Last year while I was working on my masters from SPU I was sent into the classroom right away. Right off the bat I started observing and getting to know the students. As the year progressed, I started taking over more and more classes and responsibilities. Tillicum Middle School in Bellevue became my home. The staff was great, my mentor teachers were amazing, and the kids helped me grow a lot; a perfect first experience. To compliment that experience, I was able to fill in as a leave replacement at Tyee Middle School for the last quarter of the year. It was nice to be on my own and get a little taste of the “real” teaching experience.
Over the summer I worked on the 8th grade physics curriculum as a “content specialist.” We incorporated materials and ideas from what we had done during the year along with suggestions and helps from the special ed and ESL departments. The idea is that collaboration and resources will make the curriculum, the curriculum web and the lessons it contains that much stronger. While there, I was approached by one of my mentor teachers from last year. She let me know that she might be moving to the high school level to teach biology which would mean there was an open position back at Tillicum.
So last week I found myself at the newbie training for Bellevue School District! I have my own room! It is mostly ready to go. The walls look fairly bare for the most part… but it is functional and I will be working on it! It was pretty much the ideal situation for me. I know the school, I know the staff, I know the curriculum; that should help make my first year of teaching much more smooth and successful (hopefully for my students as well).
Today’s my first day… well it would have been had the Bellevue Education Association (our union) not decided to go on strike.
The bargaining team on both sides have done a good job of working hard to get the contract hammered out, but there are still three major areas where agreement could not be reached. The three areas still being argued are compensation, health benefits, and the use of the curriculum web. I am all for higher pay and I think there is ground being made on the issue of compensation. Bellevue is paid well compared to other districts in the area, but the cost of living is higher and (some would argue) the quality of the teacher is higher as well. I believe that the district does need to be held accountable for where money has gone and why they think they cannot afford to pay us more. But I also understand that if that money truly is not there, they would have to fire personnel, which would not be a good situation either. Here is the comparison in pay proposals (from the district website… so there are other factors that may not be represented). I don’t have too much to say about the benefits issue. Personally I would rather have the money on the check than in benefits because all mine is covered already. But I also have to understand that most people are not single without kids and so have to pay more and should therefore have those benefits. At the same time, we have a pretty amazing benefits plan as it is.
I have had problems with the language the union and many teachers use in talking about the curriculum web. Here is the memorandum of understanding regarding curriculum from the district (UPDATE: here is the current version). When I read that, I do not understand what the union could have problems with. Teachers are worried about autonomy in what kind of lessons they can teach. Fine, I get that. If they need to change or modify the lessons they teach, they can do that. Why wouldn’t they share that with their curriculum staff and their colleagues?
Some teachers are still under the impression that we have to teach scripted lessons. That we could just print a lesson off the web and read it. That is not the intent of the web, nor has it ever been the intent. I do not understand why this is still being propagated. I have never interacted with any administrator or curriculum coach who thinks the lessons on the web have only one way to be taught or that they should never be modified to fit the needs of our students. This is what “professional judgment” means. For my final, “official” observation to be entered into Bellevue’s job pool (in lieu of an interview), I was observed by one of the area directors. In that observation I did a lesson that was NOT part of the curriculum web and the observation went wonderfully because the lesson was student centered and was aligned with district objectives. It made sense. “I heard a teacher got in trouble for not using something from the curriculum web…” That is NOT sufficient to suggest that teachers actually are being written up for the reasons you think. Hearsay needs to be ignored and not propagated. If people have a problem with Bellevue’s educational philosophy or pedagogy, they probably shouldn’t be part of this district. Why would you join a company if you completely disagreed with what they did? And why does the union think they can control and dictate what the district deems important?
I understand this is a very complex issue, I just wish both sides would grow up a bit, stop using politically charged language, stop propagating inaccurate information, provide factual information that is relevant, make appropriate compromises, and just keep working to settle this strike so we can start teaching our kids.
To the teachers: stop thinking the district is trying to control and micromanage your classroom. They aren’t trying to do that. They don’t want to do that. They want you to be a professional.
To the union: don’t push an agenda that the entire union might not be in support of. The memorandum of understanding concerning curriculum makes sense and should be supported.
To the school district: you need to show specific numbers if you truly think you cannot afford the pay increase being asked for. You haven’t been completely honest in the past on this issue and teachers got burned. If you have mismanaged funds, you need to figure out how to deal with that, but not at the expense of quality teachers.
There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it at that. I will eventually have my first day of teaching. I just hope it will be soon!
Bellevue Education Association (the BEA, our union)
Bellevue School District
News Articles about the Strike:
Seattle P-I: Bellevue teachers set for strike
Seattle Times: School’s out in Bellevue as teachers hit picket lines
King 5 TV: Bellevue teachers walk picket line
KOMO News 4: Bellevue teachers on strike
KIRO TV 7: Bellevue Teachers Hit Picket Lines
If you would like to email the BEA bargaining team about your thoughts on the matter, they can be emailed here: BEAbargain [at] gmail.com
Check out this Seattle Times editorial: Bellevue teachers strike is wrong. While the editorial can be a bit harsh in places, they have a lot of good things to say that should be paid attention to.
Teachers are taking standardized curriculum as a personal affront when it is not. Districts have always been empowered to set curriculum.
Bellevue has spent the past five years creating the curriculum with a $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — an organization known for vetting academic initiatives. Meanwhile, the district continues to be recognized nationally for its quality schools and its emphasis on getting all students into high-level classes.
Here is a critical point the teachers union appears to want to ignore: Bellevue’s common curriculum is an evolving effort, far from completion. It was expected that best practices and teaching strategies from teachers would build upon the work already started. The curriculum would change as students change, creating a living rather than static effort. Teachers should know this.
You should read it.