For the last few months we've been "fighting" with our superintendent about teacher absences. She claims that teacher absences cost the district nearly $1 million in substitute costs. This includes substitutes for teachers who are out of the building at the district's request for in-services and conferences, but the bulk is, as she has expressed, because of teachers using personal days, sick days, illness in the family days, and other benefit days.
These days are bargained as part of the collective bargaining agreement (contract) between the teachers association and the school board. Changing the number of days would require negotiations, something this superintendent has not shown an interest in doing.
One of the items in the contract allows teachers to miss up to 5 unpaid days a year. This does not cost the corporation any money since the teacher, who is paid a higher rate, is not paid, while a substitute, paid at a lower rate, is. The negative result of unpaid days, is that the teacher is out of the classroom and instruction suffers.
Last week, the superintendent instituted a policy of requiring unpaid days to be planned ahead of time. Some principals did not understand that, however and have denied teachers unpaid days. The teachers association responded with an email to teachers clearly explaining what benefit days are available and when a teacher can use them. Unfortunately, the email (written by me) implied that teachers can take an unpaid day at any time without informing the administration ahead of time. This was in error and will be corrected as soon as I can get onto the corporation's email (which seems to be down right now).
Just by coincidence, Walt Gardner, in his education week blog, Reality Check, wrote about teacher absences and its effect on the achievement gap.
He discussed how difficult it is to recruit the best teachers for the worst schools where "worst" equals schools with the highest poverty rates. Teacher absences in these schools is higher than other places and he explains why.
...Not surprisingly, absenteeism was highest in some of the poorest schools, where the problems teachers face boggle the mind.Teachers need to recuperate from the daily grind of teaching, and teachers in high-poverty schools need to recuperate more frequently.
Although the data collected came from only New York City, it's likely that similar findings would turn up if other large urban districts were examined. That's because they share certain characteristics. The most important is that the schools serve overwhelming numbers of poor students from chaotic backgrounds. As a result, the deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development that teachers are forced to deal with before they can even begin to teach subject matter are daunting. Although the best teachers may be better able to cope than their colleagues, they are not immune from the cumulative effects.
The larger question, however, is why teachers take as many days off as they do in the first place. Reformers are clueless. They like to point out that there are typically 184 days in a school year. In the business world, there are about 250 days in a calendar year. So why do teachers, who work fewer days, need to take more than the allotted ten days a year that most districts provide?
It's a fair question that warrants a thoughtful answer. The fact is that teaching in many ways is like acting. Teachers are always in the spotlight. Their audience, however, too often is not there by choice. As a result, teachers are under enormous stress simply to get their attention, maintain order, and attend to non-curricular issues. In short, they have to practice triage. This demand eventually exacts a price, which is reflected in the number of days they are absent.
Until the economic and social conditions for our most at-risk students improve there will continue to be an achievement gap, as well as a teacher absence gap.