October 6 — 5:28 pm, 2016

Weary of the contract standoff, teacher contemplates leaving the profession

My name is Bryan Steinberg, and I am proudly part of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. In my 8th year of teaching seniors at both Olney High School and the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, I have started to question my career in teaching. I still love my job and the students I teach every day. I’m very lucky to be at Rush, so I do not take my job for granted. I keep a smile on my face, and do the best I can every single day because the students and parents deserve exceptional instructional quality. For as long as I can remember, the teaching profession was a noble endeavor and usually held in high regard by most people, and I still think that is the case in other areas of the country.

However, in the last four years, teaching in Philadelphia has become a bit of a burden because of factors such as the dismantling of public education in Philadelphia, lack of funding, lack of oversight with charter schools, not having a contract for four years, or hearing that teachers are "greedy” and “need to work longer hours” by certain politicians within the School Reform Commission who love to demonize teachers. All of these factors make me want to hang up my teaching shoes and leave the profession. So I’m about to clear up some misconceptions about these so called “greedy” teachers.

Many of my colleagues throughout the district echo my sentiment, because it is quite demoralizing to look at my paycheck every two weeks, and see $1,310 ($655 a week) for the last four consecutive years. Right now, I am being paid as a 4th-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree ($54,365 a year), but I’m really an 8th-year teacher with a master’s degree that should be making $67,778 a year if our salaries were not frozen in time. The pay stopped coming, but the student loans certainly did not! As a professional educator, it is a slap in the face to hear Bill Green, former leader of the School Reform Commission, call us "lazy" or "undeserving of a raise because we don’t share in the sacrifice" because we are affiliated with a union, a union which Mr. Green has been trying to break since he was undemocratically assigned to the School Reform Commission by Gov. Corbett and Mayor Nutter a few years back.

I would love if the Inquirer, Daily News, Philadelphia City Council, and Mayor Kenney would put out continuous public statements every single day on the news, radio, and on social media that put pressure on the School Reform Commission members and Superintendent Hite to negotiate a contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. No matter what anyone will tell you, teaching is a 60-hour workweek if you include grading, lesson planning, meeting with parents, and improving your craft and skills through professional development training. A teacher’s day officially ends between 2:54 and 3:30 p.m. in the Philadelphia School District, but this does not mean that the workday is over. There really is no overtime pay for a teacher unless you’re a coach or are in charge of some extracurricular activities after school hours. As for summer vacation, if you take the extra 20 hours a week in paperwork that teachers do at home and multiply that by 38 weeks (9½ months), it actually averages to a little over 40 hours a week if we worked throughout the summer. We actually work as many hours as people in the private sector, but we do it over a condensed 9 ½ months. Many teachers in the SDP have a second job to supplement their lack of rising income over the past few years. Furthermore, the district is currently hiring new teachers from outside the district and paying them for prior years served in other districts, which means they are being paid at the correct rate. This is unacceptable and very demoralizing for all Philadelphia teachers working over the last four years without a contract.

Consequently, many teachers will probably quit the district this year or in the next couple years because there is no collective bargaining agreement, and teachers are humans who like to plan for their future and budget appropriately for their families. There’s the old saying, “you get what you pay for!” Unfortunately, if you keep salaries frozen for four years in a row, many people will go elsewhere because they think they are worth a hell of a lot more than what the district is offering us at this present time, which is a salary pay cut as well as paying into our health care! The School Reform Commission and Superintendent Hite said that they are negotiating with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, but that’s a lie because the last time they met was June 20, 2016. Superintendent Hite told the Inquirer he wants to give teachers a contract a few weeks ago in August. Teachers have been waiting since June 20, 2016, for a contract offer from the district. … I’m sure the School Reform Commission and the district would love to hire 10,000 first- and second-year teachers to save money and fill the void, but I hate to break it to them – experience counts in this profession. I don’t think parents would appreciate their child being taught by all first- and second-year teachers. You need veteran teachers to guide new teachers in the district to prevent them from making any missteps early on that will adversely affect their child’s future. I need veteran teachers because as an 8th year teacher, there are plenty of things that I still need to learn as well.

The students of Philadelphia deserve experienced, educated, and dedicated teachers in every building just as they have in the suburban districts. Parents, former students, friends, and colleagues, please take this letter into consideration, and call on your politicians to do the right thing and put constant pressure on the district, Superintendent Hite, and the School Reform Commission to negotiate a contract. I have the privilege to work with the most creative, intelligent, and open-minded staff at Rush. I can only hang on a little while longer, so please take this letter seriously because I do speak on the behalf of many teachers who believe that the district treats them as expendable cargo instead of human beings with families. I would like to do this for 30 years, but unfortunately many teachers will not make it to 30 years if politicians keep telling the public that teachers are “lazy.” Trust me, teaching is not a “comfy union job.”                                                                                                            


Bryan Steinberg  

Social studies teacher at Rush


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