my comments to the Madison School Board last week
Hello. My name is XXXX XXXXX and I have children at XXXX Elementary and XXXX Middle schools this year. I am speaking to you because I am one among many parents and families who are increasingly concerned about staff morale and teacher attrition in our schools.
When I read the Strategic Framework on the MMSD website, as I have done over and over again, I find nothing to disagree with in that document. Of course every school needs great teachers, shared leadership, high-quality professional development, and partnership with families to succeed! Who can argue with that?
But those bullet points in the Strategic Framework do not fully reflect what we see, not at the schools where my kids attend, and not at other schools where I know families and teachers. We see teachers who are professionally confined by rigid schedules and boxed curricula. They are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to engage in meaningful collaboration with their colleagues. They are sometimes in unsafe classrooms because of student behavior and little or no support. Above all, they are afraid to speak up about any of this because they risk being labeled as chronic complainers who are opposed to change. Despite these conditions, we still have many excellent teachers who are making the best of this situation. They are rising to the occasion as best they can, and students are still learning. My own kids have always had positive and welcoming relationships with teachers and school staff. But a lot of teachers are exhausted, burnt out, and frustrated and that’s not good for anyone. We have them for now, but I fear the time is coming that many will choose to take their talents elsewhere and leave our district.
I will speak up. I and many other parents in our school community support Madison teachers. I know we can do better. Our schools have amazing, brilliant, capable, creative teachers with solid training and expertise. We need to recognize and value that expertise. Whenever big decisions are coming down the pike about things like curriculum, behavior management, and allocation for student support services, we need to get meaningful input from staff. That encompasses far more than a couple of power questions on a climate survey, or a listening session a few times a year with a small advisory board.
I think the key word here is “trust.” Teachers need to know that families and district leaders trust their expertise. In turn, teachers need to be able to trust that they can speak about what they know best - creating a learning environment for students that is engaging, responsive, enriching and safe - without fear of retribution. If we trust teachers to do their best work, students will flourish. Kids know the difference between being taught and being taught at, and they behave accordingly.
Remember that the learning environment for students and the work environment for teachers are one and the same. If we want to do right by our students, we have to do right by our teachers as well.