Fairfax teachers plan to tell the school board Thursday night that teachers are “ready to quit” and that new technology tools are killing their time with children and “dehumanizing” the teaching profession. Although the teachers can’t legally strike, one union chief says “all kinds of things could happen” if workload relief or pay raises don’t come through by year’s end, including sickouts, slowdowns and campaigns to keep school board members and county supervisors from re-election.
Amid a two-year pay freeze, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steven Greenburg says teachers are shouldering a larger workload because of a new online tool that aggregates students’ test data. For instance, teachers are encouraged to post lesson plans to share with their colleagues.
“When is a teacher putting lessons on the computer? If the answer is at home, then that’s why the teachers are burned out and ready to quit,” said Greenburg, who teaches at Reston’s Forest Edge Elementary School. If the answer is at school, “They’re spending their class time with machines and not with children. … It’s a dehumanization of the profession.”
Greenburg’s 4,000-member union competes with the 6,000-member Fairfax Education Association, but President Michael Hairston says he will stand with Greenburg on Thursday: “We talk to people every day who are overwhelmed with the amount of work, and they’ll leave for surrounding jurisdictions where they can earn more money.”
Teachers’ salaries in Fairfax start at $44,000, slightly more than in nearby Virginia districts, but less than in rival Montgomery County. Their maximum salaries of $98,541 fall short of Montgomery and the District.
School board member Jane Strauss defended new technology as an effective way to track student performance. “They’re efficient tools, but there’s a learning curve,” she acknowledged.
Patricia Reed, another school board member, said she was concerned about morale, but that when she suggested conducting a new teacher survey, a fellow board members shut her down. “They felt that resources were an issue,” Reed said.
Fairfax has reduced its per-student spending by about $740 to $12,597 over the last two years as the school system’s budget was reduced by $52.5 million to $2.2 billion and enrollment shot up by 7,000 students.
Superintendent Jack Dale has gone to bat for his nearly 14,000 teachers by requesting a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and the return of step pay raises. Therefore, Greenburg says “serious action” by disgruntled teachers would wait until after budget negotiations. “But if they don’t show up with the money, with the understanding that teachers are upset and the curriculum is not to the benefit of the child, we’re going to have a real problem.”
Technology does not create the heavy workload. Technology is a very effective way to track student progress and keep them engaged. I say more eReaders, iPods/iPads, cell phones, Twitter accounts, email, and Google Docs.
It is time for the way we teach to change. “Take a surgeon from 100 years ago and place them in the OR, and they are lost. Take a teacher from 100 years ago and place them in the classroom and they wouldn’t skip a beat.” This will always be true unless we change the way we educate students.