Work-to-the-rule is something teachers practice poorly at best and not at all at worst. Leaving campus, locking doors, and arriving close to the time the actual paid work day begins does send a strong physical message to school personnel and to students by teachers removing their bodies from the worksite.

This is nearly impossible to do. It is similar to striking: it breeds contempt towards one’s co-workers who choose to maintain the status quo in order to avoid being viewed as trouble makers by the administration.

Approximately half of all teachers are willing to practice work-to-the-rule. They close their doors, they exit the school when their official work day ends and they do not attend after-school activities or weekend events.

At our school, the annual Hoolaulea event, featuring Tupperware and Avon, among other vendors, was held Saturday, December 1. Teachers were expected to help out, participate in the event, and attend. There weren’t a lot of sign-ups for this holiday vendor expo event. The Hawaii State Teachers Association encouraged teachers to attend, wearing their union T-shirts, to show the public that teachers put in a lot of extra time outside the work day to attend events where their students involved. This includes sports events, special fairs such as the Hoolaulea, and other extra-curricular activities. This is just one example where it is nearly impossible to work to the rule.

Actually, teachers work 24/7; often waking up in the middle of the night with a scenario or task playing out in their mind’s eye stuck on repeat. This problem or comment or email or parent phone call or counselor request or meeting or grade check or computer lab request ad infinitum unexpectedly crops up during driving home from the job site. It appears upon seeing one’s family members again, during personal hygiene, at mealtime, when exercising, and during conversations, phone calls and emails with loved ones.

A teacher is never off-duty, never away from work.

Desperate student faces stick in your mind. Teachers’ dull slumps at meetings, glazed eyes — even falling asleep — are tell-tale signs that the kids in their classes are too tired and hungry to concentrate, hyper and over-stimulated by the lack of sleep and poor nutrition their growing selves crave. Their inappropriate behavior and words fill up all a teacher’s waking hours. You spend more time with them during the school year than their parents and guardians do. These facts will not be found on data sheets, on the Danielson Teacher Evaluation Tool, and will certainly not show up in teacher paychecks anytime in the near future.

The majority of protesters are elementary school teachers. Forty-one teachers was the count on December 6, at a sign-waving at our school. One teacher said that the sign-waving was inspired by Campbell High School’s sign waving, that it was not organized by the HSTA teacher’s union, but instead, by teachers all over the state. The union gave T-shirts and signs to let teachers use but most teachers at this sign-waving wore T-shirts from the Campbell High School initiative.

The Superintendent of Hawaii Schools said of the recent statewide roadside sign-waving by teachers that it was “only a symbolic demonstration.” Another state spokesperson said that the sign-waving by teachers was “distracting.”

What is really distracting to teachers is the fact that teachers in Hawaii can’t pay bills without supplemental income. Teachers with large families qualify for food stamps, just like Walmart workers who are hired part-time only. One teacher who was sign-waving recently told me that where she came from in California, the starting pay for teachers was $40,000. That was 10 years ago and that there was yearly bonus pay if you had a master’s degree. Hawaii’s starting pay is around $32,000.

Here, at our state-determined “hard-to-staff/hard-to-fill school” teachers performing satisfactorily receive an automatic annual bonus of $1,500, down from $3,000, just a few years ago. This contractual differential is awarded to teachers in Hawaii’s poorest schools as an incentive to seek employment in these schools and also remain at these schools.

Our school is located in a large, rural area. This differential helps to offset transportation costs, at the very least. It is written in the current teacher contract that teachers performing “satisfactorily” receive this.

Too many sick days? Unsatisfactory. You won’t get the differential. Poor student test scores? Guess what. Unsatisfactory. Receive an “unsatisfactory” rating by the highly subjective evaluation methods in place and also being piloted, and well, sorry.

Refusing to acquiesce, a word Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. liked to use in his speeches, is neither symbolic nor distracting. Action does bring results.

Susan Kay Anderson teaches English at Pahoa High School and Hawaii Community College on the Big Island. She has taught in island schools for nearly two decades.