By Nancy Truitt Pierce
We have unprecedented levels of change going on in public education right now – most of it mandated by the state and federal government. Most of it is on track to make public education a lot better.
A few of the biggest ones are 1) a new state-mandated Teacher and Principal Evaluation process; 2) a new teaching framework (as required by the new evaluation system); 3) Common Core learning standards and 4) Smarter Balance online testing to assess those new Common Core standards.
All this while changing graduation requirements, implementing new curriculum, and making improvements to our Professional Learning Communities.
This chart shows the impact on each teacher of some of the most significant of these changes:
We have nicknamed it “The Mountain Chart.” It’s a huge amount of change, uncertainty and disruption for our teachers. On top of these changes, public education has been underfunded for years as determined by the Washington State Supreme Court, so everyone is operating with extremely lean staffing. It is completely understandable how these pressures could cause stress on our system and, as a result, impact teaching staff morale.
Given that, I was very concerned when I heard the Monroe MEA Teacher Union President say our teachers were feeling bullied and intimidated. We all believe that we must have a culture of respect and fairness in our schools. I was shocked to hear those allegations because, in the two-and-a-half years I’ve been on the school board and the 15 years I have been a parent in this school district, I have never seen anything that makes me think our administrators and leaders use intimidation or bullying tactics. I couldn’t imagine where that might be coming from. But the other School Board members and I took her comments very seriously and have spent the past five weeks looking into this claim.
To date, no evidence of a problem has been seen beyond declaring that it exists. In fact, the evidence I have seen points to a very different reality:
1) Results of our annual climate survey for each building have been trending up most years and held steady this year. Two of the survey questions this year, “My principal listens to my ideas and concerns” and “My principal cares about me as a person” received scores well above average from teachers.
2) Complaints to Human Resources have not increased. Three different ways are available for individuals to turn in anonymous complaints if he or she feels unsafe to talk to their supervisor, including one tip line managed by a third party to assure anonymity. No complaints have been turned in this year.
3) Of the calls I’ve gotten from teachers on this issue, 100 percent said that this is not their experience. They told me stories of being accepted and listened to, as well as supported when they had concerns. One teacher said she felt her principal was the best she had ever worked with in her 30 years of experience. Some said they knew there were a few teachers who felt intimidated to talk to the principal but they didn’t think it was the principal’s fault. They felt the teachers in question just needed to go talk to the principal and they would discover that it was just fine.
My conclusion is that we don’t have a problem of administrators bullying. What we do have is a lot of pressure on our teachers and a lot of discomfort from changes. For instance, I have heard that some teachers were unhappy about new assignments that came out of the learning improvement planning process and some of the middle level math teachers were unhappy about the curriculum adoption process. But none of those situations should be characterized as bullying and intimidation. Certainly sounds like there is room for better support for these changes and I understand efforts to accommodate individual teacher concerns are already underway.
I have yet to meet anyone in this school district who I felt didn’t operate with high levels of competence, professionalism and concern for teachers and students. In fact, this has been an inspiring year for student learning: New algebra and geometry books greeted students in the fall, Fryelands teacher Randy Brown was honored with a Golden Apple Award from KCTS for his flipped classroom teacher model, more teachers earned and renewed their National Boards, the sports Hall of Fame was revived at MHS, state academic achievement awards were given to MHS and Maltby Elementary and our Bearcats raised $10,000 to build a school in Kenya. Topping it all off, the Class of 2014 has earned over $4 million in scholarships and awards.
We have good people working diligently to do a good job for our kids at all levels in Monroe. We need to help our teachers get through this mountain of change with our support. In these tough times, we need to hold hands and stick together. Our teachers deserve it. The best thing we could do today is reach out and hug a teacher.
Nancy Truitt Pierce is Director 2 on the Monroe School Board.