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D. 65 Arts and P.E. Teachers: Cuts Are 'Unreasonable'

Patch columnist Christine Wolf talks to three D. 65 teachers whose workloads would be increased by the proposed reductions in arts and P.E. staff.

Evanston-Skokie School is considering reducing the number of fine arts and physical education teachers in order to cut costs, while asking the school’s current teachers to teach more classes so the amount of instructional time remains the same.

I went to several teachers to see, what, exactly, those changes would mean on the ground level. It’s not pretty.

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They feel that the administration and Board of Education talk endlessly about teachers meeting student's needs through differentiated education and yet, they claim, the administration refuses to recognize that teachers deserve similar differentiation as well. They say that the Fine Arts demand more planning and preparation time—one art teacher, for example, teaches six different grade levels working in six different media at any given time. Although the Fine Arts and P.E. staff may not "clock" as many hours with students based on their schedules, those teachers say they support students daily in multiple ways that do not show up on their schedules. 

As someone who has taught elementary education in the public school system, I can vouch for the fact that it's not a career for the faint of heart (thus, I am now a writer). 

An art teacher in the district describes her workday this way:  

…I am working in 6 different media activities, one for each grade level with class sizes averaging 25-28 students, in a single day. In order to maintain the depth and variety of art experiences I am now able to, preparation time to prepare materials and set-up logistics for each class is essential.

My concern is that our students will be short-changed by the suggested schedule changes in the Fine Arts. The arts integration of classroom and Visual Art activities that are presently part of our student's experiences learning across the curriculum would, by necessity, be curtailed. In general, the Visual Art learning experiences for our students would be very different without both the preparation time and time for the many special arts activities that enrich our student's daily lives. I would be very sorry to see our school arts and cultural learning be reduced by these schedule changes and I believe our parents would also feel that their children are being denied many wonderful learning opportunities.

Another fine arts teacher explains all they do outside of the classroom:

We are the only consistent support that all of our students have because we are there for them every day and every year as students change from one classroom teacher to another as they move to the next grade level. We counsel students, work with families, meet with classroom teachers and special education staff when we see (in our week in and week out time with students) kids that need extra attention and support. We are part of the community and will no longer be able to function this way if we have 7 classes back-to-back without planning/preparation time (for Visual Art and Music) or if the PE teachers teach 14 classes per day and then each of us has to travel to another building one day a week--- there will be no common planning time for classroom teachers, no time for collaboration between the Fine Arts and classroom teachers, no time for musical presentations (when would music teachers and student rehearse??), no time to create exhibits of student art work, no ART CLUB (teaching 7 art or music classes -- 14 PE classes--in a day is exhausting!).

This is not what we want--we LOVE doing what we do and having the time to give our students the best experiential education opportunities! We are not complaining about the time we spend-- we do it because we LOVE doing it... we want to continue and not be marginalized. ART, MUSIC and PE will not be the same if the proposed schedule changes occur.

A physical education teacher said the cuts would directly impact her ability to do her job. In a letter to parents, she wrote:

Because the district is increasing the workload of PE teachers I will no longer be at [my home school] full time. I will be traveling to another school next year. It will be strange to leave [this school] before the end of the day.  The district has decided that to be full time at [one] school, an elementary PE teacher must teach fourteen classes a day instead of twelve.  I think that is unreasonable. While teaching twelve classes [daily], I have had the time to also be involved in may other school activities during and outside of school. I do not think I can do as good a job as I want to, if I have to teach fourteen classes a day everyday. I am not sure I can maintain my energy level and patience teaching that many classes back to back, groups of children in an out of the gym every twenty minutes, without time to prepare for six different grade levels. I think the district is making PE teachers take on extra classes so they can save money by hiring less PE teachers. Despite what you may have heard, I assure you this was not initiated by teachers or our union. I believe this will affect the quality of teaching and negatively affect the PE curriculum, which is not in the best interest of the children…  

 

Richard Schulte May 21, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Why do we need P.E. "teachers" at all? I walked by a junior high school in Evanston the other day and I saw a P.E. class walking and running on the sidewalk around the school. (I'm back from Florida for a few days for medical care and to retreive the rest of my stuff.) The "teacher" was standing around supervising-taxpayers are paying P.E. teachers 6 figure salaries for standing around doing nothing other than holding a whistle. Just how much preparation does it take to stand around and watch children walk/run on the sidewalk? Being a P.E. teachers is a minimum wage job-sorry that's the way I see it. Of course, being a fine arts teacher takes a little more talent than being a P.E. teacher. How much is a fine arts teacher worth? In the real world, your worth to an organization is measured by your compensation. So fine arts teachers can determine their real worth on the open market by quitting being a teacher and getting a fine arts job in the private sector. Of course, the demand for fine arts teachers in the private sector is close to zero. Given the demand, fine arts teachers sounds like another minimum wage job. Arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry are all pretty much the same over the last hundreds of years. Once a math teacher has developed a "lesson plan", the same lesson plan over and over again until you retire. Not much creative work required here either.
Marya F May 21, 2012 at 01:53 PM
I love the sheer insanity of Schulte's remarks - it's almost like watching John Riley and Will Ferrell in "Step Brothers" - except - well - that's a comedy about 2 thirty year old men living in their parents house, watching "Shark Week" and playing in a tree house.
Kate Monte May 21, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Wow. The word on FB is that Richard Schulte's kids went to Baker. I'm amazed he has the audacity to make the remarks he does. Fortunately, sane parents of actual D65 students can see him for the "whackadoodle" (term I read about him today on FB) that he is. I haven't heard less relevant remakrs about an actual problem we are facing. Ever. On the plus side, reading these completely inane and borderline insane comments is amusing. Every village needs an idiot...looks like we got one right here.
Rachel Cook May 21, 2012 at 02:40 PM
What are the proposed cuts exactly? I heard our music teacher say that her program might not exist should the district move forward, is this true?
Adrienne Williams May 21, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Richard please. All teachers need prep time. This is why American kids are over weight all across the nation cut programs in art, pe and music!
Adrienne Williams May 21, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Ok geek note, leave shark week alone! :-)
Rachel Cook May 21, 2012 at 03:05 PM
And Richard Schulte, I understand you're attempting to be pragmatic. But I don't think you're really getting the big picture here. Minimum wage? Really?
Sally May 21, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Good question. They are being asked to increase their "contact time" - time spent with students - and reduce (not eliminate) their planning time, meaning the children will get the same amount of fine arts and gym. The new schedule is within the guidelines of their contract (which was negociated by their union reps). Some parents are frustrated that the teachers are taking this "problem" to the parents instead of their union reps. Also, in this economic climate many professionals are being asked to take on a little more work and put in more time - teachers are not alone in this. Personally I think this is a reasonable expectation of our teachers and a far better alternative than many other cost savings suggestions ... ie postpone replacing outdated computers and technology.
Jeff May 21, 2012 at 06:23 PM
What do PE teachers do these days? When I went to school, they organized kickball, volleyball, basketball games ect. and administered the federal physical fitness test each year. If that is still the bulk of their responsibilities, I don't think they can complain being asked to increase their workload. Furthermore, the median salary of a D65 PE teacher was $83,000 (You can view all D65 teachers salaries at http://www.familytaxpayers.org/salary.php) That is straight salary and does not include their pension or health benefits. I'll gladly switch places with any of the PE teachers and teach kickball for 9 months a year (remember, summers off) while collecting $83,000 in annual compensation. Furthermore, any teacher can retire after 34 years of service and would receive receive $62,000 annually (using the median 83K salary) from their pension plan with a 3% inflation increase for many of those years. If anything PE teachers are OVER PAID! And please don't pretend that there is a correlation between the lack of PE and overweight youth. The 1/2 hour of fitness I received throughout my school years did not increase my knowledge of a healthy lifestyle. I guess I still can recite the rules of badminton though....
Dan C May 21, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Kids are overweight because of budget cuts in PE? You're joking, right? Don't you know that study and eating habits start at the home, not from the government?
Michele S. Hays May 21, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Ignoring the obviously troll-like quality of your post, P.E. is required by Illinois State Law. Here are the standards, including the things P.E. Teachers are expected to teach - much of which are skills not specific to athletics, but to communication, fair play, teamwork and problem solving: http://www.isbe.net/ils/pdh/standards.htm To your second point, each child is an individual and learns differently from all other children. It takes a great deal of flexibility and creativity to individualize a broad lesson plan 20-30 times over each year.
Michele S. Hays May 21, 2012 at 07:53 PM
I think the proposal has some PE and music teachers moving from school to school, in the same way that special services staff are doing now. Instead of reducing planning time, it will be increased, as they will have to prepare separately for each school.
Richard Schulte May 21, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Well, the minimum wage is the minimum wage that can be paid. It would seem that someone who stands around most of the day with a whistle in their hand and does not do much else, doesn't deserve to be paid even minimum wage, but the minimum wage is the law of the land.
Marla Seibold May 21, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Though my own children are now attending ETHS, I feel compelled to write from my perspective of 25 years as an ETHS art teacher. When I look at student art from 20 years ago, I am amazed at the complexity of the work and technical skill. Over the years, District 65 cuts in the arts have had a tremendous impact on the skill level and quality of work of the high school students. As a result of past cuts, we now find ourselves needing to teach the basics. When I say basic, let me give you just a few examples:    I need to teach my foundation students how to hold a pencil in order to draw correctly.   I need to teach them how to use a ruler, including what is an inch, half inch, quarter inch, etc. Most don’t know that you need to measure both sides of the paper in order to make straight parallel lines. Making a grid on a paper used to take 10 minutes, I now spend a whole class period (42min.) on that task.   I need to teach my students how to use a pair of scissors and cut out shapes. These are just examples of the technical aspects of making art. The conceptual/creative component could fill another letter. It is not possible for the talented and hardworking D65 art teachers to teach and to reinforce these essential life skills when they have the students for a limited time and have less time to prep.  
Christine Wolf May 22, 2012 at 05:07 AM
Every one of us is different -- as are our strengths and abilities. This primer on Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences (http://sitemaker.umich.edu/356.martin/home) provides just one perspective on how individuals learn, develop and utilize information and skills in unique ways.
Richard Schulte May 22, 2012 at 04:23 PM
But you didn't answer the question-Why do we even need P. E. teachers? It would seem that you don't have an answer to that question. We didn't have P.E. teachers at the Catholic elementary school I attended-they just let us go outside and we did the rest. We got more exercise without P.E. back then than our children get today with P.E.
Richard Schulte May 22, 2012 at 04:28 PM
If we simply can't do without P.E. teachers and Fine Arts teachers, one way to afford them would be to cut salaries of all our teachers across the board. A one-third cut in teacher salaries across the board doesn't seem to be too unreasonable. I realize that that would be a big chuck of money for some of those 6 figure teachers, but oh well.
Richard Schulte May 23, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Richard Schulte's son did indeed go to Baker Demonstration School, but I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. No way would I have allowed my son to attend public elementary schools in Evanston-the public schools in Evanston were shoddy back then and they are even worse today. Regarding being the "village idiot", after 28 years of living in Evanston, I recently moved to the panhandle of Florida. Apparently, I'm not such an idiot after all-0 percent state income tax, 7.5 percent sales tax, roads in perfect shape and only 2 weeks of "winter" and the people that live there are actually pleasant (instead of being grumpy all of the time). Who is the idiot? Schulte or the people who haven't left Evanston yet?

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