I would like to make the Port Washington community aware of an experience I endured at a public forum sponsored by the Port Washington Educational Assembly on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005.
I have been an English teacher for the past 13 years, first at The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates, then at North Shore High School in Sea Cliff and, currently, at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington. Over the course of my career, I have been privileged to develop wonderful, productive partnerships with parents and community members. Although some individuals were, at times, critical of the school system, I was never treated with rudeness and disrespect for my profession or for me as a person. That all changed, however, on the night of Nov. 17.
For over two hours, three of my colleagues from Schreiber and I sat in the audience at the aforementioned meeting of the Port Washington Educational Assembly (PWEA) and listened to a steady stream of insulting, demeaning remarks accompanied by derisive laughter from the large majority of audience members, as speaker after speaker went to the microphone to denigrate teachers and what we do for a living. We were assailed as greedy, chastised for even thinking that we deserved a contract, let alone a fair one, and told that our jobs are essentially a joke, because, among other things, every day we apparently come in on the dot of 8 a.m. and leave precisely at 3 p.m., not taking home any work with us at night. Of course, that "oldie but always a goodie" complaint that teachers have it easy because they get summers "off" was also raised to suggest that we are already too generously compensated for the work we do. None of these speakers bothered to mention the hours (and even full days on the weekends) of at-home time teachers devote to lesson planning and the marking of papers. And these individuals certainly neglected to speak about the countless teachers who spend their summers working second jobs so that they can properly support their families, and seeking advanced degrees (at their own expense) to better serve the children in this district.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the PWEA used innuendo to further their anti-teacher agenda. Mr. Frank Russo, PWEA president, repeated his argument against the current high school teaching schedule of 17 hours of direct classroom instruction with three hours of one-on-one tutoring, by casting doubt on how many students actually take advantage of this tutoring, while offering no proof to support his case. He also called for mandatory extra-help sessions from 3-4 p.m. a certain number of days per week, transparently implying that teachers are not already working sufficiently hard. Not surprisingly, his suggestions ignore the reality of the typical high school day, since little of what Mr. Russo asserts is ever based on an intimate knowledge of how Schreiber High School actually functions on a daily basis to provide a quality education to students. The vast majority of high school students cannot come for extra help after school because they have to attend sports practice, drama rehearsal, newspaper and literary magazine meetings, etc. Without the time that is set apart during the school day for tutoring, a large number of students would not be able to come and conference with their teachers and receive vital one-on-one assistance.
The meeting of the PWEA quickly deteriorated from a lack of civility, to barely-concealed animosity, to open hostility and, finally, to a near physical altercation between two members of the audience. Overall, the message of this PWEA public forum was that there is some teacher conspiracy out there to defraud the Port Washington taxpayer. When some people got up to speak in defense of the teachers and the school system, they were greeted with loud, belligerent comments from the audience. One gentleman even yelled out the "f-word." When I arose to offer my perspective in a polite, calm and respectful manner, I was rudely interrupted by someone in the front row whom I had to ask to be quiet because I was still speaking. During my remarks, audience members made sarcastic and disparaging comments loud enough for me to hear and, at the conclusion of my talk, one gentlemen kept shouting over and over at me, How much money do you make? What do you make?"
The PWEA claims to be committed to intelligent, reasonable debate about educational issues. This is certainly not what I saw at this meeting. The disrespect, the divisiveness and the verbal intimidation I witnessed and of which I was a victim, were shocking, to say the least and utterly unworthy of what I know of this community. The PWEA is not a positive force for educational reform in this community and I urge Port residents not to give credibility to an organization that countenances or permits, even to the smallest extent, the kind of unfair, uncivilized and aggressively hostile behavior I have just described.
According to the leadership of the PWEA, the forum was videotaped to run on Public Access television. I encourage residents to find out when it is going to be broadcast so that you can see for yourselves what occurred. Mr. Russo made many references to the Freedom of Information Law throughout the meeting, so I am sure that he would be more than willing to help interested community members gain access to the videotape of the Nov. 17 Port Washington Education Assembly public forum.
Schreiber High School