Recently, at an event dubbed “Ed Challenge for Change,” certain Democratic politicians had a fine time denouncing teachers’ unions. Most curious, I thought, was Colorado State Senator Peter Groff, who complained that when the adult agenda meets the children’s agenda, “the adult agenda wins too often.” This statement led me to ponder what, exactly, is the “adult agenda” in education.
Let’s assume that the “adult agenda” is roughly the “teacher agenda,” as I cannot imagine what else Sen. Groff could possibly mean. I doubt that he means the “parents’ agenda” or the “janitors’ agenda.” So what is the “teacher agenda”? Now, I haven’t been a teacher as long as some readers and contributors to this blog have, but I think I have a good sense of what the “adult agenda” is. We want to have the supplies and facilities necessary to teach children. We want to be able to contribute to school policy and curriculum. We want our concerns to be validated and eliminated. We want to use our education, expertise, and humanity to educate the children charged to our care. And we’d like to have all that for an honest salary, comprehensive benefits, and a reasonable working day.
Sounds pretty shady, this “teacher agenda.” We want to act and be treated as professionals, right? We want to do our primary, number-one job, which is to educate children, correct? I did cover all that. I’m not sure what’s so terrible about this “teacher agenda.” Hmmm, what could it be? What’s worth attacking so vigorously, Sen. Groff?
It must be that last bit. You know, that whole part about salary and benefits and work hours. It must be those unreasonable demands of ours for a work day and week that actually, at some point, ends. It must be those crazy rants about being able to go to a doctor and able to afford a decent place to live. Maybe that’s that whole wacky “teacher agenda.”
Here’s the problem with your objection to our wild agenda, Sen. Groff: A teacher’s work day does not begin when the students walk into the classroom, nor does it end when they are dismissed. Nor, for that matter, does our working year begin in September and end in June. Teachers must negotiate for clear boundaries with respect to their time in the classroom or the school building because their work does not begin and end there. No teacher I know works the six-hour, fifty-minute day mandated by the DOE, at least not on a regular basis. Oh, maybe we’ll saunter in casually on that last day before Christmas vacation, and maybe on the occasional Friday we’ll nip out right on time. But who among us never takes work home? Probably only the people who come in early and stay late to make sure they’re staying on top of grading and that their lesson plans are in shape.
No teacher—particularly no teacher with a family—can possibly work the mandated day, plus tutor, plus coach a sport or advise a club, plus serve on a committee, plus attend lengthy series of meetings, and still complete the professional duties of grading, planning, keeping records, and staying in touch with students’ families without having either his or her personal or professional life suffer. It is not hard for a teacher to rack up fifty, sixty, or more hours in a given week doing work. For that reason, administrators and other higher-ups must respect our time, and we must not feel guilted or ashamed about standing up for our time, and by extension our sanity.
This is not an “agenda.” This is not about teachers holding onto an antiquated model of education that does not work for students. Students still need time with their own families, to play sports, to explore the arts, and, of course, to do homework and rest. Keeping students or teachers in school ten or twelve hours a day will not solve our educational problems, and, in fact, supporting the insidious “adult agenda” keeps the people whose job is to educate children healthy, happy, and in control. I’m not sure how having burned-out, frazzled, depressed, unhealthy teachers in our classrooms is supposed to make education better. But hey, maybe Sen. Groff knows something I don’t.
So I leave you with this question: How, exactly, is the “adult agenda” so harmful for children? Because, from what I can tell, the only “adult agenda” that sounds bad for children is the one that strips school of all joy and meaning, the one that deprives children of play, sport, and art, the one that would demand that their teachers be soulless, bloodless automatons—in other words, the one supported by, um…you, Sen. Groff? You, Chancellor Klein? You, Mayor Bloomberg?
What’s your “adult agenda”?