress in the direction chosen. And if this effort is a collective one, minor miracles can be wrought.
 
(e) To sustain this positive attitude despite the obstacles we face, we must be able, periodically, to taste of real success. We mean the quiet happiness that we teachers get when we find that our students have worked, learned and grown -- helped, hopefully, by our guidance and our supportive effort.
 
From this, it follows that we must work, first, towards creating conditions that optimize the chances for achieving these small, quiet but meaningful successes. The classroom -- any classroom, in any school -- should be where teachers want to be, where they can find some happiness, even some joy.
 
This happiness is necessary, not only for the teachers, but for their students, their colleagues and their families. Teachers who are unhappy in their classrooms cannot really continue, for long, to give of themselves. They cannot stand up to those who have fled the classroom into positions of power over working teachers, and have no real long-term interest in making things better, for teachers and students, in the classroom. Nor, at the end of the working day or week, can they function, in other spheres, as effectively as those who can enjoy, and are energized by, the basic joy of teaching.

Without this, we cannot prevail. With this, we can and will.
 
Second, turn away from a collective state of denial or avoidance, and face up to the truly hard problems.  We have collectively avoided these for too long, while allowing ourselves to be distracted with minor issues. We need to examine these hard problems, formulate solutions, and begin to implement these solutions, carefully and collectively -- supporting one another.


Third, establish certain professional rights. These, if implemented, would enable teachers to be much more effective.
 
The drawing up of these rights is a vitally important step in shifting from a defensive position, where we must constantly react to others' agendas, to a pro-active one, where we have an affirmative educational agenda of our own, with common long-term goals that we believe in. This will give us direction, and will help to keep things in perspective.
 
Fourth, systematically raise awareness, both among teachers themselves, and among the public, of the importance of facing up to the hard problems collectively, and of working towards the full implementation of these professional rights.
 
Fifth, create robust feed-back structures and viable media outlets that allow classroom teachers and others to provide, both within and outside the educational system, direct, unfiltered reportage about conditions in the classroom -- and thus to influence and modify, in a relatively rapid fashion, the formulation and implementation of educational policies.

At present, these feedback structures are absent or dysfunctional. Also, much of the media do not accurately portray the situation in our schools. They perpetrate clich├ęs, seek after sensationalism, and are quick to find scapegoats for the system's ills -- teachers being most convenient for this purpose.
 
Much of this is not surprising, given the ownership of the media. What is alarming, however, is the inability of working men and women to find common cause, pool resources, and finance commercially viable media outlets to systematically counter this continuous propaganda. It is the unions, with their considerable resources, who could best pull this off.
 
Truth will out. It is better that we do the "outing", in our way, than others, who bear us ill will, in their way. We reallyhave no option if we seek to survive as a respected profession.

Sixth, establish, at each educational level, from schools up to state and federal boards, a core of experienced, independent, term-limited, working professionals -- an experienced and dedicated core that can guide the operation of the business of education -- our business, our profession -- as an equal partner with those who now make the decisions for us.

Below, we make an attempt at starting on the third of the six tasks listed above.
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Sample Bill of Educational and Professional Rights for Teachers

Teachers have the right to be able to do their job properly. For this, they need to:

1) be treated as human beings, and as professionals worthy of respect for their knowledge, experience and dedication;

2) work in a safe environment, free from fear of physical harm, verbal abuse, intimidation and psychological stress;

3) have an instructional environment conducive to study and attention -- free from noise and other distractions; with students who persist in disruption being removed and sincerely counseled, w/o exception; this being especially necessary in classes where students need peace and quiet -- either to achieve deep focus or to obtain full individual attention;
     
4) exercise individual professional freedom, especially regarding methodology, and collective professional influence, especially regarding content; and, in particular:

(a) be involved, when experienced, in the formulation of curricula; and be assured that functioning feedback and correction structures are in places, to elicit, and rapidly act on, the unfiltered, confidential input of active classroom teachers, during both the planning and the implementation of educational policies;

(b) be free from micromanagement, while working towards a small set of reasonable, objective, collectively agreed upon, long-term instructional goals;
 
(c) in particular, be free to choose the methods, including time-tested ones, as well as others of their own or others’ creation, that they deem appropriate – free fromcriticism, except within the context of the chosen method, or, at year’s end, through failure to meet the set of goals alluded to in (4b);

5) have clearly stated sequential requirements for students entering standard classes, with these prerequisites being publicly available on Department of Education publications and web-sites, and followed in letter and spirit during programming of students in the schools;

6) expect that students entering high schools have ongoing counseling towards setting realistic goals for themselves, based on which they choose, around 9th or 10th grade, streams which lead towards these goals, so that students know, at high school level, their purpose in taking a class, and therefore feel more motivated;
 
7) teach in their license/certification areas, with classes being assigned based on teacher request, license/certification, seniority and rotation;

8) have the time needed to teach the subject in a thorough and systematic fashion, paced so as to enable their students to assimilate, practice, master and apply the skills and knowledge pertinent to the subject and level; and to have time also, within the curriculum, to experiment in a creative way, drawing on one's own strengths and those of one's students, institution and environment;

9) have strict limitations on workloads, which ensure that:
 
  a)  students can receive the attention that is their due, both in the classroom, and with regard to grading and correction of their written work;

  b) teachers have time, at work, to interact with and learn from colleagues, as well as time, at home, to learn, reflect, and fulfill family and health obligations;

  c) and, in particular, spend no more than three hours a day, at most, outside class teaching hours, in preparation and grading work;
 
10 a)  have, at least two weeks prior tothe start of the term, a detailed D.O.E. curriculum for each of their classes, plus a textbook and review book whose topic coverage and level correspond to the curriculum ; along with, for beginning teachers, a set of sample lesson plans covering the first two weeks of the term;
 
10 b) with exceptions to this requirement (10a) being allowed for non-standard classes offered at the teacher's initiative, for which he/she should be granted either a term’s worth of professional period time in which to draw up the detailed syllabus for the proposed offering, or be granted an equivalent amount of per-session hours for this purpose;

11) have access, both during their regular class hours, and for at least an hour before and two hours after these, to basic office facilities -- including, outside the classroom, a desk, filing cabinet and locker, a computer with Internet access and printer, paper supplies, and both high quality, low volume as well as mass (high volume) duplicating machines for preparation of classroom handout sheets and overhead transparencies;
 
12) have access in the classroom or other instructional area, to instructional materials appropriate to the subject and level of their classes;  including, for academic classrooms, a class set of appropriate  books, a  projector and screen, and  a computer with internet access;

13) have, ready at the start of the term, for distribution to students, student materials appropriate to the subject and level, including especially textbooks and review books for home study;

14) be consulted on decisions and policies that affect the education of their own students, and have voting rights that ensure meaningful participation in such decisions and policies;
 
15) be thought of as valuable long-term resources, whose educational, work, life and cultural experience can be utilized for the benefit of students and staff, not only through the standard sequential classes, but also, at the teacher's initiative, through offerings tailored to this experience; and to be regularly granted not only educational but also work or experience sabbaticals, with pay adjusted for outside compensation, through which they can bring back new skills and other experience from the rapidly changing world that can enrich the institution and benefit the students;

16) expect that their colleagues will realize that these rights can be won only through the exercise of individual humility, collective pride and patient, united, effort; and can be retained only through vigilance against their erosion, and through fulfillment of the professional responsibilities and fraternal duties that accompany and safeguard these rights.

 

Abridged, 2006 Feb 1, from the “Sample Bill of Rights for Teachers”, prepared 2006 Jan 11 by Arjun Janah < sjanah@aol.com >, in pursuance of the proposal, by the New Action Caucus of the UFT,  for a Bill of Rights for each job title of our UFT members.
 
This is a sample document, which has not yet been fully vetted by NAC-UFT. Updates, and full version, are available at:
http://subject-teacher.blogspot.com/2006/01/sample-bill-of-rights-for-teachers.html

(Note hyphens. No spaces.)