Flight Traffic Controllers and Teachers…..There are Common Elements

Randy Babbit is proving himself to be useful for teachers…..something I doubt he even dreamed about.  Imagine a man stating the exhaustion of air traffic controllers is a blemish on the FAA (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/04/17/state/n115239D07.DTL)   …. and think about the factoid that teachers make MORE DECISIONS in any given hour in a classroom than any air traffic controller – AND TEACHERS QUITE LITERALLY DO IT ON THEIR FEET and then, after a more than eight hour day, go home to grade papers and prepare for the next day (as well as attend meetings and deal with parents of all ilks). 

I do not actually believe air traffic controllers have a cushy job – there is generally much  on the line such as a whole plane of people and unsavory weather conditions, pretty much akin to  being a science teacher with 35 students in a lab environment and one wrong move, instruction, etc. which could lead to numerous problems up to and including death (http://www.flinnsci.com/Sections/Safety/generalSafety/accidents.asp     http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=danger-in-school-labs ).

I appreciate Mr. Babbit actually acknowledging the significance of jobs such as air traffic controllers and their exhaustion.  It reminds me of the years and years of practice done by medical schools in  putting interns and ER doctors on 24 and 36 hour schedules and hoping by a  miracle no mistakes were made in the last couple hours of the sleep deprived shifts.  Again, I would not compare a doctors work to a teacher – a doctor, specifically in ER has much at stake and any wrong move, decision, etc. can mean death – to a patient and to the doctor’s career. 

When we as a society begin to explore the rationality of the amount of work output we expect from different  employee groups of people AND expect it to be done consistently well, it is important to consider all the factors.  It is irrational behavior to have air traffic controllers work crazy mixed schedules throughout a one week period where their body clocks can not adjust AND they have to deal with odd cycles of actually seeing daylight and night time in order to do their job effectively.  It is absolutely ridiculous (especially if you are the patient) to have to see an ER doctor on the 23rd or 35th hour of their shift and hope they can save your life adequately – fortunately this horrible practice has been somewhat shut down for various obvious reasons, mainly insurance and litigation (most likely also suicide rates).

No one needs to ‘prove’ how tough they are by working excessive hours under unreasonable conditions and yet the public absolutely expects and extracts this from teachers.  When teachers push back, the public uses the same horrible logic as is used below from the head of the FAA.  The fact that teachers rely on union representation to deal with issues of excessive work can best be demonstrated by the lovely charter schools and Teach for America program which have only demonstrated how to make better revolving doors – not better teachers.  

Babbitt said sleeping worker workers have put a “real terrible blemish” on the FAA.

“None of us in this business can … tolerate any of this,” Babbitt said. “It absolutely has to stop. I was absolutely infuriated when I heard the first one or two. But as we began our review, it became even more frustrating and more disappointing to me to see what has happened here.”

I personally wish to thank Mr. Babbitt for bringing to the light of day some of the egregious practices done in the artifice of cost saving measures.  Most of all, I am thankful the air traffic controllers have a union.

  Teachers do incredibly important work – I have seen studies which indicate one year with a bad (whoops – exhausted and overworked) teacher can really put a student behind academically.  This may not be life threatening – it is sure an impact on the life of a child. 

When the mud flinging is over (this blog and anything to do with how ‘easy’ teachers have it) and people can look at the real situation, I would love to see teachers have LESS on their plates, more pay and substantially more respect.  When we can face our shortcomings about work practices, we will do better for many groups, most especially our children.