This Thursday, December 12th, Gloucester teachers participated in a district wide soft walkout to bring awareness to the fact that they are working without a contract.
Teachers made a statement by leaving school buildings at their contracted end-of-day time. The action was symbolic, however, as many returned to finish working after the demonstration was complete.
Negotiations for a new contract have been underway since the spring, and teachers have been working under the expired document for the entirety of the new school year.
“Our contract has been expired since August,” said physics teacher and Gloucester Teachers Association (GTA) rep Matthew Anderson.
Often contract negotiation brings to mind financial bargaining, but in this case there are a variety of issues up for discussion. The terms of this contract affect the learning environment at Gloucester Schools, as well as how classes are structured, not just how much teachers get paid.
More specifically, the GTA has three main objectives to be addressed.
Said Anderson: “[We’re looking at] safety protocol for the working conditions of students and teachers, the issue of teacher autonomy in making curriculum decisions, and the issue of ensuring a competitive salary for all teachers (meaning new or young teachers as well as experienced).”
Beyond that, the new contract could help ensure that GHS has the support necessary to cater to the learning needs of an evolving student body. The high needs population at GHS (which includes ESL students, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities) has been on the rise in the past few years.
In short, the well-being of the Gloucester Schools community is at the core of the contract issue. The course of action taken to raise awareness makes this doubly clear. Though a true work-to-rule (in which teachers actually leave without returning) might have been more effective in giving the issue a sense of urgency, teachers chose not to because of its adverse effects on students.
“Work-to-rule shoots teachers in the foot and hurts students by taking away valuable time and resources,” explained Rachel Rex, a science teacher and GTA Vice President, “On the other hand, however, it shows the administration, parents, and the greater community all the things teachers do beyond their contracts for their students and the school.”
A new contract has the potential to support teachers in doing all what they already do; everything they can to help their students.