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SCPS Parents: how you may be unwittingly contributing to teacher job dissatisfaction

Being a salaried professional comes with certain trade-offs. While salaried work lacks the advantage of being paid overtime, it also has many benefits we can all appreciate such as more security and flexibility. Being a professional also means that you may be asked to go above and beyond, occasionally being required to work longer hours or on weekends. My family is well acquainted with this concept. My husband has a very demanding job that routinely keeps him at work until well after 9PM and more often than not requires 8-10 hours of work on weekends. The key to this kind of arrangement is compensation: employers can't expect people to routinely put in excessive amounts of extra time without compensating them. Employers will find themselves in a constant struggle with turnover if they do. We can all understand this's not rocket science.

At least you would THINK everyone would understand but this doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to compensating Stafford County teachers. As BTW has discussed HERE and HERE, SCPS teachers feel undervalued due to low compensation and are leaving in alarming numbers. The issue has recently been compounded by the removal of the 1% raise for teachers with 10 years of experience or above in next year's budget. There is a lot of blame to go around for what has created our current situation: both current and past School Board members, Board of Supervisor representatives and SCPS leadership all shoulder some responsibility. But this post isn't about them, it's about us as parents and how we have unwittingly been passive, indirect participants in driving teachers out of Stafford.

Parents, you say, what did we do? I participate, you say, I join the PTO, send in cookies for teacher appreciation week and pay my taxes, how can I be at fault? Just bear with me as we examine some evidence.

At the May 9th SB meeting (click to view), where next year's budget without the 1% teacher raise was approved, 17 year middle school science teacher Craig Vann made an interesting statement. He said, "The only way to get the Board of Supervisors to fully fund our school system is to make parents feel the burden and I hate to say that because I love my job and I love my students. [Student] programs have to be cut. Hopefully, parents will want them so badly they will go [to the Board of Supervisors] and say fund our schools." Mr Vann was referring to eliminating paid student programs, like middle school sports, which would surely cause parents to lose their minds. However, his statement goes hand-in-hand with the concept of teachers "working to contract." SCPS teachers sign a contract every year and in it their work hours are spelled out: 7:20am to 2:50pm for High School, 7:50am to 3:20pm for Middle School and 8:30am to 4pm for Elementary School. Working to contract would mean working only within those timeframes.

Of course, these hours are mostly during the school day, when kids are in the classroom much of the time. Things like planning and grading often spill over into personal time, not to mention staff meetings and parent/teacher conferences. I think we can all agree that these things come with the territory, they are part of this particular professional job. But we can also agree that teachers do far more by providing extra programs to students that I am sure many of your children have participated in. These extras that are offered are not compensated by SCPS, teachers do this work completely for free OR outside of their contracted work times. To find out just how much extra work SCPS teachers do without compensation for our kids, BTW asked the source. Here is a not at all comprehensive list of activities teachers perform on a complimentary basis:

All Three Levels: Back to School Night and Orientation, before and after school tutoring, before and after school test retakes, SOL remediation, Focus Festival, Arts Festival, PTO/PTSO teacher representation

Elementary School Programs: Chorus, Orff, Drums, Ukelele Club, Yoga Club, 24 Club, Girl Smarts,

GEMS (Girls Excited about Math and Science), Cooking Club, Student Council, Chess Club, Thinking and Games Club, Destination Imagination, Robotics Club, After School Language clubs, Spirit Nights, Running Club, STEM Clubs

Middle School and High School Programs: Model UN, Delaware trip, SeaPerch, Battle of the Books, all middle school plays, Virginia Theater Association competition trip, We The People, intramural sports clubs, Chaperoning events/homecoming, Science Fair and associated competition trips, Destination Imagination, Agents of Change, Robotics and LEGO Robotics Teams, STEM clubs, hiking club, Special Olympics help, AP/IB Exam tutoring, NJHS...the list goes on and on when you consider all the high school clubs and activities that require teacher participation.

Here is how one teacher describes his experience teaching NJROTC:

"I stay at LEAST an hour and 40 minutes after contract hours Monday through Thursday. I coach 4 NJROTC teams so many of my weekends are devoted to competitions. I also spend many nights at boosters meetings and events. I take my kids on weekend field trips. I would say at least half of my weekends are spent working. Stafford County (unlike other Virginia localities) does not provide a stipend for NJROTC teams so all the practices and competitions are "volunteered" time."

Here is one teacher's tale of grading her senior's research papers:

"I spend at least 6 hours grading every week outside of class. Over Spring Break, I spent 24 hours grading a mock AP exam and over Winter break another 24 grading Senior Research papers. If I didn't do this, these papers wouldn't be graded because there are simply too many pages to read during planning time Who could read, much less grade, close to 800 pages of student research writing during our planning time in a space of three weeks (considering I have other things to do)?"

Or how about this teacher who comments on writing student recommendations:

"Writing college recommendations is done on personal time. Teachers know that many times colleges will accept a student based on these recommendations and it takes forever to write a good, individual one. Colleges don't want a regurgitation of club participation and honors; they want real life personal experiences."

Teachers do A LOT for our kids that they are not compensated for. Ask yourself how many hours a week would you be wiling to work above and beyond for your boss, with no extra compensation? 2 hours, 5 or 10? How long would you put up with this situation, 1 or 2 years? How long would it take before you decided to find a new job, one where you weren't forced to sacrifice your free time with your family? Let's take a look again at the average compensations for surrounding areas:

Even if you could not get any assurances that you work load would be reduced by changing jobs, would you continue to stay when you could work one county away and make substantially more money?

We are lucky though because here in Stafford, we have so many teachers who are willing to make sacrifices because they love our kids and they are passionate about giving them opportunities to learn. Lucky because our teachers don't want to take away Orff or Battle of the Books or the plays so instead of cutting the programs, they submit and sacrifice their own time for our kids. The children and by extension the parents are the beneficiaries of this kindness and we are more than willing to accept it. However, this is where our culpability lies. Parents have been accepting all of these "freebies" as if we are entitled to them and have neglected the people who provide them.

We can only cash in on the goodwill of these individuals for so long. Our teachers have stated loud and clear that they feel unappreciated and undervalued and they are leaving the county because of it. June 8th is the final day for teachers to turn in their contracts for next year so we will soon know just how many teachers are not returning next year (as of today there are 95 teaching positions listed on the SCPS employment website.) High quality teachers who leave this year will not necessarily be replaced by high quality teachers next year, we are in the midst of a national teacher shortage. The die is cast regarding next year's budget, we can't do anything to keep teachers from leaving now. But in the future, if we want to keep our amazing teachers and not be forced to take unqualified or subpar teachers from other areas, then parents MUST demand that teachers get better compensation.

We have to get involved by letting the School Board and the Board of Supervisors know that we will not continue to sit idly by as teachers bare the brunt of the lack of school funding. We can no longer be passive beneficiaries. Every time your child participates in a "freebie" like Model UN or elementary school chorus, how about you consider your "cost" of the program to be a short email to all SB and BoS members expressing your desire for an increase in teacher salaries? Find their contact info HERE. It is a small thing and the very least we can do for our dedicated SCPS teachers but the results could be profound. The SB and BoS will do what parents want because parents are voters and they know the real power lies with their constituents. We just need to use that power. Parents come out in force when redistricting rears it's ugly head and often create change. Think how much we could move the needle if we take that same passion and direct it towards retaining Stafford's fantastic teachers.

Don't think that teachers would never stop putting our kids lives ahead of their own. Consider one final note from an outsider, someone whose child no longer attends SCPS:

"Having moved recently to Connecticut, I can tell you that extra time put in for the kids does not happen here. It is a noticeable difference and has made my appreciation of what our Stafford teachers do even greater. The stark difference is so apparent, I miss the dedication and love the kids got from their teachers. I think with the right info, Stafford parents will rally to support the positions of teachers, staff and bus drivers. It would certainly be great to see the power and energy go toward a unifying cause!"