That was my though as I read an email from my child’s school yesterday in which I learned that
“The teachers at [my kid’s school], as part of our action to bring attention to our working conditions and your child’s learning conditions, will not be doing report cardcomments this trimester.”
After a rantful post on Facebook, I though I’d take more time and thought to articulate my concern, frustration and deep feeling of disrespect by this Teachers’ Union tactic to bust the School District’s power and their articulated desire to enlighten me as a parent to their vocational plight. In response to the letter I thought that I would think through and compose my own letter of response in the hope of enlightening the OEA about my experience and reaction to work-to-rule as a collective bargaining tactic.
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Dear OEA and OUSD,
Today you have lost me as a active supporter and a parent partner. I am at a complete and utter loss at why teachers would think that not filling out the comments sections on elementary students’ report cards would be helpful in deepening a partnership relationship of trust and solidarity with parents.
I write this open letter with passionate trepidation, with circumspect anger, feeling deeply disrespected and apathy-inducing frustration. I have had a child in OUSD schools for the past 10 + years. I have marched in numerous marches, with and without my children, to speak for better treatment of teachers and to keep the particular schools open. I have happily given significant money (at least for my family) to fund the PTA at my school which funded in-class help as well as supplemental teaching of the arts and computers. I have volunteered on average of over 100 hours a year in the classroom, with the PTA running fundraisers and creating them, emceeing the school Auction, soliciting auction donations, at the Dad’s Club, at garden days as well as a PTA Executive Board member for multiple years. I am part of the choir to which you do not need to preach.
I didn’t do those things – or continue to do them (I’m the class parent this year) to get something for me or my kid, or to find leverage with the faculty. I did it because of my faith which compels me to serve others, to love my neighbor and to work for the good of all people – and because I believe that if I’m doing good for other kids then that good will return to my own family, with other parents volunteering in and around the school. I am an anglo middle class native Californian Generation Xer who comes from privilege, but who humbly seeks not to be entitled.
Teachers should be paid more.
OUSD Teachers aren’t paid near enough.
The typical salary for a Oakland Unified School District Oakland Teacher ranges from $37,462-$69,835, with an average salary of $49,296. (LINK to OUSD Salary Comparisons) The median household income (according to the lastest census is $52,583 ) The California Poverty Measuer (CPM) in Oakland (Alameda County) is $31,701. [LINK to SF Gate Article] We are basically entrusting the future of our city and society to people who either 1) have a partner who makes enough to justify the near-poverty level income that beginning teachers make; or 2) are independently wealthy from trust-funds or other investments; 3) are willing to live at or near the poverty level for the good of society; of 4) have no other options. It’s obviously insane. because there are not enough students and families in Oakland’s public schools. I love coffee. I don’t love Starbucks. And I in no way want to belittle or reduce the importance of those who work at Starbucks. But to put things into perspective an assistant manager of a Starbucks can expect to make at least $36,918 a year (roughly the same as a teacher) [LINK to Starbuck’s Salary Breakdowns]. We are treating those we entrust with our children and those we ask for coffee with the same financial compensation, and potentially the same societal respect.
I am actively in agreement with the need to raise teacher salaries to appropriate and much higher levels. I bought a latte yesterday at a café I go to for a monthly meeting. Only after sitting down and counting my change, did I realize that the price for a latte had risen to $4. This was because now tips and service are included in the price of all of the goods at the restaurant/café to which I’d gone. While that’s not the end of the world, and completely contextualized by my privileged life. $4 for a coffee is painful. And it’s something I only do two or three times a month. And I’m happy to pay that exorbitant amount for a coffee that costs roughly 25¢, so that the people who serve me are being paid appropriately and treated with respect.
The café – and several food establishments I’ve been in for work-related gatherings recently – posted an explanation of why they were raising prices. I could have gone elsewhere. I choose not to. Now it’s not a direct comparison to the work-to-rule approach adopted and endorsed by the OEA, and yet….
I’m all for collective bargaining. My inner Christian marxist, social activist and pacifist non-conformist believes in the power of people to correct, reform and topple tyrannical systems and governments. And yet the conference between the means and the ends of an action can’t be ignored. The tactics being undertaken by the faculty of my school (and maybe yours) seems to be encouraged and mapped out by the OEA. This tactic of work-to-rule is intended to evoke and enlighten others of the work time and financial boundaries that are crossed by teachers each day to promote education. For that I’m grateful. And to be fair, most people working these days have to work more than they are paid if they desire to keep their job. I myself work in a field in which the average part-time pastor can expect to work 35-40 hours a week. Our democracy is progressively becoming more of an corporate oligarchy advanced under the banners of open-markets, competition and deregulation so that we can better “compete” in the ever-changing 21st century world. Is that a justifiable reason for such societal-wide abuse? No.
But this latest tactic of OEA, following the mass departure of the faculty of my school in a visible – and possibly destablizing way for children – from campus at 3:01pm, is neither helpful nor respectful. I’m told that for a school to work well, for a child to be educated, it takes a village, it takes care-givers who follow up at home, and who volunteer to make the impossible that our public school teachers are doing (my kid is in a class with 1 teacher and 31 kids) a bit easier. However, using report cards and related comments as a bully-pulpit to force parental action is not only passive aggressive, but also disrespectful. It feels as if you’re holding a gun to my head. No. Actually it feels like you’re holding a gun to my child’s head.
My wife is a teacher. I watch her spend numerous hours on report card comments. They are tedious, time-consuming and also can be radically enlightening to concerned parents involved the partnership that is education. While this is extra work, for which I’m always grateful. It’s also a value-added activity. It’s like the cherry-on-top of the quarter’s academic and social work. It’s a window for parents to get a wider glance and grasp of what and how they’re child is doing. Not doing the comments inflicts no pain on the district, the school board or the superintendent. Rather it only hurts the students – in both the short and the long-term.
This isn’t collective bargaining, or collection action. It’s collective hostage-taking. It would be a superfluous stretch to compare this action to the action of ISIS which threatens and hurts Muslims in the hope of getting Muslim action and participation. If I go back to my salary schedule comparison with Starbucks, the analogy that best fits how I feel in this is the following. It’s like a barista making me a coffee and then spitting in it in front of me, right before handing it to me, and then asking me to help him fight for better work-place rights.
If the teachers want to force collective bargaining, strike. I will support you. I have supported you for many years, in concrete ways. I will use my professional skills and resources to provide for children who need a place to go during the day while you strike. Take a stand. Risk your jobs. I will fight with you. But don’t treat me and my family like a piñata, hitting us over and over with your tactics of working-to-the-rule, bleeding us to death.
If it takes the acceptance of teacher reviews for higher salaries, then by all means embrace and shape them. My children have had teachers that had no place being in a school room setting. Negotiate to obtain re-training for out-of-date teachers, extra-trainging for inadequate teachers and redirection for those who shouldn’t be working with children.
Why not negotiate to ask for higher pay today, and to forgo the full-salary retirement packages that some teachers receive after working a highly-laudable, all-to-unrecognized-in-our-society, life-long career as a teacher.
What about newer teacher that need more time to do what experienced teachers can do quickly? What message does work-to-rule communicate to them as new members of your “team”? I assert that work-to-rule is forcing newer teacher to go into the closet, to hide their preparation work, thus impacting the enlightening relationships between staff and with parents that you aim to foster.
In the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth said: “those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52] I can’t help but wonder if this logical observation about consequential curses will apply to the ongoing tactics of OEA to mobilize parental involvement through passive aggressive threats and relationship-destroying tactics. This approach is aiming to co-opt and use the voice of Oakland families. But it’s far from seeking to help families and parents find their voice.
I was at a parent-education event for my other child, who attends a private school for which we use the majority of our families’ disposable income to pay. The lecture was all about encouraging and empowering parent-teacher partnership both in and out of the classroom. The objective was to enlighten parent to the difficulty of teaching and the community-wide responsibility for education. The focus was on respect, dialogue, realistic expectations of teachers, and parents accepting their unavoidable active parental role in education. The focus of that partnership is to create, nurture and establish agency in the child. In my experience of the ongoing and deepening tactics of work-to-rule by the OEA in OUSD, the focus is on anything but creating agency in our school-aged children.
I suspect that OEA encouraging teachers to not work in response to family expectations will only exacerbate the situation of flight from Oakland public schools by families who feel short changed and want more for their kids. This will in turn further the downward spiral of declining attendance and shrinking income pools, which result – in part – in the OUSD salaries which are lower than all surrounding school districts. The work-to-rule strategy and tactic of not doing report card comments has directly led to my discontinued support of OEA. I will actively support the teachers of my children with all of my resources. But I will no longer support or listen to the voice of the OEA.
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Below is a copy of the letter that I received from the faculty of the school my child attends. It’s what started this letter. I’ve redacted the letter, removing the name of the school.
Dear [OUSD Elementary School] Families,
The past several weeks of work-to-rule have been both difficult and enlightening. Parents as well as teachers have become more aware of how much time we put into our work in order to ensure the best possible outcomes for our students. In our efforts to stay true to our work-to-rule action and at the same time stay true to our students, we have had to make some tough decisions as we re-prioritize the way we spend our working hours.
One thing that illustrates this is report card comments. We do them because they are a powerful form of communication with families as well as the child’s future teachers. They convey information about each individual child that a four-point rubric could never accurately reflect, and as such they have become an important part of our school’s culture. However, while detailed report card comments are expected, they are not required. OUSD does not provide us time within our workday to do them. We do them on our own time. This is one of many examples of how our compensation does not reflect what is fair for professionals with post graduate certification and for the amount of responsibility we carry. Every year, we are expected to do more without this being reflected in increased compensation, and we need to draw the line somewhere. In addition, OUSD is trying to force through union-busting reforms in this round of bargaining—reforms that have absolutely no link to successful schools, but are rather the dream of conservative education privatizers.
The amount of time that the comment section of the report card takes varies, but five hours is a very conservative estimate. This is on top of entering all the number grades on the report cards which takes hours, as well end of semester grading which takes hours as well.
The teachers at OUSD Elementary School, as part of our action to bring attention to our working conditions and your child’s learning conditions, will not be doing report cardcomments this trimester. Going against community and employer expectations, as well as our own best practices, is deeply uncomfortable. Please support us as we take the long view for the future of OUSD. If there is a specific concern, this will be addressed at parent conferences this week.
Although in the short term, it can be painful, families and our community deserve what students in other districts receive: experienced, effective teachers who are paid enough to sustain a living in the community in which they teach.
The OUSD Elementary School Faculty
Undoubtedly you have a response knee-jerk, violent or civil to my words. Rather than talking with me, as I am quite decided in the position I’ve thought myself to. Add add your voice to this conversation by contacting either:
Mrs. Trish Gorham, President
Oakland Education Association – OEA
272 East 12th Street Oakland, CA 94606
Antwan Wilson, Superintendent
Oakland Unified School District
1000 Broadway Suite 680
Oakland, CA 94607