Wichita teachers union officials are urging teachers to “work to the contract” on Monday as a show of solidarity against what they say are increasing workloads and decreasing respect for educators.
“Our purpose is to illustrate what you all already know: If teachers ONLY did what was absolutely required, schools would fold,” United Teachers of Wichita said in a statement sent to teachers and posted on the group’s Facebook page on Tuesday.
“Every day, year after year one more item has been placed on your plate without anything being removed ... it has to stop.”
The first-ever call for teachers to work only their contracted hours – from 10 minutes before school starts to 10 minutes after it ends, with a 40-minute duty-free break for lunch – is the latest volley in what has been a tense year for contract negotiations.
Talks between the Wichita district and its teachers union broke down again last week after a mediation session ended without agreement on a contract for the current school year.
Teachers currently are working under the terms of the 2015-16 contract.
District officials on Tuesday said Wichita teachers “are a dedicated group of employees and many often go above and beyond the contract day for the benefit of our students.
“The Board of Education recognizes the great work that our teachers do,” spokeswoman Susan Arensman said in an e-mail. “If teachers want to work within their contract, it is their right to do so.”
‘How much teachers do’
Declaring Monday as “Contract Day” is intended to illustrate to teachers, school officials and community members “how much teachers do (that is) above and beyond what they’re required to do,” said union president Steve Wentz.
“The point of it is, we’ve gotten to a place where the plate is so full without anything getting taken off, and something needs to stop,” Wentz said. “It needs to end.”
The initiative focuses on three specific parts of the current teacher contract, Wentz said: arrival time, lunch time and departure time.
“For this one day … we are asking all teachers to meet and walk in together in the AM, take all 40 minutes you are guaranteed in the contract for lunch,” the statement says.
“And 10 minutes after the dismissal bell rings, you turn off the light, close the door, grab your briefcase/purse etc., and walk out to your vehicle and go home!
“Go home in time to spend a real evening with your loved ones,” the statement says. “For ONE day, you have a life. Go for a walk in the evening. Read a book to your kids. Breathe.”
Wentz said he expects some teachers will question the effort or refuse to participate because “they’re so used to doing more.”
Many secondary teachers tutor students before or after school or during lunch, he said. Elementary teachers often stay at school long after the dismissal bell, because parents pick up children late and the teachers don’t want to leave students unsupervised.
“It’s difficult, because everybody wants to do what’s right for kids,” Wentz said. “But I’m asking them for one day to put themselves first. And in the end, I believe if the district takes care of us, it puts kids first.”
Wentz pointed to additional work for teachers that is tied to writing lessons, developing individualized education plans for special-needs students and submitting state- or district-required paperwork.
“Too much of that paperwork is not about what’s best for kids,” he said. “It’s something that’s being piled onto teachers because somebody who’s not in a classroom has determined that’s what we need to do.”
Wentz said teachers who receive extra pay for additional duties such as bus monitor, lunchroom supervisor or sponsoring an after-school activity should perform those duties as spelled out in their supplemental contracts.
The union also is asking teachers and supporters to demonstrate at North High School before the Wichita school board’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday.
“For teachers to follow through on this, it’s going to be difficult,” Wentz said. “Kids are at their doors for lunch, and I’m asking them to tell those kids ‘not today.’ And that’s tough.
“But we’ve got to draw attention to the fact that teachers are grossly overworked,” he said. “We’re drowning here, and all we’ve really gotten from the district is lip service on that.”