A Monroe School Board of Director’s presentation offering appreciation to Monroe’s teachers took a startling turn when the woman who rose to accept it, who represents Monroe’s teachers to their union, informed the Board of Directors that morale among educators is at an all-time low.
“Unfortunately, this year I feel like I have to report to the board that many of our teachers are living in fear, they’re feeling intimidated, and bullied, they feel threatened, they feel like they will be retaliated on, they feel like they will be targeted if they speak up,” she said.
In two minutes of comments, she didn’t detail what grievances the teachers might have, merely that she discerned an atmosphere of discord between some teachers and some administrators.
“It’s just not a good atmosphere in Monroe right now and we’re not working together,” she said. “It’s a very contentious relationship, it hasn’t been good for a couple of years but this is the worse it’s ever been.”
Bruton, who has been with the school district for more than 20 years, and who is a part-time sixth grade teacher as well as the president of the Monroe Education Association, said later that the situation is dire.
Two recent events seemed to bring things to a head.
At two elementary schools, including Chain Lake Elementary, in an effort to increase student growth scores on state tests, administration decided to reassign as many as half the teachers to grades other than those they are teaching now. Many of the reassignments were dramatic; a fourth grade teacher was reassigned to kindergarten, for example, said Bruton.
The strategy was not universally well received.
“I went to a meeting where teachers were crying,” said Bruton.
Another issue that bothered many teachers, to the extent that a number came to the May 12 school board meeting to protest, involved selection of a new math curriculum.
A six-person committee had been established to select from two options for a new middle school math curriculum. Many teachers feel that the teacher’s preference for Core Focus was disregarded when the administration selected anther called Big Ideas.
Math teacher Annette Woolley, prefacing her comments by expressing concern that she could face retaliation for her testimony, spoke on behalf of several other teachers dissatisfaction with the selection process.
The school board expressed willingness to hear more on the two curricula before making a final decision, but the problem of teacher morale remains serious, said Bruton.
“I recently conducted a survey at one of the buildings,” she said.
Of about 30 responses to the survey, all but one were grim, she said.
“The words they wrote kept going through my mind the night I made the speech,” she said. “Words like ‘battle-weary,’ ‘worn out,’ ‘burdened,’ ‘intimidation.’”
The school district is concerned and plans to address the concerns Bruton raised, said district spokesperson Rosemary O’Neil.
But, she said, here are channels for grievance, and so far, they haven’t been used.
“Any time there is a concern, there is a process to follow,” she said. “We have a monthly meeting with our labor groups, and we we talk about issues and things that come up.”
However, there is not an anonymous process for expressing complaints, and staff people have been too afraid to step forward, said Bruton.
Parents have noticed the climate of discontent, said one father who has had children in Chain Lake Elementary for the last eight years.
He sees the issue as the responsibility of administration to resolve, he said.
“On the other hand, the teachers need to stand up for themselves,” he said. “If they are unhappy, they need to use the channels open to them and through the union, or they are on their own.”
He said he hopes the climate improves.
“My fear as a parent is that the infighting taking place will have an impact on the morale and what they put forward in the classroom,” he said.
Not all parents agree there is a problem; two parents, commenting anonymously, said that they haven’t noticed that their children’s teachers seem unhappy.
But Bruton was emphatic that there is no sense of security among school district employees, and that work remains to be done before teachers feel that they can express dissent.
O’Neil said she expects the school district to learn more at the Tuesday, May 27 meeting.