IT TAKES A TEACHER
There is a direct correlation between the educational quality of a school and its working conditions for teachers. Studies have proven, time and again, that unhappy workers produce less than others, get sick more often, and are more apt to burn out. Statistics show that workers in the service professions—police, firefighting, social work and teaching—must deal with higher levels of stress than the rest of the population.
An objective look at the poor performance of students in the United States would definitely show a direct correlation between the worsening of working conditions for teachers, who must deal daily with overcrowding, poor ventilation, decaying buildings, violence and unfair labor practices, to name a few problems. Their stress level on the job can only be compared to that of soldiers in combat. In fact, poor working conditions are the main reason experienced educators abandon the system each year in increasing numbers.
As an immigrant who came to the U.S. in search of the American dream, I worked in a wide variety of jobs to pay my way through college and eventually earn a Master’s Degree in Education. I learned early in life—mainly from immigrant workers—about labor rights. In the process, I acquired first-hand knowledge of the diversity of working conditions and their effects, as well as experienced a broad range of atmospheres, from nurturing to hostile. I saw how these different atmospheres created either happy or miserable workers.
In the 1980’s, general working conditions began to deteriorate so rapidly in this country that the workers were forced to fight for their labor rights. As a journalist, I was part of a union movement and a lawsuit directed at improving working conditions in two Hispanic newspapers. I chose to go back to education —the career I had initially trained for—among other reasons because I believed working conditions were much better in the public school system than they were in any American or Hispanic news room.
While covering the education beat, I found teachers to be extremely tolerant as workers. It took more than abusive working conditions for them to take action. The truth is that the majority of teachers were too busy teaching, grading, preparing lesson plans, researching and helping students outside the classroom to have hardly any time for “luxuries,” such as claiming their rights in the workplace. Schools where teachers were more respected were usually the schools with higher education standards, as well.
As a journalist first and a teacher later, I witnessed a gradual but steady deterioration of working conditions for public school teachers over the last decade. It is no surprise, then, that I have become convinced that deteriorating working conditions and frequent violations of labor and civil rights in public schools have played a decisive part in the deterioration of education in this country.
While education bureaucrats consider a comfortable workplace for educators a luxury, American corporations talk about ergonomics as the key element for successful performance. The business world knows that an overworked employee is more of a hazard than an asset, and a frustrated worker tends to look for scapegoats.
Many countries, including some in the Third World ones, have now surpassed the U. S. in the quality of their education. The reason is simple: they treat their teachers with more respect. A profession that was once revered as a calling is now perceived as servitude in our society. Teachers, who are considered “high class” in the East, are “disposable” in the West. Bureaucracy has turned education into mass production, schools into assembly lines, teachers into laborers.
The lack of respect for teachers reflects the general public’s ignorance of the basic issues and poor sense of priorities. Solutions such as the one offered by New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman—forcing teachers to undergo one hundred and fifty hours of re-training to update a teaching license—or Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s decision to manage the public education system like the New York Police Department—are just part of the pervading ignorance of the real issue. Among leaders, politicians and the media, quantity means quality.
Yet solutions are so simple they are often overlooked. We teachers must first begin to respect ourselves if we want others to respect us. We must start by standing up for our rights to be treated with respect and as professionals.
Only a collective effort coordinated by the UFT and the AFT will salvage the rights gained by our predecessors. And by standing up for our rights, we may be saving the whole public education system.
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK
Chronicles of Tower High
There’s something very peculiar about the way Tom Sycamore, the principal of Tower High runs his school. Some insiders believe the problem is rooted in the man’s administrative deficiencies, inferiority complex and his lifelong resentment towards a teacher who told him he was no college material. Others attribute his eccentric behavior to a secret fantasy. Along with Helga Tobitz, a power hungry woman ashamed of her past, and a cast of looney characters, Sycamore runs this soul breaking school as their own little empire. Enter Amanda Guerrero, a teacher who’s so fascinated with the mechanisms and purpose of education she’s lured back into the classroom every time she attempts to escape it. Using her investigative skills Amanda will soon find answers to her questions, including the ones that have haunted her for years.
The action takes place in an overcrowded, multilingual, multicultural school in New York , where minorities (from Latin America, Asia and Europe ) have become the majority.
A meticulous exam of the turn of the 21 st century