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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Education: one key to urban revitalization

The Courier-Post has an investigative article today about absentee rates of teachers in the Camden city district schools. It's not pretty. Teachers have a generous leave policy, sick days that roll over until retirement (with a recently created cap), and a possible absentee rate this is higher than the student rate of absence. I say possible because apparently the record keeping on this kind of thing is poor. Absentee rates may be higher. I'm betting that the roll over days are meticulously kept...

I don't want to jump on the teacher bashing bandwagon, because I believe they do have a difficult job. Anyone who thinks a teacher works from 8-3 and has summers off, obviously has never been a teacher. Teachers have to do breakfast duty to monitor kids who come for their morning meal. They have to do lunch duty and give up their own meal. They have to do bus duty after school and stay late. They grade papers, do lesson plans, prepare materials during the after 3pm time. They take time to supervise after school activities, attend parent teacher meetings, make follow up phone calls at night, and the list goes on. It's easy to bash teachers for taking too much sick time, but let's keep it in perspective.

Camden schools have a teacher absence issue. This not only relates to the loss of continuity for students, but the cost of the additional pay laid out for substitute teachers. There are learning impacts and financial impacts for the district. Neither are good.

One of the points raised in the article is that teachers are stressed and sometimes need a down day. Um, you're kidding right? How can a teacher that lives outside the district be more stressed than a student that lives in the district? Think about the fact that your students make it to class and you are not there because you need a down day? Really? If the job is too stressful, find another job. The future of these scholars is a life and death issue - their education is what may save their life from the streets, from crime, from poverty. And you have stress?

I'm in a Camden elementary school once a week and now am increasing to twice a week until my little sister gets her science grades up. I see the good and the bad of what teachers have to deal with. I see the crummy conditions in which teachers have to teach, supervise, and be professionals. I see the difficulty that students create and have in getting to school, being in school, learning, and interacting with their peers. But it is what it is and it is the job you signed up for. But I worry greatly about a district that can't even keep proper records! How can it possibly support it professional staff in the classroom?

Make no mistake about it - the success of the education system in Camden is crucial. It affects not only the lives of the students, but their families as well. It affects the economic options for the city and everyone who lives in the city. It affects the business environment, the housing environment, and the city tax stream. Everyone in Camden should be working to create a world class educational system. And if that means starting with better record keeping, then get on it! We have a world class University here that I am sure could send some business students over to clean up the record keeping infrastructure in a few days. We MUST hold the district accountable and be there to HELP and SUPPORT the district. The district MUST be willing to accept help and stop being an insulated, self-indulgent island.


Sandy Price said...

This disease is going around:

Perhaps you hit a nail on the head when you said, "How can a teacher that lives outside the district be more stressed than a student that lives in the district?"

That raises two thoughts for me, fairly simultaneously. First, I think perhaps teachers who live outside the district might experience the stress differently than residents. I suppose if you live with it 24/7 it becomes in some ways like background noise, but if you leave it every day, your body clenches up and your adrenalyn starts flowing every time you go to work. They may even need special kinds of support to deal with the tension they feel when they get to work every day. I have friends who are crisis nurses in a childrens' hospital, and they have counselors periodically help them process their experiences. There could be a similar need. I don't know - I'm just wondering outloud.

Second, perhaps the entire district needs is stress reduction. Obviously, not a random day off. Unfortunately, the kind of stress reduction I'm thinking of is a long-term, whole-community endeavor, not simply a school problem - although the schools are a great place to organize, fertilize and facilitate it. I mean an holistic approach to the financial and neighborhood issues that keep residents from ever being able to truly sigh a breath of relief.

So, yes, there's stress all around...

Do you see me? said...

yes, and I think it is clear that the Camden district is not addressing the problem at all if there are this many absences. It is a district problem that needs to be taken on!