Criticize your boss publicly … and your job security may be at risk.
That’s the mantra many Philadelphia School District teachers follow in keeping their criticisms of the current funding crisis confined to anonymous message boards.
But a new website designed by a recently formed camp of the teachers union, The Caucus of Working Educators, is turning that philosophy on its head with “Philly Teachers Sound the Alarm.”
A student sets off a home-made “works bomb” outside of Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences.
Locked hallway bathrooms at Lincoln High School force students to constantly invade the nurse’s office.
The lack of access to a library at Science Leadership Academy pushes teachers to buy their own stockpiles of books.
These are just a few of the anecdotes related in the website’s first week.
“People don’t know how bad it really is,” said Larissa Pahomov, the English teacher at SLA who built the site. “We’ve been dealing with this sort of high intensity crisis for a year, and schools weren’t in the best shape financially before then either.”
Pahomov hopes more people recognize how much more difficult the job of educating students has become because of the district’s recent string of draconian budget cuts, “and hopefully when they see that they understand just how dire and how necessary it is that we take action, and that the finances of the district be righted by the state.”
Grievances, she stressed, aren’t being directed at individual school administrators, but the underfunded nature of the system as a whole.
The Caucus of Working Educators, now 100 members strong, formed last month.
In its official release upon conception, CWE said it was “fighting for fair working conditions because that translates into the best learning conditions for Philadelphia’s students.”
The district has been asking teachers to take a 5 to 13 percent pay cut, while at the same time asking them to lengthen their contractual work hours.
Contract negotiations have plodded along since the teachers union’s old pact expired in August.
In the meantime, Pahomov, a member of CWE’s steering committee, said teachers have been making the sacrifices necessary to keep the city’s students afloat.
“It’s become this absurd new normal where teachers are just expected to bend over backwards to make their classrooms work,” said Pahomov. “We do it because we’re good people … but we need the public to know that we’re doing it, because it’s become invisible to a large degree in Philadelphia.”
As for the site’s lack of anonymity: “This comes back to a classic union idea, which is that there is strength in solidarity,” she said. “There’s strength just in making those connections across the district.”