Monday, April 11, 2005

Daily News: Teachers Won't Let Kids Play

The New York Daily News blames teachers for the lack of playtime in city schools.


Circular 6R - a contractual provision which frees teachers from lunchroom duty, schoolyard duty and hallway patrol and replaces the time with a "professional assignment" - is the culprit for the lack of playtime, according to the News article. Since principals cannot assign teachers to patrol lunchrooms, schoolyards, or hallways, the schools must hire extra school aides to watch the kids. if the schools cannot hire the aides, then no playtime.


But let's look at the Circular 6R controversy a little closer. Mayor Giuliani agreed to Circular 6R several contracts ago. Circular 6R was one of those "perks" given in the teachers' contract in lieu of money. Teachers do have to perform duties during their "professional assignment". They can choose from a menu of assignments such as tutoring, professional development, curriculum writing, etc. But the point of negotiating Circular 6R, according to the United Federation of Teachers, was to "relieve teachers of non-professional duties" in order to better help "students meet higher standards and implement new curriculum requirements" and to "enhance teachers' effectiveness, which is a true measure of educational productivity, without yielding to measures that were intended not to improve education but to save money."


In other words, union negotiators felt that teachers' time would be better spent on "educational" assignments which "enhance the quality of teaching and learning" as opposed to security assignments, which can be performed by other members of the staff.

Critics of Circular 6R say the provision costs the public schools millions of dollars in added payroll and should be deleted from the next teachers' contract. Principals would then be able to assign teachers to schoolyard duty, lunchroom duty, and hallway patrol. The kids could now play in the schoolyards and walk safely in the hallways and everybody would be happy, right?

Well, no.

The problem with lunchroom duty, schoolyard duty, and hallway patrol is not that teachers' think those duties are "beneath" them, as some critics allege; the problem is that teachers do not have the authority to do those duties proerly without placing themselves and their jobs at risk.

If a teacher stops a student in the hallway during the middle of a class period and asks why he or she is not in class, that teacher better have an adult witness there to prove the teacher did not intimidate the student. Because if a student makes an allegation against a teacher doing hallway patrol, the teacher will have to prove his or her innocence before the student has to prove his or her guilt. Teachers are very rarely given the benefit of the doubt in these kinds of cases.

Here's another example of how these duties put teachers at risk: Let's say a teacher has lunchroom duty. The teacher's job is to check student programs at the door to the lunchroom. Only students with lunch scheduled for that particular period are allowed into the lunchroom. This is to keep other students from cutting their classes and hanging out in the lunchroom. But let's say a couple of students without programs try to push into the lunchroom past the teacher with lunchroom duty. Let's say the teacher tries to stop those kids from pushing through into the lunchroom. Which party is liable to punished for these actions?

Believe it or not, the teacher. Depending upon how the teacher handles the incident, he or she could have a letter placed in his or her file because they engaged in "corporal punishment" or "verbal abuse" by restraining the two children from entering the lunchroom without authorization.

Many teachers resent Daily News articles like the one I linked to above that infer teachers are hurting the kids because of Circular 6R. The reality is much more complex. Sure their are teachers who don't want to patrol hallways because they are lazy. There are also teachers who thinkthese duties are beneath them. But there are many more teachers who don't want to patrol hallways one period a day because they know every 42 minutes they spend on that duty could lead to an incident or altercation with a student for which the teacher will have to prove his or her innocence.

If you want teachers to patrol hallways, lunchrooms and schoolyards, give them back some authority to control the children in a responsible, non-physical manner or balance the investigation process so that teachers feel they are being treated fairly. When students are always considered in the right and teachers always considered suspect, you will not have a workforce that wants to watch your children playing in the schoolyard.

After all, how many of you have thought about suing a teacher when your kid falls while playing in the schoolyard?

A few, I bet.

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