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Archive for August 3rd, 2006

Here I am, gearing up for another year of teaching for a major metropolitan public school system, wondering what the year will bring. I look forward to meeting my new students, to getting into the rhythm of a new year of learning. As the summer quickly comes to an end, I am reminded that I have a mountain of odd tasks that I’d like to accomplish while I still have some free time on my hands.

These two things were on my “To Do” list today:

1. Call the car dealership to schedule service

2. Call HR to confirm receipt of my transcript (documenting my updated education level, and thus my salary)

I called the car dealership first. A pleasant voice answered on the second ring, transferred me to the service department, where it rang once and another pleasant voice had my appointment set in about thirty seconds.

Next, I called the school system’s HR department. It rang several times, asked me to hold (“Your call is VERY important to us,” explains a silky voice, “but all HR representatives are assisting other callers. Please hold.”) Finally, a tired sounding person answered, and I explained why I was calling. “Um. You are calling the Elm Street location. Where did you have the transcript sent to?” I explained politely that I dialed the number for the other location, which is where I was instructed to send the transcript. “Oh. We’ve recently moved.” After a little back and forth, ironing out the apparent misunderstanding, I was then informed that I needed to speak with someone else, anyway, so I was transferred to another person’s line.

After about four rings, I was asked to hold, which I did…and then I held some more. Finally, another tired sounding voice answered, and I had to explain myself again. When I stated that I mailed in the requisite application and transcript, my friendly helper exclaimed, “Why do all you people do that?!?! You should have delivered it in person!” At this point, I said, “Oh no, no, no. We are not going in that direction. I mailed it in because the form instructed me to MAIL IT IN. I asked whether you have received my transcript, and that is all I need.” My friendly helper said gruffly, “hold on.” And boy did I ever hold on. My guess is about 8 minutes (enough time to empty the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen). Then, finally, my friendly helper came back on to ask me when the transcript was sent, which forced me to log onto my on-line banking account, to tell him the date I was charged for the transcript. “So this is just your first Master’s degree?” he sniffed. “Yes, just the first.” “Hold on………” Finally, my friendly helper returned to grudgingly report that yes, my transcript had been received (I got the distinct impression that this was the result of a physical search, not something that he looked up on a database).

This is not a new experience. In fact, every single time I have had some business with the central office, there has been some sort of bureaucratic problem. Last year they needed some (seemingly trivial) paperwork from me, which, I was told, I must hand deliver downtown. Weeks after I did this (and received a date stamped copy), I was informed in a rather threatening way that I had not submitted the paperwork. I had to fax it to them (twice!) before they “received” it. Oh, and don’t even bother showing up to “hand deliver” something or otherwise in need of assistance any time between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM. It will be a ghost town in the name of “lunch.” Teachers are not treated as clients – they are treated as obstacles to an otherwise blissful day of solitaire and Internet shopping. I have never witnessed such unprofessionalism, such mismanagement, and, ultimately, such waste. I guarantee I could do the work of at least four people at this bloated operation. I read with no small measure of glee about the plan to cut jobs at headquarters, in an attempt to “balance the budget.”

My point here? When the system doesn’t value its teachers, and in fact treats them with grudging condescension, I wonder what that does to overall morale, to the sense that we teachers are a valued and integral part of making any school system succeed. Students deserve the very best teachers, and teachers deserve the very best support from their districts. Believe me, every time I have an experience like this, I start thinking about working in the suburbs.

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