Yesterday I had the chance to discuss the value of a good teacher's contract. Educators discussed a number of questions and perspectives related to this, and as I think about the overall conversation, the bottom line is that a good contract creates a strong framework for any school system.
A good contract ensures that educators make fair salaries and have optimal work conditions. Why does this matter? First of all, when teachers don't make enough money, they can't afford good health care, homes, transportation, nutritious food, clothing, and more--a fair salary means that educators make enough money to live well, and enough so that they have what they need to arrive at work each day healthy and prepared to do the best possible job. Without fair salaries, educators have to work second and third jobs. They have to struggle to afford basic needs, and they may be unhappy due to no down time or recreation opportunities.
How do you determine a fair salary? First, what does it cost to have a good standard of living in the community where you work? How much does a house, car, clothing, food, child care, health care including dental, and recreation cost? Then, what do educators make in the best systems? If your system provides a comparable salary, then your system will attract the best qualified educators. To work in a system with top notch educators often means you'll work in a system where educators are dedicated to their craft and the system's overall success.
A good contract also ensures optimal work conditions. If teachers are working in unsafe or outdated environments, it's probable that their efforts may not be as good. If you don't have a safe, healthy environment, it will be difficult to do good work. Also, if you don't have the time to do your job well including the preparation needed to teach and lead best possible learning experiences, you won't be able to teach well. I have a friend in a system other than mine who has only twenty minutes to eat lunch a day. By the time she walks her students to the lunch room and uses the restroom, that time is greatly reduced leaving her without the time needed to eat a nutritious lunch. That same friend also has excessive duties and little to no teaching assistant help--that means she's working with a large group of needy students all day without adequate time to eat lunch, many duties outside of her teaching job, and little support. Her work conditions are subpar, and if you look at the data from that district, it's not surprising that the system is not succeeding as the educators simply don't have the work conditions needed to teach students well. Poor working conditions not only take time and capacity from educators, but those poor work conditions also prohibit the good teaching and learning possible for students too.
A good contract is a contract that supports optimal salaries and work conditions, and good contracts also represent what's needed in the context where a school system exists. For example, if you work in a system where educators cannot afford to live, you have to acknowledge the transportation time and vehicles needed to get to school each day--teachers that have to travel an hour or more to get to school due to the cost of housing or lack of good public transportation need work conditions that take that into consideration. Also if you work in a system where the majority of students come from traumatic situations due to socio-economic reasons, then you have to factor in the kinds of working conditions that help educators to best teach those students. Student trauma takes a toll on teachers, and that has to be considered. You also have to consider the experience and families of educators too with regard to needed professional learning, childcare, and education benefits.
The challenge of a good contract is creating contracts that work for all--to do this best, all educators have to get involved in the process. No one can take the contract or the process of negotiating a good contract for granted. The optimal framework for teaching, learning, and living well a contract creates is important, but it won't happen without educator commitment, awareness, and advocacy--teachers have to make time to work well together to make sure that the teaching/learning environment provides optimal work conditions and salaries so we can all do our jobs well and live well too.