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In the business world no one would limit the time to meet with customers to just 32 ten-minute time slots over two afternoons

2013 December 9
by Greg Reibman

One of Newton South’s student papers Deneobla explores the world of parent teacher conferences, which apparently falls into the category of something  no one is satisfied with but is unlikely to change.

Here’s one customer’s perspective…

“I never have felt that these parent/teacher conferences were very fair for parents like myself who work…We all have to take time off…there’s no early morning…and they favor stay at home parents.”

And an employee’s view….

“It’s very stressful to have 18 sets of parents in a three-hour time period because it’s sort of like speed dating parents.”

And the reality….

Some people hope there may be more time slots in the future so that they have a better chance of scheduling all the conferences they want. Any changes to scheduling, however, would have to be approved by the school committee and the Newton Teachers’ Association.



54 Responses Post a comment
  1. Kim permalink
    December 10, 2013 01:06 AM

    No need to stuff these things over 2 afternoons. Teachers should set up meeting with students parents with whom they have the most concern as soon as they have been identified. Then meeet with others over the term at a rate of 2 or 3 a day after school.

  2. Joanne permalink
    December 10, 2013 08:28 AM

    What they should explore is the Teachers Contract. For Middle School – the Principal is very clear that he is restricted to 2 afternoons for a set time frame because of the teachers contract. You are only allowed to meet with some of the teachers because if you meet with all of them then some parents who are not at their computer when the scheduling starts will be without any meetings. The same was done with the HS this year – you were only allowed to meet with 3 of the teachers. You had to chose and if you felt the need to meet with all of them – well you were out of luck.

    What is interesting is that the NSHS article did not use the real name of the parent who commented.

    NNHS has sophomore meetings during the day for parents that are run by the Guidance counselors and even with that it had a disclaimer – “We understand that having the groups during the day may conflict with parent schedules, however, we are bound by contractual limitations to not have additional evening events added. ”

    So until the NPS and the SC realizes this and hopefully correct this in the next Teacher contract – nothing will change.

    The other thing they need to add in the Contract is that Teachers in the HS and MS level need to have Websites that list homework at the MINIMUM. Parents have been told that since it is NOT in the Contract – teachers dont have to do it. NPS wants money for Computers and Technology but then they cant even get the teachers to post Homework on a website.

  3. Newton Mom permalink
    December 10, 2013 10:24 AM

    My son in fourth grade (two years ago) had a teacher that I could not even EMAIL. She claimed she didn’t know her user name or password. We were trying to have my son type his papers, and she did NOT use the computer at ALL. She was a teacher that was in her 30’s and I was shocked that it was okay to answer a parent like that. . . . .

  4. Geoff Epstein permalink
    December 10, 2013 11:30 AM

    This is squarely a parent/teacher/student education communication issue.

    It seems very reasonable that the parents of each student should be able to have a 10-15 minute parley with each teacher their student has. Would anyone disagree with that as a best practice?

    Given that, it’s a matter of getting a small working group with input from the NPS admin & staff, NTA, parent community and SC to provide a set of recommendations.

    Maybe the conferences can be spread out more in time, have a remote conference option, have evening slots and match the parental need so parents who want to have conferences don’t miss out.

    What could be more important to help our kids succeed than to welcome their parents into the process of making sure their kids are making the most of the opportunities our school system offers?

    This is a key communication issue and everyone would benefit from a much improved process.

  5. Joanne permalink
    December 10, 2013 12:06 PM

    Geoff – The Problem is the TEACHERS CONTRACT. I agree – I think it is STUPID that I cannot meet with all of my child’s teachers. But if THE NPS TEACHERS are not Contractually bound to meet with ALL of the parents of the children in their class than the School Principals have no choice but to cut the amount of teachers you can meet with so everyone has a fair shot at meeting with at least some teachers.

    Unfortunately the contract is the issue here and unless you get buy in from the NTA this isnt going anywhere. And at what PRICE will it cost US to get them to do this?

  6. Jane permalink
    December 10, 2013 02:40 PM

    Does your doctor, plumber, lawyer, dentist, or electrician have evening appointments when it’s not an emergency? If not, how do you handle it? When you schedule the delivery of furniture or a washing machine, and you’re told that that it will arrive some time between the hours of 12 and 4, what do you do?

  7. Colleen Minaker permalink
    December 10, 2013 02:46 PM

    When my children were in school I did not think it necessary to meet with all their teachers every year. I did appreciate a written summary of their semester progress and an outline of the curriculum. Seldom did I ever see both.
    Personal meetings with teachers should be either by parent request or teacher request.

  8. December 10, 2013 03:06 PM

    @Jane: It’s an interesting parallel. But at least if I want to buy an appliance or get my teeth cleaned I’m not restricted to two afternoons each year to do so, nor do I have to go online at a specific date and time to get those oh-so-rare appointments.

    Also comparing meeting your kids’ teacher to being held hostage by the cable TV repair man does fall into the category of “But Dad, Billy’s parents are letting him go to the movies on a school night” followed by “If Billy’s parents let him jump off a cliff should I let you jump off a cliff too?”

  9. December 10, 2013 03:13 PM

    BTW, to be totally fair, there have been numerous times over the years when my kid’s teachers have met with us and been available at times other than parent conferences. I assume in those instances they are operating beyond the parameters of their contractual obligations. I greatly appreciate that and hope I have always conveyed my appreciation at those times.

    But the issue is with the structure, which no one seems to like. This is not a complaint about the men and women who teach our kids.

  10. Geoff Epstein permalink
    December 10, 2013 03:30 PM

    We could also easily track if the current approach discriminates against low income families who generally have much less flexibility to take time off work.

    The issue overall does involve the contract which constrains these meetings. I’d guess that most teachers, however, would welcome a system where they can capitalize on parental interest to get the best out of their students.

    This should be an issue in the 2014 contract negotiations and we should work to get a solution which benefits everyone.

  11. December 10, 2013 03:59 PM

    We could also easily track if the current approach discriminates against low income families who generally have much less flexibility to take time off work.

    Explain how income matters or why it needs to be “tracked”? Meetings in the afternoon discriminates against anyone who can’t attend afternoon meetings. “Better-off” people who have jobs in Boston or Rhode Island, have to travel, or who can’t easily leave their office for whatever reason, should be able to meet with their kids’ teachers no matter what their income is.

  12. Geoff Epstein permalink
    December 10, 2013 05:15 PM

    Low income students are a sub group of great interest as they have different ways they are handled in the system.

    For example, while the SPED identification in the overall NPS population is 19%, the low income group is identified at a 35-37% rate.

    Low income families are currently tracked for free lunch programs etc but their data cannot be used for other purposes. However, there is an ongoing discussion in NPS about possibilities for letting them opt in to allow us to use their data to see for example if their participation in music programs etc is lower than the rest of the population.

    The idea is to help these families and their students get equal access to educational opportunities. That could well include equal access to two way input with teachers on educational matters. Low income employees may well not have the flexibility in hours that higher income employees have. I don’t know.

    But if we tracked the data, we could see if low income families are getting less access to teacher guidance through these conferences. That’s what I am saying.

  13. December 10, 2013 05:32 PM

    …and what I’m saying is every parent — from those at poverty level to zillionares — ought to be able to meet with their kids’ teachers. I’m sure you’re not proposing that conferences be scheduled based on income so what’s the point of that research? We already know that there are more kids than time slots. We already know that many people work in the day time, and often far from Newton.

    The problem isn’t tracking. It’s contractual. The only question is do we have the desire and the resources to alter this?

    And by the way, if the solution is to offer teachers added compensation, those zillionares may come in handy!

  14. mgwa permalink
    December 10, 2013 06:37 PM

    @Greg – FYI, people with lower income jobs more often have jobs that do not allow them flexibility in taking time off during the day, or penalize them more for it. Yes, daytime meetings are inconvenient and difficult for almost every working parent, but those who have higher paying jobs are less likely to suffer financially or otherwise for taking the time off.

  15. Jane permalink
    December 10, 2013 07:36 PM

    Thank you, Greg, for acknowledging that teachers meet regularly with parents outside of the parent/teacher schedule. I had many conversations with my kids’ HS teachers outside of the scheduled conference times as well. I don’t know of any teacher at any level who doesn’t make every accommodation possible to communicate with parents who’d be penalized in their workplace for taking time off for a conference. It’s the highest priority.

    But your doctor? Or your lawyer? They accommodate your work schedule? What about the dentist? If they do, I’d love the referral because we’ve always been expected to schedule these appointments during our work day.

  16. December 10, 2013 08:05 PM

    @MGWA: I agree 100% and my apologies if i seemed to be suggesting otherwise. My only point is, we don’t need to do any “tracking” to find out if this is true. That just feels like a stalling tactic and perhaps some more busy work for some overworked administrators. It does nothing to address the need.

    @Jane: You’re welcome. But no I won’t share the name of my dentist who works on Saturdays because then you might take my time slot!

  17. KarenN permalink
    December 10, 2013 10:15 PM

    @ Jane– you are advancing an attitude that really upsets the rest of that world that works more than 180 days a year. Get over it and feel extremely grateful for your highly-advantaged lifestyle. Btw, enjoy your to-death 80% of your highest salary pension benefits and a retirement that the average worker can’t afford on Social Security until well past 70 but that the average Massachusetts teacher can start enjoying as early as 60.

    Every time that I go to NSHS or Oak Hill on a Tuesday conference day, I think….”how much of this is affecting the economic productivity of the rest of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?” Me, I have to take a half a day of vacation time every time to accommodate the limited conference schedule. Since I work a heck of a lot more than 180 days a year (meaning, like most working parents, I get less time off all year than teachers get from September-June), this has a big impact on my total time off. As do all the early release days.

    But let’s just talk conference times. Since I have two kids, with conferences two times a year, each requiring that I take a half a day of vacation time — I take 2 days out of my 15 days of vacation time JUST to meet with teachers for what —12 rushed minutes?

    I was particularly disappointed by my last round of NSHS speed conferences. We only signed up for 2 conferences, while we could have signed up for 3 — and the system even mandates a 10 minute break between conferences so that parents optimize the time of the teachers. Well, Joel Stemberg wasn’t on the ball and didn’t announce the end of the period preceding our conference with our son’s English teacher. We interrupted when the previous parents were 5 minutes past their time– only to be told that our teacher couldn’t make up the time because she had to pick up her children, even though I assumed that teachers were contactually obligated to be there until 4 p.m.

    Why should parents have to take a half a vacation day to meet with their teachers? Couldn’t we have SKYPE as an option? And have parents been asked about how they value “Curriculum Night”? To me Curriculum Night is a whopping waste of time that could be accomplished by video messages from teachers and public postings of syllabi. Much better to put this contractually obligated teacher time towards having productive and more convenient dialogs with parents.

  18. Gail Spector permalink
    December 10, 2013 10:24 PM

    I’m pretty sure that anytime I’ve had concerns that I’ve wanted to discuss with a teacher, we’ve found a way to communicate — either in-person, by phone or via email. I don’t know exactly what the contract mandates about these high school one-on-ones but there’s no way you’re going to please everybody. It’s not something I’d want to see the School Committee put a lot of time and energy into, given all the other collective bargaining issues.

    Maybe I’ve just been lucky with the teachers my kids have had though.

  19. Geoff Epstein permalink
    December 11, 2013 12:05 AM

    A survey of parents on this issue would provide some very useful data to help guide the best outcome. They are the customers here.

  20. mgwa permalink
    December 11, 2013 12:20 AM

    Just as a contrast, a friend’s kid went to Minuteman High School and parent-teacher conferences were in the evenings there. So having evening conferences sis not outside the regional norms.

  21. KarenN permalink
    December 11, 2013 07:32 AM

    Gail, maybe it isn’t an issue for you because you’re lucky that you work in Newton and have a flexible schedule. A lot of parents don’t, especially in the “new normal” of working more hours. These conferences (early release days as well) are a pain point with a lot of parents. Also, these conferences aren’t supposed to be about “needing” to speak to a teacher. These are about establishing communication and drawing out/engaging with parents NOT about discussing urgent problems. I don’t see why some evenings could not be offered. The NPS schedule is NOT working parent friendly in so many ways and there should be some kind of parent survey to see how the contract could move more in the direction of parent vs. teacher convenience.

  22. Jane permalink
    December 11, 2013 07:52 AM

    Still waiting for that list of professionals who see clients in the evening. In an emergency? Of course. But for a regular update, I don’t know of any.

    Teachers spend a tremendous amount of time communicating with parents and consider it en essential part of the job. No, Gail, you weren’t lucky. What you experienced was the norm. Thankfully, the parent who views teachers as a group separate from the “rest of the world” and privileged is small. In my experience, the overwhelmingly majority of Newton parents are respectful and eager to work in partnership the teachers and staff.

  23. Joanne permalink
    December 11, 2013 08:23 AM

    Chestnut Dental – evening and Saturday Appts. Oh they are in Needham.
    Our Pediatrician has evening hours – oh he is in Waltham.

    Jane – sorry you dont recognize that a problem does exist in the Schools – but every communication I get regarding the teachers conferences or the Guidance Counselor meetings LISTS that because of THEIR CONTRACT they do not have meetings in the evenings.

    And that is the SAME reason given about Homework on a Teachers Webpage ( most teachers at NNHS DO NOT have any type of Webpage) – I was told by Jen Price that since it is NOT In the contract she cannot make them do it and if she did she would have to compromise on something else. Tell me – would you rather get 10+ emails from parents or students daily asking about HW or just have it listed on a webpage? ANd we found out about this when my child was home sick and wanted to keep up with his homework.

  24. Gail Spector permalink
    December 11, 2013 08:46 AM

    Karen, Newton South always holds conferences on Tuesdays. When I was at the TAB, that was deadline day, not what one would call a day with flexibility. I used to gripe about the timing every year. But a couple of times I just decided to skip them and talk to the teachers on the phone, and you know what? It was fine. Now, that was me and my kids, and I recognize it wouldn’t work for everybody. And, understand, I’m talking about high school. There’s no way I would have accepted anything less than a person-to-person meeting with an elementary school teacher. But by high school there are so many teachers that I’m willing to accept that I need to start letting go. My son is now a senior in college and my daughter is a senior in high school and it’s worked out fine. I only got to know a couple of their high school teachers but I was never surprised by a report card. Again, I recognize I’m only talking about my situation.

    I can’t swear to this but I’m pretty sure that some, if not most, of my kids’ high school teachers have had websites where they list homework too. Although it’s probably true literally, I don’t buy the argument that they don’t do it because it’s not in their contract. I suspect that Jen Price was brushing you off Joanne.

  25. Lisap permalink
    December 11, 2013 09:41 AM

    I agree somewhat with Gail on this one. At the high school level, I have found with only a couple of exceptions that the teachers are very responsive to email and telephone inquiries so I no longer agonize over trying to get those quick conferences. At the elementary and middle schools though, I found that they really were critical where there was a single teacher or team taught classes. As for websites, this is an area that I do think could be improved as we’ve found that it can be a real hit or miss as to which teachers regularly update their websites and which ones don’t even have websites, and finding teachers who post a class syllabus are the exception rather than the norm.

  26. Jane permalink
    December 11, 2013 09:44 AM

    Over the years, I’ve sent out hundreds of communications to parents requesting a conference and have never included anything about the teacher’s contract, not do I know of any teacher who has done such a thing.

    As a HS parent, I went to the conferences and usually didn’t even need the whole ten minutes. My kids’s issues generally popped up at other times of the year (how inconvenient of them!) so I’d contact the teacher or counselor when it was timely. On those occasions, the conversations took as long as was necessary to discuss my concerns. No teacher ever mentioned the contract to me when I requested a time to speak with him/her. Three kids, K-12 in Newton schools, and no one ever brought up the contract about any issue. No one ever refused to meet or talk with me for any reason.

  27. Hoss permalink
    December 11, 2013 10:08 AM

    I hope school administration is reviewing this thread. I don’t know what Newton has today in terms of a portal to talk to teachers (my kids didn’t go to Newton schools) but it feels like an official portal dedicated to teacher communications would be helpful as a replacement for email (and some face to face mtgs). Something similar to what the hospitals use such that you can write to your doctor. This way a teacher can feel free to talk about private matters w/o privacy concerns. If would also give some metrics to the administration in terms of volume of communications and response times — a customer service delivery perspective.

  28. Joanne permalink
    December 11, 2013 10:09 AM

    Actually Gail – if you know Jen Price – she usually is pretty clear cut and doesnt tend to brush people off. It is NOT in the contract and she cannot mandate them to do it. Something I guess that the Superintendent could mandate if he wanted to. But I guess he doesnt want to do it either.

    It is in the Natick Public schools contracts and all of those teachers do have a website.

    Glad most of your kids teachers had websites – but unfortunately this is the second year in a row that we lucked out with most of my childs teachers not having websites at NNHS.

  29. December 11, 2013 10:24 AM

    @Hoss, there is a portal called ParentConnect, but the communication is only one way – school to home. You are right that the patient portals that many doctors now have is a good model to look at. They have come about because two way communication results in better quality care.

    And I would take issue with calling parents customers or clients. They are partners with teachers and administrators in the process of educating our children. I totally agree that we need to find a better way to communicate with one another.

  30. Joanne permalink
    December 11, 2013 10:41 AM

    Jane – the Adminstrators at both Day and NNHS and NNHS GC in the past month sent out Communications to Parents about the parents conferences and in the case of the NNHS GC regarding a meeting and in ALL cases the issue of the time/date of the meetings were because of the teachers contracts. The communications was sent to ALL Parents at those 2 schools.

  31. Lisap permalink
    December 11, 2013 10:42 AM

    While I’ve never had a teacher make any reference to their contract, I will say that about two years ago Jen Price sent NNHS parents an email explaining that the limited availability of time slots for parent-teacher meetings was due to the Teachers’ Contract and not any administrative decision.

  32. Newton Mom permalink
    December 11, 2013 11:01 AM

    Call me crazy, but I work and get the work done that I have to . . . I am an “at will” employee so there is no contract to hide behind. The work must get done. Of course I don’t have 30 kids in a class and have 30 sets of parents in each of my five classes.

    However when a new task gets dropped on my desk, I am expected to rise to the occassion. :)

    I can’t hide behind a contract. If I need to develop a website, and post homework to it, then I do it.

    The parent teacher conference schedule is insane. If you aren’t by your computer the moment sign ups open, then you are locked out. It is really sad.

  33. Hoss permalink
    December 11, 2013 12:16 PM

    Margaret Albright — I know what you mean about “customer” but there are process steps around responsiveness. If the enterprise never uses a term like customer service, I can’t see how they would be open to learning the tried and true steps. Practice professionals in many industries hit this same fence with terms they use for the basics of serving people.

    Part of the reason I’m saying this is as a taxpayer, it’s hard to understand why the school dept is such a sovereign nation on terms of administration and most other aspects including terminology. If all of Newton government learned the same basics like responsiveness, spoke the same language, shared staffing (finance, HR, IT) and generally acted as one enterprise, we’d gain a lot.

  34. Patrick permalink
    December 11, 2013 01:20 PM

    Jane, since you are waiting, let me provide a partial list of professionals who see clients in the evenings as part of their regular extended work day:

    1) insurance agents, 2) real estate agents, 3) financial advisors, 4) architects, 5) construction general mangers, 6) carpenters, 7) plumbers, 8) electricians, 9) psychiatrists, 10) physical trainers.

    There seems to be a lot of activity in our evenings. May I add that most of these professionals even come to my house; they do not require me to come to their place of work. They understand that part of their job is to accommodate their clients’ busy schedules.

    Perhaps other concerned parents can add to this list.

  35. Gail Spector permalink
    December 11, 2013 01:58 PM

    Joanne – Point taken about Jen Price and her direct manner.

    All – I would think most high school teachers have websites. Is this not true?

    I also would discourage calling parents customers or clients. Calling a parent a client implies that the teacher is performing a service for the parent. Literally that might be the case because the teacher is teaching the parent’s child. I’d rather have teachers focus on students than parents. If the parent and the child are the clients, the teacher now has two or three clients for every child (one or two parents plus the student).

  36. Lisap permalink
    December 11, 2013 02:09 PM

    I just did a very quick and unscientific survey of English teachers at Newton North with webpages. Out of 22 teachers only 5 had webpages linked. On the other hand, in the science dept. out of 22 teachers only 4 did NOT have webpages linked.

  37. Lisap permalink
    December 11, 2013 02:14 PM

    Also at North, in the math dept. of 29 teachers 21 had links to websites. In the history dept. out of 26 teachers, only 10 had links to websites. Looks like the STEM teachers win on the websites over their english/history colleagues.

  38. Gail Spector permalink
    December 11, 2013 02:15 PM

    Awesome work Lisap! Do you have time to do the same thing with Newton South? It would be an interesting comparison. (I’d offer but I’m running out of the house…)

  39. Bill Brandel permalink
    December 11, 2013 02:40 PM

    I would add that there are web pages, and then there are those that are updated on a timely basis. However, considering that the parents have spent their adult lives with the Internet, and our kids probably can not imagine what life was like without it, it is a natural and obvious vehicle for addressing 90% of the issues raised on this thread. It would probably reduce cost, increase productivity and add convenience while being more measurable than teacher conferences. So, if you really want to discuss how customer satisfaction gets addressed in the 21st century…

  40. Jane permalink
    December 11, 2013 03:06 PM

    Patrick – And they get paid for that time. Billable hours kind of pay.

  41. Lisap permalink
    December 11, 2013 03:31 PM

    Here you go – for Newton South:
    Math teachers: 14 have websites, 10 do not.
    English teachers: 14 have websites, 10 do not.
    History: 8 teachers have websites, 15 do not.
    Science: 10 teachers have websites, 14 do not.

    So at South, the Math and English teachers take the lead with websites. The schools organize their directories a little differently – North’s directory is searchable by dept. whereas South provides an alphabetical list so my sincere regrets if I missed any South teacher. I don’t think so but this is unscientific and subject to human error (mine!).

  42. Gail Spector permalink
    December 11, 2013 07:04 PM

    Thanks Lisap!

  43. Patrick permalink
    December 11, 2013 08:22 PM

    Jane, at least half of the positions I listed work on salary and/or commission. So billable hours is not an issue. They put in the hours because that is what is expected with the position. Perhaps people in those professions could join in here and enlighten us to their workday requirements and billable hours.

    Those professionals who get hourly pay for the extra hours worked are like teachers who also coach school athletic teams and/or some of the after-school activities.

    And do you want to compare annual salaries for teachers with about 190 work days with other professionals whose annual workday number is in the 220 to 230 range?

  44. Patrick permalink
    December 11, 2013 08:32 PM

    Gail, I have not reread the 40+ comments so I do not know how many people may have used the terms “clients” and/or “customers” when referring to the parent/teacher relationship. I believe Jane and I have been very careful to use the terms when referring to the relationship between people, who happen to be parents of students, with non-teaching professionals. We have called parents by that title when addressing the parent/teacher relationship.

    Maybe the school committee under its new leadership will revisit the question of the type of relationship the teachers should have with the parents. After all, it is the parents who pay a major portion of the teachers’ salaries and benefits. In my world, that is a customer or a client.

  45. KarenN permalink
    December 11, 2013 08:40 PM

    @Jane: I would just like some recognition that to work 180 days a year for a statewide average salary of $72,000 per year (and Newton is on the higher end of the statewide average), receive more time off during the school year than most workers receive during the calendar year, have job security that means that you basically have to be a caught-in-the-act disgusting pervert in order to get fired, and to have the amazing benefit of being able to retire in your early 60’s at 80% of your salary FOR LIFE, is omigosh worth spending an extra couple of evenings on top of your 3:30 or so usual heading home time in a year to spend more than 10 minutes with the parents of the students that you supposedly care so much about.

    Does this mean I think that teachers are lesser professionals? NO. It means that I expect them to buck up and accommodate all the other professionals that have to take vacation time in order to meet with them.

    Oh, and yes… I have found doctors, plumbers, and other professionals who work around my schedule because market forces demand it.

    Hmmmm… market forces. Must be a really foreign concept to a profession that has guaranteed lifetime employment after three years of good service.

  46. Jane permalink
    December 11, 2013 10:12 PM

    Patrick-I appreciate your use of the terms teacher, parent, and student. I really do.

    There’s a continued misperception on this blog that a teacher’s work day and year mirrors that of a student. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even well informed parents around here don’t understand that teachers have to spend many hours to plan for a 6 hour day with 24 students who have diverse emotional and learning needs.

    As for the other issues, this is the way I see it: in the scheme of things, my professional life is pretty typical. When I leave my house in the morning, I don’t say I’m going to school. I say I’m going to work, just like you do, because that’s what it is. Before my husband retired, we’d arrive home at about the same time, tired from the work day. Some days are great, others not so much so. I put in a lot of extra hours, just like other professionals, and don’t complain about it. All I ask is that you don’t deny that I put in the time that includes evenings and weekends, just like other professions. It’s not asking too much.

    As I’ve said over and over again, I’m grateful that the sentiments expressed on this blog about teachers aren’t typical of the vast majority of Newton parents, who most often treat teachers as partners in their children’s education and are extremely respectful of the work teachers do.

  47. Patrick permalink
    December 11, 2013 11:06 PM

    Jane, let me clarify my comments. I realize the teacher’s workday is much longer than a student’s daily schedule. That is why I have focused on workdays instead of billable hours. I also realize the position is very stressful even if it is in a way that is different from police and fire workers. Teaching may not be life threatening on a daily basis as it is for police and fire personnel; however it does require a very high level of energy and mental focus to manage the learning activities of two dozen diverse students. It is not an easy profession, and most teachers give their all to make it the best experience for ther students. I would be surprised if top performing teachers are not exhausted at the end of their day.

    Now that I have said that, I hope you appreciate that non-teaching professionals also have long workdays and stress within their positions. They are also exhausted at the end of their workday. The differences start to appear when items such as extended summer vacation time, age at typical retirement, generous retirement benefits including the now hot topic of healthcare costs, etc. are discussed. Many of those benefits were acquired through union contracts negotiated with politicians, who were also hoping to secure re-election votes from these same union leaders and members. Hey, that’s life; sometimes good things happen to good people. Just do not confuse a teachers union dynamics with that of a private sector management / union scenario. And most private-sector professionals do not have large entities fighting for them; most professionals are employees-at-will, which means there is the added stress of losing their income at a moment’s notice without much recourse available.

    I provide this prior paragraph because you speak of the vast majority of Newton parents, who most often treat teachers as partners in their children’s education and are extremely respectful of the work teachers do. It can be frustrating to some parents when teachers hide behind the constraints of a contract instead of trying to find common ground in resolving the issue of the blog.

  48. Jane permalink
    December 12, 2013 10:00 AM

    The reason I mentioned my spouse was to indicate that I am well aware that most people in all professions work very hard (“we’d arrive home at about the same time, tired from the work day”). Maybe I should have been more explicit.

    I’m sorry, but I do not see teachers hiding behind the contract. In fact, the only people I know who talk about the teachers contract are those who post here or those who are actively negotiating it. Working as partners means that each gives a little. If you can’s get a 10 minute conference, but you can easily communicate with a teacher outside that model, then no one is hiding behind the contract. It means only that this one particular aspect of parent/teacher communication has a set structure. If you wish to talk to a teacher, make a call and ask to talk. But it’s not accurate to say that teachers are hiding behind a contract, with the implication that they’re trying to avoid you or get out of work, when you do in fact have ready access to them.

    On your other topic, anyone who thinks in this day and age that retirement at age 60 means you stop working is living in a dreamworld, unless you’re lucky enough to be a 1%er. No need to get into specifics, but the retirement board regulations require teachers to take 60 days off from public sector work after retirement. I was back at work on day 61. I’m not complaining about it at all – I love my job. Very few of my friends – in any profession, many in education – expect to actually stop working for a number of years. Most are approaching 70, and a few have passed that mark, and continue to work in some capacity.

  49. Gail Spector permalink
    December 12, 2013 10:12 AM

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Newton teacher or administrator mention the contract except during collective bargaining — unless I brought it up first.

  50. Patrick permalink
    December 12, 2013 02:24 PM

    My comments about hiding behind the contract are anecdotal based on comments made by people in this thread and elsewhere. Perhaps they are fabricating situations, which is part of the weakness of the blog world; creating “facts” hoping others will believe.

    I have three children who attended NPS for grades K -12. They have all graduated so I do not claim to be an expert on current situations. I can tell you from personal experience that most teachers during those combined 39 years of NPS education were truly interested in a partnership as you describe it. I can also tell you that there were teachers and guidance counselors who did make an effort, using various tactics, to avoid conversations with me regarding performance issues. Their avoidance to address issues was very frustrating and cost me and my family money in the form of missed work time and seeking non-NPS solutions to my concerns. Those are facts. Those poor performing NPS employees may have been flushed from the system; however I suspect that by the natural order of organizational dynamics, other poor performing teachers have taken their place. That happens in every profession.

    Just like every other profession, there are a few individuals within the teaching community, who create a negative reputation which the whole must bear. It is those individuals who create the situations which cause well intentioned parents to complain about a lack of a partnership with NPS.

    Jane, you present yourself as a good person, who dedicated your professional career to the education of our children. For that I am grateful. You are a strong advocate for teachers. You also appear to have worked during the years when teachers were significantly underpaid for their contributions. It is not surprising that you continue to work. In the current economy, things have changed thanks to union negotiations and poor government policies. One of the good changes is that now teachers, especially in cities like Newton, are paid a very good salary and benefits. I ask that you encourage your fellow teachers to better understand the added pressures parent face in this economic malaise, and for those few poor performers to improve their willingness to work in a partnership with parents. Maybe they will listen to a veteran teacher such as yourself. Thank you.

  51. Dan Fahey permalink
    December 15, 2013 09:28 AM

    Patrick said, “After all, it is the parents who pay a major portion of the teachers’ salaries and benefits. In my world, that is a customer or a client.”

    Interestingly, it is actually the 80% of the households in the city that pay the majority of teacher salaries and benefits. And aren’t we fortunate that is the case. Can you imagine the cost if only those utilizing the schools had to foot the bill?

    Of course, using a longer time horizon, way more than 20% of the population utilizes the schools: they either already have, or will in the future. Those that never have kids or never have kids in the system truly do subsidize those that do.

  52. Patrick permalink
    December 15, 2013 03:11 PM

    Dan, you make an excellent point. I should have used the phrase “people who pay Newton real estate taxes” instead of “parents”. I was responding to Gail’s discomfort with the words “customer” and “client” when people refer to parents of children in the NPS.

    If parents are supposed to be referred to as “partners”, maybe the taxpayers who do not use the NPS should be referred to as “humanitarian benefactors”, after all they are giving their money to a good cause with no expectation of remuneration. Maybe Gail can offer a suggestion since she is the one, who initiated this topic of terminology.

  53. Dan Fahey permalink
    December 15, 2013 10:43 PM

    @Patrick. I was mostly just being picky, and teasing a bit.

  54. Patrick permalink
    December 16, 2013 08:33 PM

    Dan, your pickiness raised a very important aspect of the “pay for services used” problem that I had not included. I am glad you raise your voice. In another thread Julia raised an additional aspect of this bigger puzzle when she identified the pay-per-throw trash program. We have drifted from the topic of this thread; however it does show Newton issues that should be addressed by our mayor, when he returns to the city.

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