Monday, September 08, 2008

Bellevue Teachers' Strike

Many people have heard about the teachers' strike in Bellevue, and opinions from the public seem to range from rabid anger to fervent support. Having been on the strike line myself I can say, first hand, that being a striking teacher sucks. It is not fun, and anyone who goes around suggesting that a strike is a way to lengthen summer is WAY off the mark. Both teachers and students will have to make up the missed days, so don't worry; "educational opportunities" will not be harmed. Most teachers actually like their jobs quite a lot; they want to be back in the classroom more than anyone else. The only thing that can draw a teacher to vote for a strike is a serious issue. In Bellevue, they have an issue of the gravest importance.

Any newspaper story you read that says the strike is "over pay and curriculum" is only half right. Pay really is not the issue (I have inside sources who are quite clear about this). The district likes to say it's about pay because that makes the teachers sound mercenary. In fact, teachers are striking over the question of who will determine exactly how curriculum is delivered to students. For the last ten years or so, the Bellevue School District has been implementing a "top-down" model of curriculum design. This means that teachers get little or no say in what they will teach and how the will deliver instruction.

This may not seem like such a big issue to someone on the outside. Bosses the world over tell their workers exactly what to do on the job. What's the big deal? The big deal is that no two classes and no two kids are exactly the same. Even if we leave aside questions about creativity and personal strength (it turns out no two teachers are exactly alike either), the piece about pacing cannot be ignored.

A huge part of being a good teacher is in gauging what each kid needs, and in finding ways to challenge that child correctly. There is plenty of research available to defend this perspective. In Bellevue, slowing a class down or speeding one up is not just frowned upon, it can actually get you into trouble with administration. I've heard stories of teachers actually papering over their windows so that administrators can't observe them straying from the set curriculum by offering enrichment activities. A climate like that cannot be good for kids.

Administrators in Bellevue need to trust more in the professionalism of their staff, or they will certainly see more strikes. Not only that, but the more subtle effect of their micro-management is clear to me every day I go to work. In our district, we are lucky enough employ many excellent teachers who used to work in Bellevue.

1 comment:

don said...

thanks for your support and your thoughts on the curriculum.
the pay issue is still important as well, however. i drive over from seattle to bellevue. the last i heard, the toll on the bridges was going to be between 5 and 10 dollars round trip. 1.5% of my salary pays for half of that.

thanks again for your support.