Appreciate teachers all year round
Fair treatment is the first step
West Bend’s school superintendent, Ted Neitzke, lives in a fantasy world. After years of demonizing, demoralizing and vilifying teachers, he has the unmitigated gall to send an email fairy tale to parents of kids in district schools, reprinted here Tuesday and reposted on the district website, about how much they should appreciate district teachers.
This past week was Teacher Appreciation Week. We need to celebrate and appreciate the hard work and dedication of those who choose to devote their lives to educating the community’s children. Neitzke’s request to send a card or letter to your child’s teacher just doesn’t cut it. He needs to be honest with the community and help organize parents, teachers and community leaders to demand adequate funding for public education.
Our community leaders and the tea party faction of the Republican Party they serve have spent decades blaming teachers for all that ails our society. Most local teachers do not feel safe enough to publicly claim membership in their valued profession for fear of being further ostracized.
Teacher salaries were published in an ad in this paper with the claim that teachers are nothing more than overpaid babysitters who feed at the public trough. School board candidates won campaigns on reducing teacher pay to save a few property tax bucks. Our current School Board and administration have embraced the union-busting and school-funding reductions in Gov. Scott Walker’s budgets while approving five-figure raises for top administrators, a new six figure salaried standardized testing czar and an $80,000 program to create tests teachers could easily write.
Neitzke is correct that teachers go the extra mile, using their own resources to buy supplies for their classrooms and free time preparing to teach each day. These are conscious decisions made out of necessity so kids can learn. We should provide the resources educators need. They should not have to use their salaries to do what we hire them to do.
Supply budgets have been slashed. If it were not for the money that comes out of teacher wallets, many students would not have vibrant classrooms equipped for learning, pens to write with, notebooks to write in or breakfast in the morning. Teachers spend nights and weekends away from their families because school-day preparation and grading time has been eliminated by the addition of more class sections, larger classes, off-the-clock professional development and senseless data gathering.
The instruction teachers were hired to provide has been severely curtailed with the imposition of more and more standardized testing. There are so many tests to administer, with high stakes results in the balance, that much of the curriculum that encourages critical thinking and creativity has been put on the shelf.
Even though there is not a shred of empirical research to support the use of standardized test results as a significant factor in teacher performance evaluations and compensation, Neitzke and the school board started this year with a new teacher compensation package that does just that. When parents and staff complained, he backpedaled, indicating that maybe there would be less testing in the future. Whatever testing remains will still be used to determine teacher compensation.
While it is abundantly clear that many students need extra help getting ready to learn or staying in the classroom, no funds have been added to rehire the social workers we used to have in every building.
Libraries need librarians to keep order, buy materials, teach reading (along with a love of books) and help kids learn how to search out information from our collectively stored knowledge. We used to have librarians in every school. Soon, there will be only one for the whole district.
Staff morale is at an all-time low. Neitzke’s recent gift to staff of a bumper sticker proclaiming “Proud to teach in the West Bend School District” won’t get much use until he changes his behavior.
Currently, Neitzke’s administration governs by fear, intimidation and the granting of favors to a chosen few. Letters of reprimand or discipline flow into teacher personnel files when they speak out about concerns in ways critical to the administration. Staff social media postings about district problems earn an unfriendly invite to Neitzke’s office. He and his administrators refuse to recognize or talk with the elected representatives in the recertified union about how they might work together on issues of common concern.
We need to appreciate teachers all year, not just for a single week. That appreciation needs to be shown tangibly and consistently with fair treatment, reasonable workloads and compensation based on empathy, creativity and actual observation by administrators who live and are involved in our community.