Debating Teacher Responsibilities

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 09, 2007
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One of the interesting topics of discussion in Hawaii is poor public education. It is very difficult to find any legitimate media that doesn’t take exception with our public school system.

In the May 2007 issue of Honolulu magazine, editor A. Kam Napier asks a good question: “If students don’t come out of public school with the skills to either continue their education or get a job, then what is it for?” He goes on to say that “The compulsory education lasts for 12 years, the taxes never end. It’s a big deal.”

He is absolutely correct, and answering that question is on everyone’s mind. After all, the Department of Education budget next time around is more than $2 billion. That’s a lot of tax dollars.

The article he introduces, written by senior editor Ronna Bolante, is a must-read for Hawaii’s teachers and administrators. There are interviews with David Carey, chairman of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, a collection of the state’s largest companies. He says local executives who hire recent high school graduates are often frustrated at how many of them lack basic communication skills: “Our view is that our public school graduates as a whole are underprepared.”

The article goes on to quote David Rolf, executive director of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, who says, “For the most part, after the fifth grade, the Hawaii public schools are very much like a day care.”

If you are a teacher at any grade level in the public school system, these kinds of articles hurt your self-esteem. It seems like every time a little appreciation appears, like a deserved pay raise, someone has something unkind to say about your profession, and performance.

Last week the teachers received at very good contract, which they ratified overwhelmingly 61 percent to 38 percent. Starting pay for new teachers goes from $39,901 to $43,157. On the other end, pay for teachers with more than 33 years on the job would be boosted from $73,197 to $79,170.

No matter which way you cut it, the union and state did a good job of negotiating an admirable deal for the teachers. Unfortunately, for the state to go along with the raises, state negotiators tacked on a provision for random drug testing of all teachers. For many of the teachers, this was insulting because it infringed on the individual rights of teachers. Mind you, the drug testing procedures are to be worked out before June 30, 2008. The teachers can rest assured that the union representing them is not going to allow any procedures that infringe on the individual rights of teachers. In that sense, they were not being greedy in ratifying the contract, as some critics are suggesting. They did the socially intelligent thing by approving the contract.

Comments by the media and political critics are welcomed by the members of public school system. They are used to being bashed and trashed whenever a test score is released or a teacher is arrested for marijuana use. It’s a big system with a lot of people involved. It’s not easy working for the public, because the public’s level of expectation is very high. Teachers are dealing with a family’s most cherished element, their children. That concern should come first and foremost. Whether or not, at their graduation date, they are ready for college or have the ability to write a peerless business report is not the teacher’s main concern.

The literature on education has a term that is imprinted on prospective teachers during their training: in locos parentis. It’s Latin for “in place of the parents.” In today’s demographics, the families that make up the public school system comprise a complex educational problem that cannot be solved with pseudo-experts on education constantly criticizing everything the teachers do. Not only is it unfair, it will not improve the situation.

It is understandable the general tax-paying public is concerned about drugs testing for teachers. We should worry about the day when the public clamors for parents, administrators and members of the business roundtable to be tested for drugs too.

Until then, the teachers should consider keeping their noses to the grindstone, take their hard-earned pay raises and laugh loudly all the way to the bank - just like they do in the world of big business.

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