To the Editor:
The plan to impose a 6th class on Stamford’s high school teachers is profoundly ill-advised. Teachers are already pushed to their limit trying to properly instruct up to 150 students. An additional class would raise that cap to 180 students, further threatening the effectiveness of our instruction. The Stamford Education Association will fight this plan all the way through arbitration, if necessary, but a drawn-out battle can and should be avoided.
Trying to cloak this 6th class directive in the mantle of equity only adds to the sense that teachers are held in contempt by most members of the Board of Ed (especially Josh Esses) and many Central Office administrators, who seem unaware that teachers are already working multiple hours after school without pay for a wide range of activities, including advising clubs, coaching, grading into the night and on weekends, writing college recommendations, and much more – none of which fits into the non-instructional “free time” that Mr. Esses and SPS Finance Director Ryan Fealey don’t acknowledge is built into our daily schedules for lesson planning; continual adjustments to that planning based on student progress and differentiation; student conferences; coordination with counselors, co-teachers, and special ed responsibility teachers; department and IDT meetings; communication with parents; collateral duties; and whatever grading can be accomplished in any time remaining – all done in the service of our students, who often arrive in our classrooms woefully unprepared at the start of the year for grade-level work.
Everyone knows this plan is really about money, not equity. As ESSER funds dry up, the budget is being squeezed. The solution, apparently, is to stop paying high school teachers 20% of their salary to teach a 6th class, and then reduce the number of teachers in the district through attrition, burnout, and mass exodus, despite the fact that no highly-rated district in the area imposes a 6th class on high school teachers. Ironically, genuine collaboration throughout the year between Central Office administrators and teachers could develop solutions to ongoing problems that would be mutually beneficial, without the stress and antagonism that the current approach engenders.
Please understand that, like virtually every teacher in Stamford, I love my job and I’m grateful to have it. The rewards of educating young people are incomparable. I’m speaking out only because I hate to see SPS needlessly roiled by this conflict. Parents should understand that if teachers are compelled by this plan to “work to the contract,” it would mean an end to everything teachers do outside of regular hours that is not directly compensated or called for in our contractual duties. That would be deeply painful for teachers and go against our heartfelt desire to do all we can to help our students, but the threat of this directive may give us no other choice. Please let the Board and Central Office know if you, like teachers, hope that this plan is not implemented.
Denbaum is an English teacher at Westhill High School, an SPS Teacher of the Year Finalist, and an SPS Spotlight Award winner.