From the Real World blog
This Labor Day weekend while 18,000 Chicago teachers geared up for what would be the biggest strike since 1987, I met with the Executive Director of a new charter school just opened in my neighborhood regarding a teaching job. In our interview, I learned that all the teachers would be making the same salary the first year, regardless of the level of education, experience or letters of recommendation. According to their philosophy, experience & education does not translate into performance and that until they determined the “value-added” a teacher has in the school, salaries would be the same across the board. The second year salaries would be determined accordingly.
At first I thought, how interesting! Everyone starts off on the same footing? But then I realized that even though I had invested in an education all the way up to the level of PhD and had accumulated over 15 years in the field, I’d be teaching alongside a colleague who had never stepped foot in the classroom making not only the same salary, but who would not be carrying around the loan debt of a PhD. What then is the value added of my own education or the years that I had spent working? Does that not amount to anything? And regarding performance— is there no longer respect for our education system, the letters behind a name or stellar letters of recommendation provided by previous employees? In other words, in this new world (or in the world being built in this charter school) my education and experience means nothing until this one Director, this one school decides I’m worthy (the base salary they’re offering for an 8am-5pm teaching job is $55K, by the way.)
I have been very anxious to get back to work for a long time and the promise of health benefits after six years without coverage for our family of 4 was enticing enough for me to consider this job on the phone but the more I learned about the school (no gym facilities so teachers have to take the kids to the local park, little or no maintenance staff so the teachers have to scrub toilets, I was told) the more my stomach churned. Not because I wouldn’t do those things–I love start ups! But because this was going to be a lot of work juggling what in another school would be taken care of. Schools are expensive, I know but I figured with the $13,000 per student they get from the city (not including donations) at somewhere around 150 students—they’d be able to take care of some of the basics we all agree are essential for schools in the 21st century. I will say the school is housed in a brand new building and the sun lit filled classrooms are stocked with the latest technology but I just couldn’t understand how the leadership team could value computers and smart boards over human capital. But, then I realized that they wouldn’t have to really, if you have access to staff that is young, idealistic and equally hungry for employment. In the new economy, in the charter school system, experience and level of education really does not matter.
During the interview I was asked to walk around the neighborhood, climb 160 stairs and visit basketball courts. I have to admit I was taken by the fun, light-hearted Director who reminded me a little of Bill Murray. Then back at the school I was asked to prepare a 30 minute writing sample about the word feisty. Feisty? I asked. Yes, write about a time when you were feisty or defiant, asked to do something that you thought was against your best conscience and tell us what happened. As I sat staring down at the paper while he held a stop watch in his hand, I kept thinking, really? Is this really happening? This is how I will be judged?
I couldn’t pick up the pen.
Maybe this man is a clever man (and warm hearted even) and he had read my blogs and felt that he’d give me a chance to get back to teaching, get out of the hole or maybe he thought I’d really be a value added to his new school, maybe. Or maybe he was mocking me, mocking the whole lot of us who are out here like discarded relics, the educators of the past who still believe in the power our public education system had, and still has for so many. There are still people left who believe that a lifelong commitment to education and experience are worth something. Right?