Nineteen Philadelphia public schools came together for one week this fall to raise awareness around the difficult conditions students, families and teachers across the city continue to endure. Those schools decided to implement a full-out “work-to-rule” action. One hundred and sixty one other schools participated in the week to a lesser extent, according to the Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook.
“Work-to-rule” is when employees only work within the hours agreed upon in their contract. For teachers, this means forgoing any of the extra time, energy and resources that they give to their students and the school. At an elementary school that I work with, teachers expressed an overall desire “to just make it through this week.” At a place that always seems bubbling with youthful energy and people on the go, the stress levels were noticeably higher all day.
Stressful days for teachers
During this week, teachers kept themselves from entering the school building before the official start of school, and leaving right at the end of the school day. Not being able to come to work before or after school had a big impact on teachers. For some, it meant staying late on the Friday before to have materials like math problem sheets, short stories, and social studies and science material produced and ready to be shared with the students the minute they walked in the door.
It also meant that if teachers needed to make any changes to the classroom material, they could only make those changes during their preparation period. That meant choosing between preparation and directly helping their students.
Changing schedules and losing time with teachers
For families, the changes might have been noticeable at drop off and pick up times, when adults were no longer available to keep children safe. In schools that hold onsite after-school programs run by teachers, programs had to be cancelled, forcing parents to find alternative arrangements.
In the classroom, teachers pressed for time had less time to support students. Stressed teachers equates to an increasingly stressed learning environment, which was a major point the action communicated. Teachers wanted to let everyone know that city schools are in very difficult situations. They volunteer much of their time and energy to make up for the deficiencies in what the system provides students.
“Work-to-rule” reminds us that the lives of teachers are extremely demanding, and often they do a lot of things that are beyond the call of duty. They don’t do it for accolades; they do it to do right by our children.
Beyond resources and appreciating teachers’ lives, the action also sent a message about the importance of solidarity across members of school communities. Together we need to make sure schools are not only surviving but are in fact, thriving.
While the action is over (for now), it’s never too late to notice what teachers and students are going through. Parents can make phone calls to government leadership to advocate for improvements, or work alongside others to imagine, and make possible, transformative changes.