Monday, January 22, 2007

Hey, Buddy, Could You Spare A School?

First of all, my sincere apologies for the lack of recent updates. I'm going to have to champion a campaign to have charges brought against the producers of the computer simulation NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007, as they produce what will no doubt go down in history as one of the most insidiously addictive products in history... I'm no psychologist, but I believe the order of the top 3 most addictive products in the world is:

  • 1. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007
  • 2. Sid Meier's Civilization-series of games
  • 3. Crack cocaine

Now then, good to be back.

There's talk, yet again, about the lack of schools (at least in appropriate locations) in the province of Alberta. The Miniser of Education has publicly pondered about the viability of building them using Public/Private Partnerships, so-called "P3's". The opposition has, predictably, come out against this plan, saying that in a province so awash in wealth, education should be a priority for full, public funding.

I agree with them.

Many Albertans moan about paying education taxes ("I don't have kids/my kids finished school long ago!"), and moan even louder about large government increases in payments to teachers ("they get 3 months off every summer!"), building schools ("put the kids of busses!"), etc. The short-sightedness of these arguments is apalling.

I'm not going to plead with you on some purely emotional level to "think of the children", because quite frankly most of the people who think education is over-funded are pretty much sick to death of the little buggers anyway. Let's talk about cold, hard reality.

"I've got no kids in the system, why should my tax dollars pay for it?" - the thing I love most about this question is that it's often asked by people who in the same conversation will complain bitterly about the fact that their doctor, lawyer, or nurse speaks with an accent, and is from "somewhere other than here". The reality is, supporting a public education system not only ensures that we will train Alberta's children to hold meaningful and important jobs to make Alberta even stronger, but it ensures that those children, as they grow, will make more, thus contributing more to the CPP, which is the only way you're going to get any money from the CPP if you're in the 45-60 range as you read this. Let's be honest, folks... that CPP money you contributed back in '75 is LOOONG gone... It's the money that 18-year old Johnny Johnson from PEI contributed on his cheque last week that is going to be appearing on your first pension cheque. If we deny children the best possible education, it directly affects your financial well-being down the line.

"Teachers don't need more money, they work 6 hours a day and get 3 months off!" - I hear this one all the time, especially on call-in radio shows. Usually, from the same people who get a call from the principal's office that little Joey has sworn at a teacher for telling him not to steal from the other kids, and then proceed to go to the school and swear at both Joey's teacher AND the principal, for not paying enough attention to their little darling. Those 2 charges, "6 hour work-days" and "3 months off" are both way off the mark. Let's review: The average teacher shows up to work about 45 minutes before the opening bell, spends 6 hours from (ballpark) 9 to 3 dealing with the students directly. No lunch hour for them, as they have to supervise either inside of outside the school in this age of schoolyard stalkers and liability lawsuits against schools and schoolboards. They'll then likely spend about 45 minutes to an hour at the school after the final bell, either working with students who need individual attention or attending staff meetings or doing some marking. Let's make the point again that this is the AVERAGE teacher - for every one that shows up 10 minutes before class starts and leaves 10 minutes after the final bell rings, there's one who shows up at 7:30 to coach handball and doesn't leave until the computers club is done at 6:00. They don't get paid any more or less than the other. So, thus far we've got a 7.5 hour workday for Jane Teachalot. Now Jane's going to go home and do another hour of marking, which is mandatory if she is to do her job well. She'll then spend about an hour and a half planning her next day's lessons and researching the subject matter to ensure she's got all the bases covered. Incidentally, spending an hour and a half planning 5 hours worth of instructional time is BARELY adequate - at least 2 hours is usually required. But, so far we've got Jane working 10 hours. She's been completely embroiled in her work from 8:15 in the morning until 6:30 at night, allowing only 15 minutes to get from the school to her home, and getting no breaks. And much of her Saturday is going to be spent marking and planning for the upcoming week... So, we're talking 50-to-55 hour work weeks. This is without any extra-curricular coaching or activities, by the way. 6 hour days? Hardly.

Now, do teachers get 3 months without dealing with students? Yes. 2 months in the summer, 2 weeks in Winter, and 2 weeks in Spring. True. But, in those OTHER 40 weeks of the year, Jane works between 2000 and 2200 hours, at a minimum. A 40-hour per week worker, who doesn't miss a single day of work all year and works every statutory holiday, 5 shifts a week, 52 weeks a year, will work 2080 hours.
So save me "they only work 9 months a year", because in those 9 months they work more hours than most of us work in 12.
And they're not answering the phone or re-stocking shelves - they're entrusted with the minds and hearts of our children, and we should make damn sure that we're paying well enough to attract only the best and brightest teachers to this lofty responsibility. At your worst day of work, you might drop your tray and break a plate and a glass - at Jane's, she might scar a kid for life or lead him to a life of crime. Whom should we pay better, to make sure we get people up to the task?

"Why do they need more schools in the suburbs, when they're closing ones downtown? BUS those kids!" - You know, I actually agree with this. If a building is structurally safe, it should be utilyzed. Needs are constantly changing as technology changes, and we'd all like to work in a new building, but if the money's not there, it's not there. 30 minutes on a bus isn't "cruel and unusual", and there are better things the money can be used for within the system. The $15 million to build a new elementary would bus those kids and pay for enough music or athletic gear for the whole school system... our schools need up-to-date computers, maintenance, supplies, reduced fees charged to the kids' families, etc. Use the buildings you already have, as long as they're safe. Not everyone can walk to and from school - there are more important things that need attending to first.

Tomorrow: Stephen's First Anniversary

- ES

1 comment:

Gina said...

I'm a fan of public schools, but I don't want to send my kids there. I do, however, volunteer my time in public schools where I use music and the arts as tools for learning.