May 17, 2011

A Welcome Change From The Status Quo - Reflections Of A Florida Teacher

Rhonda Lochiatto is a fifth grade teacher who lives and works in central Florida. She has worked in Osceola and Orange County and is currently employed in Volusia County.
Thirteen years ago, when I first started teaching, I immediately joined the local teachers' union. I felt like I had to join because all the other teachers in my school were members.
A few months later, when I was making about $20,000 a year and struggling to pay my rent and other bills, I decided to withdraw my membership.
I followed the procedure of writing a letter and requesting termination of my membership. It took about six months for me to receive a response; meanwhile, they continued to take the dues out of my paycheck. While they did eventually reimburse me and grant my request, it left me questioning the validity of an organization that was so clearly unorganized. The expense was not the only issue. I realized I did not fully understand the purpose of the teachers' union.
As I researched more about the union, I began to question certain policies and procedures. Specifically, I did not understand how it was possible that so many great teachers put so much additional time and effort into their work, produced greater results, and yet were paid the same salary and benefits as others who were far less dedicated. It did not make any sense to me.
I have also never understood why teaching is a salaried position, with a specified number of hours. No results-producing teacher sticks to the minimum number—we work constantly!
My own personal experiences left me puzzled over teacher tenure. When I left my first job in Osceola County, everyone thought I was crazy to give up guaranteed job security. I reasoned that if I'm not doing my job, I shouldn't be protected and if I'm doing what's expected of me, I will keep my job anyway. However, after relocating to a new district, I was pink slipped at the end of the year. The reason I was laid off was because I was one of the last ones hired at the school. What that means is that even though I had exemplary evaluations, another teacher stayed simply because they'd been there longer. I accepted the policy and quickly began the job search again, but last in, first out doesn't benefit kids.
I eventually moved to my current home in Volusia County, where I have been at my current school for six years, and though I have again attained tenure I still don't understand why this policy is in place. I should not be guaranteed a job just because I have been at the school over a period of time. My longevity should be based on my performance. In talking with other teachers and parents, I know I am not alone in my concerns. Great teachers deserve the recognition that comes with being great. Ineffective teachers deserve to know that they are ineffective and to be given a chance to either better themselves or to find a more fitting career field.
What teachers deserve is fairness based on job performance and assurance that poor teachers will not be protected by tenure. That's why I am glad that the Florida legislature recently passed legislation that would end tenure and last in, first out policies. With these changes, Florida is on track toward boosting the quality of education in the state.
The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not ne cessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

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