A Public School Teacher’s Manifesto

By Chris Janotta

 When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bonds that are being forced upon them by another group of individuals, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all students are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are a quality education, proper funding for their schools, and the pursuit of their dreams. Whenever any group becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Public Educators to stand up and voice their opinions, and to stand up and fight for such principles that shall seem most likely to affect their students and their profession in a positive manner.  

When a long train of abuses and accusations, reduces professional educators to servants who must perform under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to unite and rise up against such tyranny.  Such has been the patient sufferance of professional educators across this nation; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand participation in any type of reform that might occur. Recent history is a history of repeated injuries and accusations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over America’s public education system. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The recent manifesto titled “How to Fix Our Schools” did not include the input of one single teacher, parent, or anyone other than those who are already holding the power to make decisions regarding the public education system.

The broadcast media has uniformly excluded teachers from any publicly televised discussions regarding how to “fix” the public education system except as in a token format.

The print media has consistently criticized, blamed, and singled out teachers as the number one cause of all that is wrong with the public education system.

The evaluation systems being proposed do not fairly judge a teacher’s performance, yet they are being touted as the savior for our nation’s public education system.

The teachers’ unions have been unfairly and falsely accused of damaging the public education system by making it impossible to terminate poorly performing teachers.  This is a blatant lie.

The Race to the Top initiative has forced school districts in one state to compete against school districts in other states instead of all districts in all states being properly funded. Apparently all men are created equal, but all states are not.

The arguments against many of the proposals made by those who have the power to make decisions regarding the public education system have been swept under the rug, trampled upon, and–in most cases–discredited and ignored.  Any research presented by public school teachers is viewed as defensive, self-serving, and union propaganda.  

The message has been sent loud and clear: teachers’ opinions do not matter when it comes to what is best for America’s public education system.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A system, whose aim is thus marked by every act which may define Tyranny, is unfit to be the system that America’s school children must rely upon to decide their futures.

We, therefore, the public school teachers of America, solemnly publish and declare that NOW is the time to speak out.  NOW is the time to act.  NOW is the time to educate America as we educate our students, with passion, honesty, and perseverance.  NOW is the time that we must share the truth about public education.  NOW is the time that we must let America hear OUR ideas concerning how to fix our schools, fix our society, fix the American Dream that has been broken and stolen by those whose motives are not sincere.

All this we must pledge so that America’s children, their Lives, their Fortune, and their and their ancestors’ sacred Honor remains secure for the eternity of these United States of America.

Reminder: Monday, November 22, is the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform. Bloggers across the Internet will be posting and advancing debate on how we can all work together to improve education in America. Be sure to visit EdVoices on the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform, as we will be featuring the latest posts from education’s top bloggers.

Comments (21)

  1. Fantastic! I’m sharing this with my Facebook friends. There are a lot of teachers I know who feel the same way you do. They’re left out of the conversations, but blamed for everything that’s wrong.

  2. Post it on the Huffington Post-let’s make sure the public sees real educators responding to these “reforms”

  3. @ Chris — I read this and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I want to laugh, because your article is really clever. But I want to cry because, unfortunately, it’s true. But you’re right that it’s our job to keep advocating for our students, no matter how the political winds are blowing. When my classroom door closes every day, there aren’t any politicians standing in the room with me. It’s just me and 26 kids, and they count on me to do right by them.

    • Thank you Nicole! If you didn’t know whether to laugh or cry then I hit the right note–as teachers I think we often feel like either laughing or crying :)

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  5. this is excellent Chris!! I am sharing this with everyone thank you : )

  6. “The teachers’ unions have been unfairly and falsely accused of damaging the public education system by making it impossible to terminate poorly performing teachers. This is a blatant lie.”

    Do you have good examples proving this to be a lie? I love & respect good teachers, but unions in every profession typically are charged with protecting the employment of the dues payers, which makes terminating the poor employee very difficult. I do know this from experience as a union member. IMO, unions are as bloated, lethargic & self-serving as any bureaucracy or corporation.

    • Pushy Peasant,

      I have personally witnessed two teachers who had been working more than twenty years in the district be let go for failing to meet their job requirements. The district followed the correct procedures, filled out the required paperwork, and terminated the teachers. This was not as difficult of a process as people make it out to be and definitely far from impossible. Therefore, to state that terminating poorly performing teachers is impossible most certainly is a lie. Even you stated it is “very difficult” to terminate a teacher; very difficult is not impossible.

      As union members, it is our duty to become active and remain active in our unions. If you feel your union is “self-serving & lethargic,” then become involved by running for a position, writing, emailing, or calling your union officials,and encouraging others who share your opinion to do the same. As you pointed out, teachers pay dues to their union, and as dues payers, they need to have a voice in how their union operates.

      Thank you for your comment.

    • Every state represented by AFT or NEA exclusively has higher perforance that those states that have house unions (faux unions) or that block unions with right to work laws. That tends to be true of many school districts in my area except for big city districts that have to try to overcome endemic structural racism, poverty and alternative economies.

  7. Delicious!! And I will now steal and publish it.

  8. God bless you! Thanks for putting to pen what so many of US feel and deal with every day!

    • Thank you Thom. There are many of US out there who support public education–teachers, parents, students, organizations–and it’s time we all start making our voices heard.

  9. This is great! I’m posting this on OpenLeft.com where I blog about public education policy every Sunday.

  10. As a public school teacher, and a member of my local teachers’ union, I have very mixed feelings about your comments. I agree that many parents are not involved and that the general public places the blame of poor schools soley on us. I agree that the opionions of teacher are rarely solicited and seldom taken into account. However, I also have grown weary of the union members in Tulsa who publicly whine about how hard they work, how many hours they work and how much time/money they spend on their own. Yet, privately they are the first people out the door and they boast that they don’t take work home with them (because they don’t get paid for it) and they won’t spend their own money (because it’s not their job). They are right, but don’t publicly play a martyr.

    A few years ago, our district offered us the option to take off two PD days during the school year IF we chose to take the PD over the summer. It was just a choice. If we didn’t take that option, we could simply attend PD on the regularly scheduled days during the school year. Without exaggerating, I would say that 99% of the teachers I knew whined that the district was “making” us work over the summer–they weren’t–it was an option. Then those who didn’t take that option whined when they had to do their PD during the school year. This is just one example of the constant whining and complaining I hear from my peers. It has grown old and exhausting and we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for the bad reputation we have helped create for ourselves. Even my most liberal, public education-supporting, pro-teacher friends and family members have mentioned to me that teachers seem to be a “whiny” group. I must concur. Atleast in Tulsa.

    Another example, my principal gives us 270 minutes of plan time per week–that’s a full 70 minutes more than required by our contract. Yet if someone is ill and one of our plan times is canceled, teachers scream and yell–despite the fact that they are still getting MORE than they are required. Additionally, many of the teachers in my building think that “plan” time = personal time.

    Yes, there are many problems. Yes, there are many obstacles. Yes, it IS very hard work. Yes, we are underpaid. Yes, we unfairly shoulder the blame for society’s problems. My work ethic tells me to roll up my sleeves, do what it takes to help every indiviudal child, treat children with respect (because I am, after all, the adult.)

    I have grown weary of my peers. While still a member of my teacher’s unions, I’m no longer active because I simply can’t bear to attend yet another meeting and listen to everyone whine.

  11. I agree, it is time to speak out. I must say, however, that many union leaders are part of the problem. Unions should stand up for the rights of teachers, and in many instances that’s not the case. In fact, strangely enough, I have been very disappointed to see that in at least two districts I have worked the Unions don’t hold meetings of teachers without the presence of administrators (I have stressed this numerous times to be ignored and viewed as some alien radical). This is truly laughable: A meeting of workers with the very administrators that cause many of the problems we see in our schools. If we are to change business as usual in education, let’s start by critically assessing our own role and that of our leaders. If we don’t, we are shamefully contributing to the problem.

  12. Stuart and Ernesto,

    I’m saddened to hear about the situations that you have both been a part of. I agree that teachers shouldn’t “whine;” instead, teachers need to begin having a voice. Stuart, I agree that to simply complain without taking any action to remedy the situation does get extremely old. I think some teachers are simply overwhelmed while others just need to vent their frustrations in order to clear their minds for the next day. Unfortunately, I’m sure there are still others who seem to complain no matter what, and it sounds like you may have met some of them. I don’t, however, feel the unions are to blame for this behavior–I think a sense of helplessness contributes to their attitudes regarding teaching. This is why I am trying to empower teachers to speak up, get involved, and become a part of the solution to the problems that currently face public education. Ernesto, a situation similar to yours in which teachers can’t speak out due to fear of being punished is very common, but having union meetings with administrators present (hopefully) is not.

    I agree with both of you that everything begins with us, the teachers. Restoring our reputation as professionals is key. Building a relationship with the communities we teach in is also extremely important. Pointing out some of the problems we face on a day-to-day basis ALONG WITH some logical solutions is a great way to begin this process. By involving teachers, parents, and local businesses, and by gaining the support of our legislators we can accomplish much more than those who are currently “reforming” our schools with an iron fist.

    While much of this blog points out some of the issues that we, as educators, face, I feel the most important part is the last two paragraphs in which I state that now is the time we need to speak up and let America hear OUR ideas for fixing the system. Maybe then, instead of being called a “‘whiny’ group,” we will be considered a group of creative, motivated individuals with the courage, the compassion, and the selflessness necessary to make the world a better place because, in the end, isn’t that truly what any great teacher sets out to do?

    Thank you both for your comments, and I hope that both of you continue to read and post.

    Chris

  13. Teachers work longer than most people realize. A 2008 research study reported that full-time teachers work, on average, 55 hours per week. [1] (This includes all the after school and evening and weekend work in correcting papers at home, preparing tests, designing lesson plans, attending after school functions as well as parent meetings, etc.) If you multiply 55 hours x 38 weeks in a regular teacher’s contract, you get 2,090 hours of work. Divide the 2,090 by 40 hours per week (average workweek) and you have a typical teacher working 52.25 weeks per year! They do this in a compressed nine-months of time. It should also not be forgotten that when teachers “ . . . are compelled not to work during the three months of summer, they won’t be able to collect unemployment compensation.” [2] However, other “seasonal workers” have that right.

    [1] NEA Today (2008, September). Miscellaneous classroom concerns, 27(1), p. 28. [ED3-83]

    [2] Mattsen, John A. (2000, January 15). Big surpluses, but not enough to pay teachers decent salary. Star Tribune, p. A17. [FD3-84]

  14. Fact: A third of new teachers quit teaching after three years. One half of new teachers quit teaching after five years. Why? Is it because they have such cushy and well-paid jobs?

    Where are we going to get teachers–those with BS and Masters degrees and more– to teach our children when they are constantly vilified, abused and attacked, both in the classroom and from an ill-informed general public? You better start seriously thinking about home-schooling your child or having her in classes of 60 or more. I cannot see teachers staying in the profession as their working conditions continue to deteriorate, especially with so many disruptive students who operate on a “social agenda” and not an “academic agenda.” Far too many parents don’t know how to parent or just don’t give a damn. Too many of them expect teachers to raise their kids.

    This issue about taking away the collective bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees in WI and in other states has caught the attention of many, including the few high school and college students who aspire to become a teacher. Many of them are starting to reconsider whether or not they want to be in the profession. God help us all. I see America disintegrating and I am scared to death about our survival as a country. The wrong people are being attacked. The rich and powerful must be gleeful that one worker is pitted against another. Sometimes I think the powerful and rich, on both political sides, have a hidden agenda to keep the masses in our society less educated as they could be. That way the employer pays them a smaller wage, and the politicians have an easier job of controlling and “leading” their sheep.

  15. Private School Myths: Response to “A Public School Teacher’s Manifesto”
    1. They are all good. (Some are bad. Some are great.)
    2. They are worth the money. (Few are.)
    3. They are for the elite. (They may or may not include elite.)
    4. They have fewer problems. (Public school problem students may end up in private schools.)
    5. They have higher standards. (They may have lower standards.)
    6. They have better teachers. (Few do. Better teachers want better pay in the public schools.)
    7. Their students are successful. (Only the students who work hard are successful.)
    8. They work to correct their problems. (They don’t have to.)
    9. Kids learn more. (Some learn less.)
    10. Competition is stiff. (The almighty dollar greases the skids.)
    11. Wait lists mean its a good school. (Wait lists mean they have a good PR person.)
    12. Only the best students go there. (This is not true of any school.)
    13. Private schools are successful. (They are only as successful as the students they admit.)
    14. Private school test numbers read better than public school test numbers. (Private schools are free to remove damaging numbers from their statistics. Public school statistics reflect everything.)
    15. Private schools do not have non-English speakers, physically and mentally disabled, severe emotional and drug problems. (They do. They just don’t readily include them in their statistics.)
    16. Private schools shield kids from the real world. (So do public schools.)
    17. Private schools get all the brilliant kids. (The good school–public or private–gets the brilliant kids.)
    18. Teachers teach better in private school. (Teachers worth their salt teach well wherever they are.)
    19. What counts is where you went to private school. (What counts is what you learned in school–
    private or public.)
    20. Kids who went to private school are better off. (Some are. Some aren’t.)

    Bottom Line: The student is the one who reads the handwriting on the wall.
    The student is the one who determines his or her own success.
    Parents determine where (the school) their child will learn best.
    Parents provide encouragement, provide examples of hard work and determination,
    provide expectations of meeting goals and high standards–
    in academics, in conduct, in athletics, and in extracurricular activities.
    Parents add to the atmosphere of the school–positively or negatively.
    Parents add to the outcome of their child’s education–positively or negatively.
    Parents add to the character of their children–positively or negatively.
    Parents influence positively or negatively on their children in every way.
    TEACHERS EDUCATE students assigned to their classrooms.
    Teachers also, coincidentally, try to correct negative influences in children’s lives
    while providing good examples and high expectations, pleasant atmospheres,
    positive outcomes and good influences on character.

  16. I think there are significant benefits to public education. However, politicians and CEOs have trouble putting their money where their mouths are. The ongoing reduction in education funding at the state and federal levels are prime examples. We have had some outstanding academic success in my diverse high school. I recently wrote an open letter to Secretary Duncan about this (see link below). Many of the programs mentioned in the letter will be impacted by the reduction of Perkins funding. (https://docs.google.com/a/maine207.org/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B3SNF-9-QtSMOWU2OTJlNjktNTM1ZC00NTE2LWI4MzMtYmI5MjEwODg4YTY2&hl=en_US)

  17. Modular Classrooms: Additional Response to A Public School Teacher’s Manifesto
    One way to assist teachers and to improve public schools is to develop modular setups of classrooms
    like what is used for school sales of books to students. The modular setups are brought in to the library
    and everything has a proper place–always the same. The books are easily set up and easily torn down.
    Teachers spend inordinate amounts of time setting up their classrooms in a way that works for them.
    Often teachers must vacate the room for one reason or another and reset up there or elsewhere.
    With steel modular transportable setups (and secure locks) teachers could locate or relocate easily.
    Teachers who work well together could locate near each other with minimal hassle. Modular setups
    could be exchanged for various lesson plans. Special needs could be accommodated in a module(s).
    All could be moved and locked up securely at the end of the school year or during breaks as needed.
    This would take a tremendous load off of teachers and allow for more streamlined lesson planning.

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