As an educator and public school employee, what you would say if a state lawmaker asked you to share your biggest concerns about public education in Michigan?
Think on it—we’ll come back to your ideas in a moment. Meanwhile, take a look at the some of the issues raised by one group of about a dozen educators who took advantage of that offer from state Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-East Lansing) this week.
The diverse panel attended an Educators Roundtable on Monday evening as part of MEA’s ongoing effort to conduct #RedForEd Reality Checks this spring with lawmakers.
“I’m not here to drive an agenda,” Hertel told the group. “I just appreciate everything you do—I know it’s a large amount—and you haven’t been listened to in our state for a long time.”
Given a chance to speak, the educators had much to say.
“I don’t mean to sound crass, but as someone who qualifies for HUD assistance, we don’t get paid enough,” said Michael Adams, a third-grade teacher in Holt. “There’s a teacher shortage, and it seems to me we need to either fix Proposal A or put a lot more money into the system.”
Other concerns raised by the group ran the gamut. Here is a sampling of what was said by the educators in the room:
Student mental health problems are reaching crisis proportions. “I’m seeing increased depression and anxiety in my students that I don’t have the tools to address, and then our schools don’t have the tools to address it and our homes don’t have the tools to address it.”
The evaluation system is unfair, subjective, and rewards compliance. “It is such a fear-based model. I’m never enough, I can’t do it all, but I’m supposed to be doing it all.”
All of the accountability rests on teachers, not students or parents or society. “Every year more of it falls on me, the paperwork, tracking data, whether kids stay in my room, even parent involvement is my responsibility and part of how I’m evaluated.”
Privatization drains quality from our schools. “I think for-profit anything in schools is wrong. We used to have bus drivers and custodians and other staff who would be there for 20 years. They knew the kids and their families, because they were part of the community and it was a relationship. We’ve lost all of that.”
Student behavior is a problem; not enough system changes replaced suspension and expulsion as responses to it. “Maybe administrators are just looking at the numbers and saying, ‘If we suspend less kids, we’ll look better.’ It’s just a numbers thing, but in some cases those kids are running the school.”
Over-testing takes time and attention away from real learning. “Now with the third grade reading law, we’re testing students and tracking data on a weekly basis to the point where kids are identifying themselves with a number—‘Oh, I’m only 40 percent,’—and I don’t know who’s going to want to teach third grade anymore.”
Overall, the panel raised concerns about demoralization among educators and the future viability of the profession if young people continue to be discouraged from entering the field.
Would you like to share similar messages with lawmakers and the public? You can—and it’s important to get involved now as the state budget battle is heating up in Lansing. Help pass Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed $500 million education spending increase.