Thursday, June 7, 2012

“The Most-Praised Generation” & Teachers Contracts

We were reading something yesterday when we came across a reference to an article from five years ago that talks about the consequences of unconditional praise and rewards in our culture.  It’s gotten to where (and this was five years ago!!) consultants are being hired by major companies to teach managers how to publicly praise and compliment employees for doing their jobs.  One firm even has a ‘celebrations assistant’ on staff, who among other things, dispenses 25 pounds of confetti a week, and as many as 500 balloons.

You can read the article here.  A passage or two to whet your interest:

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking -- by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one "student of the month" and these days name 40.

….some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today's young adults feel insecure if they're not regularly complimented.

We well remember our own little angels’ school days in the last century, and ‘student of the month’ was one per grade.  And at the end of the year, there was ‘one student of the year.’

As we read and thought on the essay, we came to realize that the teachers contracts in our town follows the ‘you’re special – everyone gets a trophy’ model.  The best teachers get the same raises as the worst teachers, and vice versa.  All raises are absent any performance metrics; they’re based only on years on the job and post graduate credits, and that’s it.  You can see it in the salary tables.

And throw in the efforts of the HBS parents group that we talked about here:

The SCG Hospitality Committee organizes events showing appreciation for the work of the HBS staff. For the first day of school we had a welcome back to school breakfast buffet, and in November we had a soup luncheon for the HBS staff. We also organize teacher appreciation tokens. For example, in January teachers received a bag of mints with a tag that read “Thank you for your commit-mint to our children’s education.” Also in January, the staff enjoyed a “grab and go treat buffet” on the early release day, and after the February break, the Hospitality Committee dropped off six dozen Frosty’s twist donuts as a
welcome back from vacation surprise for the HBS staff!
Upcoming events include a potluck dinner during April’s parent-teacher conference time, and a teacher appreciation luncheon in May. Our goal is to share with the staff how much we admire and appreciate all they do to educate and nurture our children.

Throw in de rigueur public proclamations during budget sessions that Brunswick ‘has the best teachers’ and ‘excellent schools,’ even if the speakers couldn’t cite one iota of evidence to backup their claims.  Maybe next year, after reading this, they’ll bring confetti and balloons to the hearings.

Where we are on the contract analysis:

The more we contemplate the new three year contract, the more we come to understand the opportunities for getting lost in the details.  When you have 125 salary figures for each of three years, with notations for ‘adjustments’ on a portion of those figures, the possibilities for getting mired down are numerous.  And this is without considering additional ‘stipends’ etc.

We’ve come to understand there are at least three ways to characterize the approved contract.

The first is with generalizations such as this:  “In year 1, the teachers get a general increase of x% plus a step increase; in year 2, they get a general increase of y% plus a step increase; and in year 3, they get a general increase of z% plus a step increase.”  Based on what we’ve seen over the past decade or more, this method has been modestly effective, as the contracts have followed, more or less, a consistent pattern.

The second is the method used to tell the School Board what they were voting for on April 11th.  It (apparently) takes the total dollar increase for the covered membership in each year, and expresses it as a percentage of the base aggregate salary line.  For reasons not clear to us, the resulting figure was expressed as ‘step plus 1.57%, total 3.57%,’ leading to much confusion about the concept of steps in the contracts.

We don’t recall the contracts being characterized this way in the past, but we could have been asleep at the tiller.  We’re confused further, because it requires knowing precise staff composition for the next three years, and then applying that against the three detailed salary tables for FY13, 14, and 15 to get the ‘total dollars’ figure. 

Since we were told the tables needed to be computed after the contract was approved, and we don’t see how staff can be known to that detail for the next three years, we are perplexed by the precision displayed in these figures, and the Board’s willingness to approve the contract on this basis.

The third method is to pick teacher examples at various experience and educational attainment levels in the current school year, and ‘walk them through’ the three years of the new contract to see what happens to their salaries.  We’re busy pulling that together right now, and based on our first glimpse, it generates results significantly different than the first method.  The increases tend to be quite different than the other ways of stating things.

Stay tuned, and make sure you’ve got enough confetti, cupcakes, and balloons on hand.  We don’t want to risk anyone feeling under-appreciated and ordinary.

That would make them like the rest of us, and we can’t have that now, can we?


  1. And all of this "analysis" will go for naught as the anointed will lead their lemmings to the polls and approve the School budget.

    It now costs $140,000 to graduate a student from Brunswick HIgh School. When I graduated high school over fifty years ago that is more than the average indivual would make in their lifetime.

  2. Hii - I spent 30 years negotiating (real negotiating)teachers' contracts.Everything you say is correct. If you need any suggestions on the contract, let me know.