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Superintendent Vitti, start with treating teachers like professionals

I know the new superintendent and incoming school board members have been inundated with advice and opinions. Since teachers are often hesitant to voice their concerns and it has been made clear that overall teacher morale is very low, I feel the low morale issue should be addressed. I write this after having taught in the district for 28 years.

Duval County Public Schools has many positives and not everything needs to be changed. There are, however, some attitudes and policies that should be changed in order to improve teacher morale and ensure our students receive an excellent education.

First of all treat teachers as professionals. Hire certified, qualified teachers, and let them do the job they were hired to do. For the last ten years or so teacher morale has rapidly declined and teacher retention has been a major problem. I remember a time when retiring from the teaching profession was a cause for celebration following a rewarding and satisfying career. Now, not so much as many teachers are retiring early, often leaving in disgust, feeling degraded or frustrated due to unreasonable, impossible demands placed upon them. In order for a teacher to be effective they need to be calm and centered. Lately there has been an extreme amount of teacher training,"coaching", and unnecessary tasks; most of which have been counter productive and taking away much time which is needed to be a good teacher. There are many teachers who do not last through their first, second or third year of teaching. More and more teachers are suffering stress related illnesses due to adverse job conditions. The physical, emotional and mental health of our teachers should be a priority if our number one priority is the children in their care.

The district should require ethical behavior from principals and administrators especially as it relates to teachers. It is most egregious when a principal uses the teacher evaluation process as a means to retaliate or to take adverse action against a teacher for personal or political reasons. It is not uncommon for principals to harass, or mistreat teachers with impunity. The district needs to ensure that teachers are not subject to a hostile work environment. Teachers should never feel irrelevant, fearful or have their opinions and concerns categorically dismissed as they have been by the current superintendent.

Lack of student discipline in the schools is a concern for many and has a major effect on teacher morale. The student progressive discipline plan needs to be revised. Students are allowed to disrupt class and be disrespectful numerous times before receiving any meaningful consequences. Teachers are spending an inordinate amount of time on disciplinary matters and frequently feel unsupported by administration. Many of the schools administrators because of the progressive discipline plan start out very lenient with students who misbehave. It should be no surprise then that discipline deteriorates early in the school year.

The district desperately needs a student attendance and tardy policy and one which is enforced. There should be a limit placed on the number of allowable unexcused absences and tardies. Students should not be given credit for assignments if they have been suspended or have skipped class. Having an attendance and tardy policy shows the district respects teachers enough to require class attendance. The district has been more demanding about teachers giving students make-up work than they have been about students attending class. Related to this is the Student Recovery Program which many feel should be abolished. This allows students who have failed a class to "recover" and pass the class. Recovery often means just doing work on a computer for a few days. This is allowed for students who missed class for any reason and for students who attended class daily but did nothing. If you disrupted class, keeping others from learning you would still qualify for the Recovery Program. This sends a very disrespectful message to teachers as students can totally ignore their teacher's requirements for an entire 9-wks. and still pass.

Lastly is the district's inexcusable need to blame teachers if FCAT scores do not show to their liking. Teachers do not mind being held accountable if the district does its part to provide safe schools with environments conducive to learning. There is nothing wrong with testing but our district has been obsessing over FCAT and is over-testing our students to prepare for the FCAT which is advertised in many schools as the Main Event. Concentrate on providing students with a good education and good test results will follow. We won't have FCAT overkill if students receive the necessary skills in the early grades. Instead of spending millions to pay companies like Educational Directions to pontificate to teachers and principals and mine data why doesn't the district use Educational Directions to tutor young children lacking reading and math skills thereby eliminating the need to hire them or companies like them to take over our schools. Author, Lisa Guibond, discusses the failures of high-stakes testing in her article, "Chicago Teachers Say No to High-Stakes Testing Madness"(from Fair Test) This should be required reading for all people concerned about public school education.

Teachers understand that the district does not control everything and that many pressures stem from the State and their requirements; but all teachers can weather the storm and thrive if treated with respect in an atmosphere that encourages communication and expressions of ideas. 

Jane Bowman, former educator

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