Yesterday, I bent my virtual ear toward a Twitter discussion about teachers. The topic: Provisions in teacher contracts do not always benefit both teachers and students at the same time. Some provisions can actually disrupt student learning.
Ignoring the fact that I had not been invited in to the conversation, I chimed in anyhow. I pointed out that class size and composition issues correlate very well in terms of benefits or detriments. It was quickly pointed out to me that there are other contract provisions that don’t correlate so well.
Fearing the depth of the virtual waters I was about to wade into, I ventured to ask for an example of what those provisions might be. The immediate reply was “maternity leave in October.”
This indeed may be a concern for students, especially younger students, for whom relationship with the teacher is very important. However, the answer rattled me a bit. Maternity leave? I suppose the same concern could be raised with sick leave. So teachers should not be allowed to get pregnant (or sick) if it disrupts the class? An oversimplification, perhaps, but we “went there”, didn’t we?
Aside from issues affecting teachers’ human rights, there are other teacher contract provisions that can disrupt learning environments. Sometimes teachers miss class due to other professional obligations, or scheduled professional development. Sometimes there can be restructuring of classes due to unforeseen enrolment issues. Sometimes teachers leave because they are promoted, or they have a new job opportunity.
These are certainly inconveniences, but the very mention of them gets my blood boiling. Inconveniences to clients due to issues that benefit workers or the longterm wellbeing of the system exist in every workplace. Lawyers, doctors, bankers, accountants and politicians: All of these schedule their time in ways that are not always convenient to their clients.
These examples may be obvious, but for some reason, when it comes to teaching, it is not obvious why inconveniences to students should to be tolerated.
The very fact that maternity leave is even mentioned gives me great pause.
It was not long ago in Canada that teachers, particularly teachers of young children tended to be either nuns or other women who did not have anyone depending on them. There were actual policies in place that mandated that women quit teaching once they got married.
Professor Emeritus, Pat Schmuck (University of Oregon) tells a story of a teaching job interview early in her career in which she was asked point blank if she was using birth control. She laughingly tells her (adult) students that she responded forthrightly because at the time, she thought, “Of course they’d want to know if there was a possibility I’d be having babies and needing time away from the school.” She laughs at her naiveté and at how complacent everyone was in days gone by of an inherently sexist vision for the work world, particularly the world of teaching.
I submit that the larger societal view of teaching still hangs on to remnants of this sexist vision: a vision that teaching is a “vocation”, and not a job; a vision that the students come first in teachers’ personal lives; a vision that teacher volunteerism is “part of the job”.
This is not fair. Teachers, while they themselves may be mothers, are not everyone’s mothers. Teachers enter the profession because they are passionate about education, and therefore, they bring a professional commitment and ethic to their charges, but that doesn’t mean that they should be taken advantage of.
Convenience should not be the only directive guiding contractual obligations for teachers, or anyone else. We work FOR A LIVING, not just for the students.