Passin’ Time Cancellation


by Alan Reinstein, English teacher

When should you follow your leaders? When should you break away? Graduating seniors are invited to have even more independence to choose their own default positions regarding obedience and dissension. Should you follow the rules until the necessity to flout them is clear, or stay skeptical and join cautiously?

At the beginning of May, I decided to cancel the Term 4 edition of Passin’ Time, electing to support my union’s leadership by suspending the enthusiasm of students and teachers who had signed up to perform for the final Passin’ Time. A week earlier, the Newton Teachers Association, exasperated by the slow movement of the new contract negotiation process, decided to push beyond “T-Shirt Tuesdays” toward “Work-to-Rule Tuesdays”, a more intense act of solidarity meant to raise further awareness about the teachers’ discontent. 

A “work-to-rule” union action is a protest where employees work only during official contract hours — 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. for South teachers on Tuesdays — in order to show, through the noticeable absence of work that is usually done, their significant value to the community. Teachers working only according to the “rule” of the contract aim to show just how much extra unpaid work they regularly do so that employers will come around to respect the teachers’ reasonable contract requests. 

The NTA’s action is “modified” because teachers are asked to practice this protest only one day a week. Because the Term 4 Passin’ Time was scheduled for a Tuesday, during Lion Block, I took the leap to cancel it. 

The natural and intended consequence of any work-to-rule action is some degree of loss or discomfort for those who interact with the actors. That’s the point. In the case of the NTA’s “modified work-to-rule” action, students and school community members are meant to feel this discomfort through various consequences: for example, teachers’ delayed or sparse feedback on assignments, reduced teacher support or conference hours or the cancellation or suspension of clubs or activities that are facilitated through teachers’ voluntary effort. 

The work-to-rule action envisions students sharing their disappointment with their parents or caregivers, in the car or at the dinner table (“I still haven’t gotten my test back;” “My teacher wasn’t available before school to discuss my essay”), and then adults who vote putting pressure on the mayor or School Committee to make necessary adjustments that will support the teachers’ contract hopes.

Does canceling Passin’ Time pass the NSHS Core Values test? Did I take responsibility, show respect, listen and act with kindness? Well, I did take responsibility: I announced my decision and reasoning to all students through Schoology. Was it respectful? I don’t know. I never know. You never know. Of course, you know that not trying to be hurtful, but when a person or group is injured by an action meant to help another person or group, there is inevitably a desire to bring out the suffering scale to find out which side is injured more deeply. 

Are the missing-out Passin’ Time performers aching more than a teachers’ union whose work-to-rule action may be fractured by uneven participation? There is rarely a ledger available that is capable of showing the clear balance of discomfort that our actions cause. Although I’m dubious about the effectiveness of a work-to-rule protest, I respectfully deferred to union representatives whose judgment I respect, and I was eager to play a part to support the action. I’m in favor of breaking rules that are unjust, but until I’m confident that they are, I usually obey them. My union leaders gave directions, so I followed.

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