Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tenure, crowds and absent teachers: A roundup

This week has been so busy that I'm spilling into the weekend to catch up:

* Financial planner and insurance agent Dennis Carlson says he proctored state exams at a high school and was struck by the confusion over the Senate's proposed pay plan,  which asks teachers to trade tenure for raises.  He wrote this blog post calculating the value of what teachers are getting in return for surrendering their job protection,  ranging from $18,900 for a teacher with 25 years' experience to $130,500 for a five-year teacher.

* Bolyn McClung,  a regular at Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meetings,  warns that anyone planning to attend Wednesday's public hearing on the Mecklenburg County budget had better line up early to get through the Government Center's security screening.

"Each person now takes about 30 seconds,"  McClung wrote in an email to county commissioners and media. "An example of the zealousness is that the next person in line cannot go through the metal detector until the first person’s personal possessions in the little white basket have been meticulously inspected.  Big purses, of which there surely will be a lot, are going to be an issue."

He's right.  The line was long and slow at the school board's public hearing,  and I barely squeezed in to cover the meeting.  The screeners have been known to unzip the change compartment on my wallet and peer at my pennies,  so be prepared and don't bring pocket knives or anything else that resembles a weapon.

* Finally, retired educator and substitute teacher Jim Thomas sent these thoughts after reading about a study on teacher absences (I've edited for length):

Part of the problem is teachers take "mental health days" at will. Teachers who know they won't be back the next year start taking their "sick leave" and personal leave days, some to hunt for a new job.  First, Fridays seemed to be the day of choice. Then Mondays became popular.

Many times there are not enough subs. Teachers have to cover the absent teachers using their planning periods.  My wife, a high school teacher, went many weeks without having a planning period.  I have to admit that there are legitimate reasons for being out of school, like jury duty,  sickness,  child sickness and other things that can't be done during the school day.  But when teachers take a day off to have their dog groomed,  due to a hangover, get their nails done, or go to the beach, that hurts the entire educational process.  Veteran teachers who are conscientious can tell when a person isn't coming back to teach the next year before it's announced.   And, of course, the high absenteeism hurts school morale.

Teachers are tired and overwhelmed by unnecessary paperwork, regulations, and countless meetings.  Teachers are blamed for students' lack of performance.  Student behavior is considered the teacher's fault and not the student or his family.  In other words, the absenteeism is a symptom of a much bigger societal problem and the best scapegoat is the teacher.

One doesn't need a blue-ribbon report to tell what the problems in schools are.  I don't know many occupations where blame is so personal to a specific position like a teacher.  Policeman and fireman are often said to have stressful jobs but they aren't blamed for starting the fires or causing criminal activities.  It's only natural to cope the only way one can and that is sometimes get away from it.  


Anonymous said...

One of the main problems causing teacher absences is tenure. Teachers can sit out 3 or 4 weeks a year and they know there's nothing the principal can do about it. Absences breed more absences. When Teacher A is working away at teaching classes and Teacher B down the hall is continually absent, Teacher A starts to notice. Soon Teacher A feels cheated and starts taking some more personal days.

There's not much the principal can do about this because it's nearly impossible to fire or reprimand Teacher A or B. The principals essentially work for the teachers and not the other way around. Teachers can get an unpopular principal fired or demoted. It takes an act of congress to get a tenured teacher fired.

The schools spend millions each year on substitute teachers. Yes, teachers often have stressful jobs, but who doesn't? Police? A stressful job isn't a good excuse for lots of days off, especially when school is in session for less than half the year.

Anonymous said...

" Student behavior is considered the teacher's fault and not the student or his family. In other words, the absenteeism is a symptom of a much bigger societal problem and the best scapegoat is the teacher."

And yet today we read in the paper that that a new study shows that "race and gender affect discipline" in CMS. Administrators, principals and assistant principals will have to complete a two-day professional development seminar called “Dismantling Racism” – which challenges how race, gender and disabilities factor into student disciplinary action. I'm sure this is all going to require more paperwork and more tip toeing around the issues of why some students succeed and some don't. How much more can teachers (and students who are well behaved) take?

Anonymous said...

Dennis, don't forget that according to the senate bill what the legislature giveth this year they make taketh the next...and no one would be able to do anything about it.

Anonymous said...

10am what you are saying is patently, absolutely and completely FALSE.

All career status (no tenure in NC for schoolteachers) provides is DUE PROCESS, so teachers can not be fired on a whim, but rather through accumulated evidence and documentation.

A teacher may not take such time off as you explain without consequences. It is silly and irresponsible to make such utterly baseless claims.

You what it takes to get a teacher fired, other than stealing money, sex, or endangering a child (which will all, and should all, be grounds for immediate termination ONCE PROVEN GUILTY)? An administrator to DO HER JOB and document the issues.

Or do we simply stereotype each teacher and go with the "guilty until proven innocent" credo? "Those teachers, they have it easy...blah blah blah"

You know, there are real problems in this country, and teachers just aren't one of them to the extent portrayed.

So stop drinking the Koolaid. And stop speaking about what you do not understand.

Anonymous said...

Having worked with Mr. Thomas, I found him to be a thoughtful and conscientious substitute. I appreciate his concerns about absenteeism but would suggest his critique is off the mark. As a teacher, I did not take a sick day for years. Despite that achievement, I was NEVER once thanked for 100% attendance or stepping up countless times to cover other teacher's classes. I was also not thanked a single time at my current assignment when my students consistently posted some of the highest scores in the district year after year. Nor was I alone... I approached my principal to suggest compliments cost nothing but can make the difference to a weary staff in a cash-strapped district. They go a long way towards let good teachers know their work is appreciated. Nothing changed. And interestingly, beyond a subjective Teacher of the Year award given out on to a single teacher at each school, CMS makes no attempt to tell its highest performing teachers they have done a good job. Not even an e-mail or card to its best employees.
In order to find a different position within the district, I had to miss several days in order to attend interviews. Mr. Thomas covered one of my classes. Even if I hadn't gone for an interview, I had every right to take a day off, personal or otherwise if the time was mine. And Mr. Thomas, it was mine. And for the record, my students will likely finish in the top tier of all students taking their tests, again.

Given that teachers have lost about 10% of their purchasing power over the past 5 year and receive precious little positive feedback regardless of their students performance, I can understand the feeling that our work is unimportant.
Lastly, with regard to the study on absenteeism, I would like to see a better correlation between absenteeism versus teacher effectiveness before I start throwing stones. It may be there, but I wouldn't consider it a top problem... we have far too many other irons in the fire for that.

Anonymous said...

Why dont you take the $1,500 ABC bonus money you promised me 6 years ago and stick it in your democratic and republican pay for performance black hole bag of tricks.

One gimmick after another. See all you suckers later. I am off to Virginia with a $15,000 raise that is not debateable.

Take our schools back said...

10:03, students and their families are not taking it anymore. Why do you think there is a loud cry to Raleigh for more and more charter schools? And with Ann's racial breakdown report, the white population in the schools is about to under 30%. So much different than the county population.

But Jim Thomas, you are so very correct. Teachers are the easiest to "throw under the bus". It is always the teacher's fault if little Shakeem, had no supper or no sleep due to the noise in the house or the street all night.

Teachers, educrats use you like Heath is doing a bangup job doing. Democrats have used you for decades, freezing your pay, reducing benefits. Many of you have too short of a memory to know how Bev and Mike E raided the education lottery. The current occupants of the government never got any conversation, just hollering from you and Rev Barber. They hear form their supporters that kids are coming out of high school unable to be trained, unable to read, unable to make change, no people skills, etc. They have almost thrown up their hands over public education because Washington has such a strangle hold on the everyday operation of the schools along with the race hustlers, the community organizers, the hand wringing liberals, etc.

Bev forced us into Common Core but Washington dangled money in front of her and she just rolled over and said thank you. Everytime Washington dangles money in front of state democrats, they just go off the deep end and lose all bit rational thinking.

Anonymous said...

Dennis Carlson used to teach and coach. He is one of many that has left. Tenure is a joke. It is a basic due process right. This is not like New York, Chicago or LA. Principals have already said that career status is not an issue. 10:00am, stop watching national news and keep your eye on NC. I am not surprised teachers are skeptical of the senate's plan. After last summers performance. who wouldn't be? In Reno NV, Heath Morrison fought against Tenure. Union Leaders and progressive writers spoke out against him. NV has real Tenure. It takes and act of congress to fire a teacher. NC does not have this issue. You are fighting shadows people. Career Status teachers can be fired. The problem with NC is teachers leaving. Not staying.




Anonymous said...

The biggest cause for absences in our schools is stress. Teachers have had more and more heaped upon them from year to year and most are at the breaking point. The results are teachers taking days off to preserve their sanity or teachers leaving the profession entirely. Tenure has nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

As a tenured teacher, the last thing I think about when I am absent is that "I have tenure and the principal can't do a thing about it." That is a lie. The principal most certainly can dismiss me if I am failing to do my job. But if my request for absence says "sick child" or "sick parent" what is a principal to do? Are teachers not allowed to be sick or care for their families? If it is obsessive a principal certainly can begin monitoring more closely. I know teachers who have been absent to catch up on grading. There is only so much time in the day. Many elementary teachers get very little daily planning time and often have classes with 30+ students. If departmentalized, you can double that number. After being at school from 7:00 am until 4:00 or 5:00, I need to go home and take care of myself and my family. Try grading 60 projects or essays. High school English teachers have even more. It is funny that with high unemployment numbers in this state that there is not a line outside my school requesting teaching positions. If my job is so easy,why aren't there more people seeking to take my job?

Anonymous said...

@2:38p - you might want to straighten up your facts a little more before you show your conservative talk radio fanboy-isms.

Your heroes in the legislature told teachers last year to give up their tenure for a measly $500 a year raise, and that was only for 25% of teachers.

The court system saw that for what it was an unconstitutional power grab and this year your heroes are trying another end around to screw teachers with smoke and mirrors by dangling a 1-time salary increase in front of them so they'll give up tenure.

Anonymous said...

The public should be made aware that every time a teacher takes a personal day, not a sick day, he/she is docked $50 to pay for a substitute. Sometimes a substitute is not found and the students are dispersed or classes are covered by other teachers.

This process is demeaning to teachers. The loss of pay accounts for the "mental health day" that many teachers need in order to accomplish life's chores.

Anonymous said...

Some people watch national news and think it's the same everywhere. As a conservative, I was happy to see the take over of Raleigh. In my opinion we missed the boat last summer. The conservatives in Raleigh could have created a teachers pay plan and moved on. As far as tenure goes, my job has a 90 day probation period before due process rights kick in. I don't see the big deal. People need to start looking around and turn off the TV. We all know teachers and this is not dam New York. We need local solutions to local problems. The hell with other states. I talked to a principal and asked him about tenure. He said it's non-issue. He is trying to keep his teachers from leaving. Principals don't seem to have a problem with NC career status. Why do the people in Raleigh? Turn off CNN and Fox!!

Anonymous said...

As a student, I had 12 years perfect attendance in school. There was no kindergarten offered at that time. Now, as a teacher, I have 366 sick days accumulated.Doing what is expected of you comes from within, not from things promised to you nor accolades.I hope if someone comments on what I have just said is polite.I am very sensitive.:>)

Anonymous said...

10:00AM, what you are saying wrong and misleading. Tenure is merely due process and nothing more. Tenure ensures fairness to all involved, students and teachers. That said, it comes down the principle being willing to go through the process.

Anonymous said...

democrat control of raleigh for 150 yrs is what got teachers into this mess in the first place

wait until bho leaves office and see how long it takes to fix his mess that gets bigger daily

you dont clean up messes like this in 1.5 yrs

Anonymous said...

11:30, I agree but last summer was a mistake. It was spiteful and strange. This is not Chicago or Minnesota. Teachers pay is low and they really don't have a union. Most state will kill to have the teachers consternates that NC already has. I have seen principals yell at teachers. They should have come in with a plan and moved on. It showed me they really didn't know the issue of this state. As far as education is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Some teachers with tenure do get dismissed. There are close to 100,000 teachers in North Carolina and about 20 tenured teachers are dismissed each year.

For the average teacher, a few more absences isn't likely to make them lose their job, but it's not impossible.

This isn't a problem that's unique to North Carolina. Absentee rates are high among teachers across the country. You can argue that it's the tenure system, you can argue that it's the stress of the job. It is what it is.

Anonymous said...

The tenure game is a distraction used to rally an uninformed base. I am a Republican and know tenure in this state is a joke. Principals can fire on teachers. Remember the teachers who had pics on Facebook drinking? They where fired. The whole tenure issue is a joke. NC is a write to work state without collective bargaining. When I hear people talk about issue's from other states and thing's teachers revive up Norh, I giggle. My kids teachers don't even get to eat lunch by themselves. They have to eat in the cafeteria with the kids. Part of being conservative, is being informed. Not just taking what you see in the media as scripture.

Shamash said...

"I don't know many occupations where blame is so personal to a specific position like a teacher."

Maybe years of reading bumperstickers like "If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher" are to blame.

My 4-year old daughter CAN read that bumpersticker and she hasn't had a professionally licensed "teacher".

But some people apparently believe (or want YOU to believe) that only a "teacher" can teach a child to read.

If you take the credit for student success, then you should take the blame for student failure.

But assuming that students are somewhat passive actors in their own education seems to be the case today.

Kids apparently cannot "learn" today without all kinds of special services and treatment.

But teachers can't have it both ways, being responsible for success, while not for failure.

A more realistic approach is to give credit and blame to the parents FIRST, students SECOND, and teachers THIRD for the basics.

And teachers are competent or not based on their OWN actions not those of their (quite possibly) "learning disabled" students and non-supportive families.

But that runs against the current "it takes a village" commentary, where individual success or failure is typically someone else's fault.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is largely ignoring that kind of silliness and moving on.

Shamash said...

Anon June 8, 2014 at 10:09 AM

"Doing what is expected of you comes from within, not from things promised to you nor accolades."

The sense of personal responsibility is exactly what is missing from "education" today.

Everything seems to be someone else's fault or the fault of their "circumstances".

Anonymous said...

Saw a quote the other day...
Treat your employees like the make a difference and they will!

Anonymous said...

Teachers work half the year, correct? There are 180 school days plus assorted teacher work days. So about 190 work days? Sounds pretty good to me. I own a business and work almost 365 days a year.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so what?

Anonymous said...

Shamash "Kids apparently cannot "learn" today without all kinds of special services and treatment". Ain't that the truth.

How do parents feel about the latest fad coming to CMS, Computerized Individualized Learning? Wonder what company got that contract?

This will allow teachers, or facilitators, to manage larger number of students and not have to deal with discipline issues. Stick the kids in front of a screen all day. Win, Win!

Shamash said...

Anon 11:10am

I've said for years now that the "goal" is to have Microsoft Certified Teachers (tm) in the classrooms.

Or in the virtual classrooms...

Excessive "certification" will do the same to education that it did to IT.

Take back our schools said...

11:10, actually I hope some kids get computerized instruction. I am so sick of hearing these "behaviorial challenged" children have the right to assault the teachers, others kids and deny the other kids the opportunity of an education in everyday classrooms I could scream.

Anne Foster said...

I am a Mom of two young children, rising 2 and 1 graders. I would not want my children taught via computers as mentioned above. I still see the benefit of the human interaction, especially in the elementary schools. Little ones need the social component of education to learn proper discipline, fine motor skills and impulse control. The computerized instruction would be better in the older grades. But it is the latest bandwagon to jump on.

Shamash said...


"I am so sick of hearing these "behaviorial challenged" children..."


Those who have largely solved the "behavior" issue in school long ago have also mastered the standardized tests and are thinking about their next steps.

They have the luxury of looking ahead that comes from having mastered the basics.

We'll probably never catch up.

Anonymous said...

CMS is getting rid of it's behaviorally challenged rooms. Good luck teachers and students. Wait till you get a load of these kids.. You think we have a teacher retention problem know? Teachers are going to need certification in hand to hand combat.

Anonymous said...

When I spoke with my son's principal a couple of years ago, after many issues of verbal abuse and physical threats (getting stabbed w pencils)by a particular student in his class, the principal said that "the other child is entitled to his free education too, just like my child".

Funny, we no longer are in CMS schools partly due to that comment by a CMS middle school principal.

Shamash said...

Anon 8:51 am,

"the other child is entitled to his free education too, just like my child".

Best argument for vouchers I've seen in a while.

I think paying for something (or the threat of taking away funding) would change THAT tune.

Public education often takes on the feel of a monopoly.

Even though there are "choices", there are few "free" choices for the consumer.

Even allowing vouchers between public schools would be helpful in encouraging schools to do better.

It's something Sweden tried:

The trick for them was to make sure schools couldn't cherry-pick their students to only enroll the best, but had to improve in order to attract the best.

Anonymous said...

Sweden is falling in rankings.. For profit may not be what I thought.