Summer reading is optional for teachers, union reminds members

07/03/2014 3:55 PM

07/03/2014 3:56 PM

The Wichita teachers union is reminding members that summer reading – even an assignment handed down from the principal – is optional, not compulsory.

The Wichita teachers contract requires teachers to work 190 days, including school days, in-service days and non-teaching duty days, union officials said in a recent e-mail to members.

“When a teacher completes those 190 days, no further work or assignments can be made, including summer reading assignments,” the e-mail from United Teachers of Wichita said.

“If you have been informed by your principal that there is a summer reading assignment for the staff, consider it a suggestion, not a directive,” the e-mail said. “In conversations with district personnel, the idea that teachers need a bit of down-time has been confirmed.

“If your principal continues to insist otherwise, please contact UTW,” the e-mail said.

Deena Burnett, communications director for the union, said the e-mail was prompted by reports from “one building or maybe two” where principals had directed teachers to read pedagogical or curriculum-related books and be prepared to discuss them when they return to school in August.

“There weren’t any big red flags waving here in the office,” Burnett said. “I was just directed to just send that gentle reminder.

“While we always want our people to continue to grow and expand their foundation, sometimes it doesn’t always feel like, ‘You should do this because it’s good for you’ vs. ‘This is the expectation,’ ” she said.

The e-mail was “a simple reminder to say, you know, you are contracted for 190 days, and while you can always take advantage of those opportunities, the reality is you can also choose to say, ‘Well, no.’ ”

Burnett added that most teachers work over summer break – attending conferences, reviewing curriculum, preparing lessons, taking classes or pursuing higher degrees.

Some teachers assign mandatory summer reading for their students, particularly in higher-level classes such as advanced placement English or in the International Baccalaureate program.

“That would be different, as we are contracted employees,” Burnett said. “We don’t want it to come out that we never do anything beyond our contract, because we all know that for 99.5 percent of us, that’s always a fallacy.”

District spokeswoman Susan Arensman said summertime assignments for teachers “is not a common practice,” and the situation referenced by the union e-mail was isolated.

“It is only suggested reading, not mandatory,” she said.

“We want our teachers to enjoy their off-contract time so they can come back refreshed and ready for next year,” Arensman said. “We also know many teachers read to advance their knowledge for themselves and their students on their own time during the summer months.”

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