Playing the APS Attrition Rag

Over my 16 plus years as a public school teacher there have been some seminal moments, instances in which it has been made terribly clear to me that I am some version of an abducted-by-aliens teacher, an adoptee from a land far, far from where all the public school teachers come from.

Earlier this year I had another such moment.

It was the height of the “sky is falling” period, mid-Spring Semester 2010.  A time in which all the news seemed to indicate 98% of all teachers would lose their jobs, classroom sizes would average 300 students per class, and old textbooks would be burned to provide heat during the upcoming Winter.

A colleague and I spoke on these matters in the hall during this period.  The only REAL meetings for teachers ALL happen this way:  passing in the hall, talking over each other while furtively looking each way to see if any students are doing anything “illegal” (e.g., wearing a hat indoors), making periodic feints toward our classroom as a way of ending the conversation.

99.4% of all school decision-making is conducted via these meetings.  For some reason, public schools still have quaint organizations like “Instructional Councils” that play at decision-making in the same way Queen Elizabeth must “decide” monetary policy in the U.K.  I’ve never really seen the point of belonging to an “Instructional Council”, but for some teachers it provides an illusory security blanket of “democracy” important enough to warrant getting up early, sitting around a table with 25 or so other “Instructional Council” representatives, and listening to blowhard discussion hogs pontificate about X, Y and Z before the Principal shows up and tells everybody what will be done.

And 99.4% of the time, the Principal tells everyone what will be done after conducting a series of highly informal one-on-one discussions in the hall while both Principal and teacher furtively look down the hall checking to make sure no students are wearing hats in the building.

Anyway, I’m having this furtive discussion in the hall, and the subject of losing teachers comes up.  My colleague, who I respect btw, says:  “the most important thing is that teachers keep their jobs”.  Or something like that…I admit I’m paraphrasing and might be off a word or two here.

Personally I find memoirs in which writers quote conversations held 25 years ago fabulously irritating.  I can’t remember anything that happened more than 10 minutes ago (except for the lyrics to “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” for some reason), so how do these people remember entire conversations from 1973 to the point where they feel comfortable using quotation marks?

But I digress…again.  So my respected colleague says to me:  “the most important thing is that teachers keep their jobs”.

And that’s when I realized, again, that I’ve been the victim of some professional alien abduction, that most probably 99% of all teachers agree with my respected colleague, and that this whole “sky is falling” thing was going to result in much ado about largely nothing.

More to the point, that’s when I realized…again…that the District was not going to save $43 million via some well-planned and systematic “revisioning” of schools and the school system, and would instead:

  1. Find small enough subsets of employees like “part-timers”, and  “double-dippers”, and “APS/UNM Partnership” employees…demonize them and pit them against their full time, non-double-dipper, “regular ‘ol” employees and use them as financial scapegoats; and,
  2. Rely on the whim of new retirees and those who go to jobs outside APS to determine school and school district policy regarding…uh…pretty much everything.

So instead of some sort of “house cleaning”, that would actually get rid of bad teachers, or rethink teacher assignments and curricular emphasis, we’re all just going to see who retires and quits, and those positions/content areas will suffer the consequences.

Which, finally, gets me back to my furtive discussion with my colleague.  Because when he said “the most important thing is that teachers keep their jobs”, I replied by saying something like: “no, the most important thing isn’t that all teachers keep their jobs.  The most important thing is the content of the jobs that are kept.”  Or something like that.

And on this last day of school, 2009-2010, I’ll think back to that little conversation, especially during those less furtive, more “All Hell Has Broken Loose, So Who Cares If Kids Are Wearing Hats In the Hall?” discussions with colleagues about “What are your plans this Summer?” and “Did you have a good year?”.

I plan to think about “the content of the jobs that are kept” while thoughtfully nodding my head and responding….”oh, you’re going to Disneyland with the kids..that’s great…have a good Summer…see you next year?” etc., etc. ad nauseam.

Have a good Summer…

P.S.:  For those 1, or possibly even 2, people interested, you’re intrepid blogger will be using this venue to “blog” on his upcoming 2010 Bike Tour.  The frequency of posts should actually increase.  Believe it or not.  My money is on “not”, but you never know.

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