Of all the things that we appreciate about PHS, the majority can be credited to the educators: the ones who come in early and go home late to help us out with a problem set, the ones who sit with us to talk not just about school but also about our lives at home, the ones who respond to emails at just the right time. We’ve all had teachers and counselors who say hello to us in the hallway and look us in the eyes and ask how we’re doing. As much as we sometimes complain about assignments that weren’t graded right away or the difficult assessments we did poorly on, it’s important to remember those educators and faculty members who have truly made it their job to help PHS students grow in and outside of the classroom.
The current educator contracts pay for work until 3:00 p.m., but so many teachers do unpaid work after hours. Preparing lessons, having student conferences, writing recommendations, and grading homework are all things we take for granted. It’s hard to imagine where we’d be if our educators didn’t devote their time to these activities—lessons would consist entirely of tedious textbook reading; countless students would walk into tests with no knowledge or preparation; some seniors couldn’t even get into college.
AP course teachers recently handed out letters for students to give to their parents announcing that, if contracts don’t go through, they may not be able to host AP review sessions before the exams. Some students think that staff actions like this unfairly target students, that the lack of extra preparation will cause students to perform worse on their exams. Here’s the thing: teachers are providing plenty of time for negotiations to occur. It’s not as if they are announcing the cancellation in mid-March—the board has six months to act before the threats could come to fruition. Taken seriously, this kind of action won’t harm students; students are not the intended target. In fact, any student outrage just further demonstrates the extent to which students value and appreciate the work teachers do here at PHS.
Students are just the means to an end; the teachers’ intended audience is PHS parents. Only these parents, with the threat of a detriment to their children’s education, can speak strongly enough to influence the decisions of the board. Students and teachers can petition all they want; our parents—the people whose taxpayer money funds our educational system—are the ones whose opinions matter the most.
There have also been student grumbles about the idea that teachers may decide to stage a work-to-contract action, where they would work no more hours than are currently designated in their contract. This action would mean no more teachers come in early and go home late; they would work a bare minimum. The point isn’t that the staff doesn’t care about students. Rather, students should understand that staff members are so dedicated to their jobs that they are working without a contract to continue helping the PHS community.
Successful labor actions are those that make a point; they are those that push people to consider a new side of an argument. They are those that demand recognition. And regardless of students’ reactions to the proposed cancellations, an audience—of students, of parents, maybe even of board members—has listened.
The “Sea of Blue-Princeton Educators” Facebook page, which has gained nearly 800 likes since its creation in June, has brought together community residents from all walks of life. PHS students, alums, parents, and educators have seen and shared videos of Princeton Regional Educators Association members speaking at board meetings, demanding recognition by the board in new contracts. Status updates like “Let’s keep the momentum going” draw attention to the page’s popularity, while photos of Association members clad in white and blue, carrying signs across town and the PHS campus or preparing for rallies, speak to the work educators are putting into the campaign.
But outside of social media we can create a sea of support that resonates in our halls and classrooms. Acknowledge the staff who take care of you every day. Stay educated about what’s going on. Educate your parents; direct them to community news sources, to the Facebook page, to communication from your teachers. Attend a board meeting. Wear blue.
As negotiations continue, remember that these teachers have been working without a contract since the beginning of the school year. They’ve been left up in the air about their benefits, their pay, and their future. Remember the review sessions, the one-on-one instruction at 7:15 in the morning, and the letters of recommendation to summer programs and schools and jobs. The generous educators at PHS deserve better, and students need to stand in solidarity with them.