Knowing Your Contract

It’s that time again…  Time to bargain a new contract.  The last time around I was new to the game, but found the whole process fascinating.  This time, I’m more knowledgeable and have a better sense of what I can do.  I truly think that the process is beneficial for both sides.

Since it’s the beginning of the process, we’re looking at survey results.  I don’t write about our specific negotiations.  But I will occasionally ponder some thoughts that need to be addressed by all teachers.

In looking at survey results, it’s amazing to see how many people don’t know what their contract does.  For instance, in my state, when you are talking about preserving retirement benefits, it’s state law that governs the pension system, not your individual contract.  Pension benefits aren’t something we negotiate.

I think I can honestly say that most people can’t figure out the math on a teacher salary schedule.  They don’t know that taking a zero results in roughly $28,000 of lost wages over a career.  They can’t calculate that a $500 addition to each cell is more beneficial to those lower on the scale, especially when they’re getting a step on top of it.  There needs to be something at the top because those teachers don’t get step increases.  Right now, teacher pay is based on your experience and education level.  I actually am completely fine with that.  There are way too many variables to consider in the pay-for-performance idea of compensation.  People who aren’t educators don’t seem to really understand this one, but I’m not intending this post to talk about that.

When looking at the survey and you see people complaining about the last contract it makes me want to shake them.  People always want to complain about something.  We’re in a world where we play the blame game.  They have no clue what we did to get what we did the last round.  Plus, there aren’t people stepping up to the plate to bargain the next one.  Most people are really clueless about how a contract is bargained and all of the work that goes into it.  If we didn’t get something, it’s usually not for lack of trying.

So for anyone reading… before you criticize what your bargaining team has done or is doing, ask yourself what you really know about the process.  Do you know the history?  Do you know what is feasible in these tough economic times?  What have you done to support them?  Do you know what your contract actually says and your rights under it?  Are you involved?

As teachers, we tend to isolate ourselves in our classrooms.  We focus on our kids and doing the multitude of tasks that are asked demanded of us.  We get caught up in our own stuff.  So instead of just shutting your door, think about what you can do for the profession and your colleagues.  We need to support and take care of each other.

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