Raising Our Glasses to the Teachers

Henry James

Dear Teachers and Paraprofessionals,

We parents love the Toast the Teachers fundraisers organized by the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, and not just because we get to have a good time.  What better way to show appreciation and understanding while raising money to support your work?

Our children spend 40-50% of their waking lives with you during the school year. We trust you to improve, inspire, motivate, guide them, not just fill their heads. As Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”

There’s an elephant in the room, so let’s get it out of the way.  We parents complain a lot about unions, tenure and accountability. We’re angry over our inability to get rid of the few teachers who have no business teaching.  The influence Adams described can be positive or negative. Be assured, we respect your profession, and the majority of us support your right to unionize.

We parents admire the vast majority of you who often seem born to teach.  You see more than anyone that all our children have the capacity to achieve.  Apart from times when you are negotiating salaries, we never hear you ask for more money.  We constantly hear you beg for the resources, training and support you need to help our children succeed.

You have tremendous influence, but we don’t believe your work should be judged by student achievement scores. We know there are many factors influencing them, as well as the Marshall Rubric evaluations. Not least is the level of respect and support coming out of 22 Valley Road.  We understand teaching is an interaction with our children, who do not walk into your classroom identical in personality, situation and need.

We we think it’s crazy to treat them as if they are, and we are grateful you think so, too.

In other words, we know you are handed a huge responsibility without much control over the outcome. Research shows time and again, jobs like these are the most stressful to have.  Whether or not employees can handle it depends on how well their bosses have their backs.  When they don’t, employees are more likely to fail and burnout.

As education expert Ken Robinson says, “The real role of leadership in education… should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control, creating a climate of possibility.”

I’m not trying to be a downer. It’s just that the climate we parents sense is a pall that didn’t exist two or three years ago. Many of you seem demoralized. We can see it’s due in large part to our school leaders holding you responsible for student success while taking away your authority, resources and support.  We also see that you are not just worried about your jobs.  You are very worried about the harm to our children.

Perhaps this information will raise spirits: Back in April, the American Statistical Association slammed the use of VAM and student test scores in evaluating teachers’ work. They explained how flawed the reasoning and statistical methods behind it are, and the fact that results are constantly misinterpreted and misused.  Hopefully school leaders and policymakers will heed the message.

Perhaps this will raise your spirits, too.  Forbes Magazine listed the most important marketable job skills to have.  It turns out they are at the heart of your work:

  • The ability to communicate clearly and concisely while managing your emotions, and to listen, empathize, understand what people are saying.
  • Creative, outside of the box thinking and an ability to take on multiple roles.
  • Curiosity that drives you to find answers and brings out the curiosity in others.
  • Strong writing skills.
  • Strong interpersonal skills — working well in a room full of people, monitoring everything that is happening, focusing on, interacting and influencing different personalities.
  • Re-engineering — recognizing when things aren’t working, quickly changing tack and troubleshooting.
  • Good computer and technology skills.

Wall Street firms pay big salaries and bonuses for these skills. On average, a summer intern earns the equivalent of $80,000 a year. That alone is justification for your annual 3% raise.

We want to keep you, and you deserve more than what you earn.  We know that.

It is wrong for our school board members to complain to us parents about how much your salaries cost, insinuating you are selfish and demanding; then neglect to mention they balanced much of the cost by reducing your benefits.

Many of us were infuriated when Superintendent McCormack took our school district from a $2 million surplus to an $8 million deficit in one year, then tried to blame it on teacher pay.  Frankly, she should be ashamed for refusing to account for her unbelievable level of spending, then tell us your raises are, “what causes a deficit like you see now.”

It’s like maxing out the credit cards because you’re a shopaholic, then trying to convince your spouse its from buying groceries.

This February, board members and McCormack complained about raising the $30-40/hour (if that much) pay of — for instance — those of you working with our autistic kids. Two months later they mentioned in their minutes paying a consultant $2800 for six hours of work — apparently in relation to outsourced autism services.

When it comes to the hassle and lack of respect our school leaders constantly give you, most of us are on your side.  We will try to have your back because they don’t seem to.

And, if you ever doubt it, please be assured. We parents recognize and appreciate your value, as professionals and a major part of our children’s lives.  We don’t want to lose you, so please stick around. Let us know what you need from us, and we will help where we can.  We want to toast you every day.

— penelope bly

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