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Monday, January 31, 2005

State's Teachers Descend on Capitol

Hundreds — including some who took a 'staff development day' — lobby lawmakers on education issues.

By Mike Ward AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, January 31, 2005

More than 400 teachers from across Texas converged on the state Capitol on Monday to press lawmakers to pump more money into public schools in Texas.

And to raise their pay. And some were doing it on the taxpayer's dime. Sort of.

Several lawmakers raised eyebrows about having so many teachers around on a school day.

"Who's paying for all the substitutes?" asked Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, echoing the sentiments of other lawmakers.

Some of the teachers said they had taken the day off, either on paid leave or without pay. But others said they were there on a "staff development" day, which they are entitled to take to receive in-service training or improve their schools.

"I think it's great that they have concerns and want to talk to us, but they could do that at our district offices or they can send us a message," Shapiro said. "In my opinion, it doesn't look professional to have this many teachers all up here at once like this."

According to state and local school officials and the teachers, the lobbying day was legit. It's just the first of several this spring that teacher and educator groups will organize in Austin to lobby lawmakers.

State rules require students to receive 180 days of instruction each semester, with teachers allowed to take off up to six days per year for staff development. The exact number varies from district to district. On those days, educators most often attend training programs, seminars or conferences.

Some districts allow staff development to include the Capitol visits because the lobbying days are sometimes connected with a professional conference in Austin, such as one that the 105,000-member Association of Texas Professional Educators held over the weekend.

Some schools, including those in Austin, had staff development days already scheduled for Monday and held no classes.

Andy Welch, a spokesman for the Austin district, said teachers were not allowed to count the Capitol visit as staff development. But they could take one of three paid personal-leave days allowed each teacher annually.

"It's no-questions-asked," Welch said. "What they do on those days is up to them. They just get three."

Marcy McNeil, a fourth-grade teacher at Odom Elementary who has taught for 29years, did just that. She is the local president of the professional educators group.

She and hundreds of other teachers made the rounds of legislators' offices advocating for more funding for public education, smaller class sizes, a salary increase for teachers and restoration of a medical-benefit payment that lawmakers slashed in half two years ago. They were also opposing school vouchers.

Other teachers from Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio — several of whom said they were using professional development days — bristled at the suggestion they should be in class.

"I'm appalled anyone would suggest I'm here for myself," said one teacher, who, like several others, refused to give her name after a reporter questioned who was tending to their classrooms. "I'm here for better public education. I'm here for the students. Better schools make Texas better for everyone."

Randall Iglehart, state president of the educators group, said he came to the Capitol on a professional development day. He has taught for 28 years, currently English-as-a-second-language classes at a San Antonio middle school.

"Some are here on professional development days, some are here on personal days, but everyone is here to help make public education better in Texas," he said. "Some districts see this kind of thing as important and benefiting public schools in general. It's the kids who are the heart of what we're doing."

And should anyone wonder who was minding his classes Monday, Iglehart said not to worry, because he's covering the costs himself.

"I'm paying for my own substitute," he said.

In Austin, that would be between $60 and $80 a day, depending on the substitute, Welch said.
What's a staff development day? The Texas Education Code allows staff development days that are 'designed to improve education in the district.' Among other things officials said they may include: •Programs for reading/language arts, mathematics, science, social studies. •Teacher conferences. •Training in discipline policies and strategies. •Instruction for alternative education programs. •Other types of training approved by the local district. Source: Texas Education Agency, from state law and agency policy

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3 comments:

  1. In reading this article, two things came to mind:

    1- Ms. Shapiro's suggestion that the teachers should voice their concerns either at their district offices or by sending them a message (we assume an e-mail or voice mail)is a another way to prevent mobilizations and to disempower those who are in the front lines at the schools on daily basis.

    Only teachers (not the administrators who impose prescriptive policies) know the impact that policies such as NCLB are having on our students.

    2- Over and over "concerned" legislators objected to the fact that teachers "had left their students behind" in classrooms attended by substitutes. As it was pointed out this was a professional development day in districts like Austin ISD. Using "children" as the smoke screen for their "concern" legislators try to rally public opinion in their support and therefore against teachers.

    It is remarkable that very busy individuals (like public school teachers) use the a day allocated by the district for their personal use or enrichment to advocate for the students they see on daily basis. This is a true sign of concern unlike the rethoric coming from legislator's mouths.

    Thanks in special to the teachers who came to advocate for students of English as a Second Language,

    Alejandra Rincon

    ReplyDelete
  2. In reading this article, two things came to mind:

    1- Ms. Shapiro's suggestion that the teachers should voice their concerns either at their district offices or by sending them a message (we assume an e-mail or voice mail)is a another way to prevent mobilizations and to disempower those who are in the front lines at the schools on daily basis.

    Only teachers (not the administrators who impose prescriptive policies) know the impact that policies such as NCLB are having on our students.

    2- Over and over "concerned" legislators objected to the fact that teachers "had left their students behind" in classrooms attended by substitutes. As it was pointed out this was a professional development day in districts like Austin ISD. Using "children" as the smoke screen for their "concern" legislators try to rally public opinion in their support and therefore against teachers.

    It is remarkable that very busy individuals (like public school teachers) use the a day allocated by the district for their personal use or enrichment to advocate for the students they see on daily basis. This is a true sign of concern unlike the rethoric coming from legislator's mouths.

    Thanks in special to the teachers who came to advocate for students of English as a Second Language,

    Alejandra Rincon

    ReplyDelete
  3. I find it very interesting that teachers--who as a rule have very little time to leave their campuses in order to contribute to the democratic discussion--are being judged by the legislature when they choose to make their opinions heard. Teacher pay is always a hot topic for our government, as well as the general public. The notion that teachers should not get improved salaries until they "show results" is essentially a cop-out. Those of us who have spent time in the classroom understand that complexity of raising student performance, and we are committed to that endeavor. However, it takes time for marked progress to show up, especially in the high stakes accountability reality in which we now labor.

    I am impressed that these teachers were brave enough to go to the capitol and voice their concerns. It is a mark of their professionalism to ask for a real raise in pay, especially in light of the fact that many teachers are forced to pick up second jobs since district pay raises rarely keep up with cost of living expenses.

    Shapiro's question about "who is paying for the substitutes" is a red herring argument--posed to distract the public about what is really happening in schools. Evoking images of children wasting a day of learning while their teachers march on the capitol is at best tacky, at worst another insidious measure to undermine teachers' professionalism. If teachers stood up for themselves and their profession more regularly, our entire state would benefit. It seems to me that we (the teachers) have had our professionalism hijacked by a group of leaders, policy makers, and business moguls trying to make a profit off the back of our labor and our students' performance. Using scare tactics and threats is no way to bolster our ailing educational system.

    If you want to fix the problems riddling education, start talking with teachers about the realities they face in the classroom as they negotiate legislative mandates while working to improve their students' performance. Until teachers are welcomed into the legislative process, there will be little improvement in the walls of the classroom. Sadly, that does not just affect the students in our care. It impacts our society as a whole, and is especially evident when students leave our schools with little more than the ability to complete a multiple choice test. Life is not multiple choice, and gray areas abound. If we continue to treat teachers as sub-standard employees instead of the professionals that they are, those with any moxie will leave the field altogether.

    ReplyDelete