I watched a feature on this morning's "Good Morning Texas" about a Skype chat that President Obama hosted recently. Americans were able to ask him questions directly, such as a woman who was frustrated with the renewal of H-1B visas for highly skilled workers from overseas, because her husband, who is an out-of-work engineer, can't find a job. Her point was that, if Americans can't find jobs, there shouldn't be overseas workers taking them, particularly in skilled areas. The President told her that the statistics suggest that her husband should be able to find a job quickly, because of the demand for engineers, but he also expressed empathy for her husband's plight. Utlimately, she didn't agree with the President's answers, but she felt honored for the chance to ask him a question -- and to have him listen to her.
Not so for Joseph Drake. This Dallas ISD teacher sent an angry e-mail to school board member Edwin Flores, following the board's recent extension of the school workday by 45 minutes. Mr. Flores' remark at the passing of this motion: "We pay for eight hours, we're going to get eight hours." Drake's email is angry, and he sent it from a school account. Rather than receiving a direct answer, though, Drake found himself the recipient of a different kind of response: being placed on paid leave for "alleged misconduct." Full disclosure: I'm a public school teacher as well (different district), and there are restrictions on the reasons we can use school e-mail. But unless it turns out that Drake was misusing DISD credit cards, or listening to his iPod while he was supposed to be teaching his 4th graders, or something like that, it's going to look like Mr. Flores, and the rest of district administration, is a group of bullies.
So, how did teachers react to the lengthening of their workday? Anger and protests, as you might expect. It's easy to pick on teachers, because they have so much time off. However, if you look at their pay in comparison to careers in other fields with similar degree requirements, having about three months off, over the course of a calendar year, is about right.
And Mr. Drake isn't the only protester. Another DISD teacher, who learned from Mr. Drake's example and kept himself anonymous, set up a blog, called "Teachers 4 Change," to urge a sickout on Leap Day (February 29, 2012) to protest what he calls a "leap backward." His goal: 33% of all Dallas ISD teachers call in sick that day to show their concern.
Things like this are why many people don't respect public employees, and really don't respect unions. What would a sickout really do? Create chaos on campuses all over the city (remember those really ineffective substitutes you had when you were a kid? Imagine a campus staffed with them, with a bunch of unruly kids running around). Make for a wasted day of instruction for the kids.
Instead of a sickout, agitate for change. Write letters. Call people who are in positions of authority (just don't email them from a school account). Go down to a school board meeting and make yourself heard. Maybe it is silly for the school board to lengthen the work day in the middle of the school year, especially if the members haven't thought out why you're doing it, except to get to an eight-hour day. Keep building the momentum that insists that DISD bring in an innovative leader and stop the bickering.
Eventually, it has to work. Doesn't it?