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Monday, December 28, 2015

The Times Union’s silence about teacher’s working conditions is deafening (rough draft)

Teachers are afraid in this town, afraid that if they speak up about their working conditions their safety or a curriculum that they believe is completely inappropriate for their students then they will face consequences for their actions.

As the chief contributor to the blog Education Matters I talk to teachers quite frequently about what is happening and the two things they have in common is that they believe as a district superintendent 

Vitti is taking us in the wrong direction and they are afraid to go on the record about it.

We have all heard the saying is I have heard it once I have heard it a thousand times, well in Jacksonville that is no exaggeration, teachers fear for their jobs if they speak up and the Times Union knows it too. They however refuse to report on it.

Now they allude to it here and there when talking about other topics.

From a story about a bill that would mandate recess.
Teachers in Duval County said recently in private that they feel pressure to stay on task, even when they can tell their kids are squirming.
From an article on teaching religion to first graders
Several teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said students aren’t engaged in the subject matter, and because teachers are reading from a script and students don’t have books to follow along, they’re even less likely to comprehend and remember what they’re learning.
“It is tedious, repetitive and created without readers in mind,” one teacher said. “Engage NY lacks a connection to what will motivate students.”
Teachers say they’re being discouraged from slowing down lessons and from using other books.
These two examples are just from the last month. I could have easily found a dozen more mentions.
This is also a conversation I have had several times with the Times Union’s main two education reporters, Rhema Thompson and Denise Amos Smith. I have to say I think they are doing a better job than what we have had in the past but I don’t see how they can continue to ignore the story that so many teachers go to work afraid that they will lose their jobs or be messed with if they speak up and do the right thing.
We are not going to reach our potential as a district as long as we marginalize and intimidate teachers. We are not going to reach our potential as long as we ignore teachers concerns and we are not going to reach our potential as long as the district contuse to make the job of teaching so unappealing people either leave in droves or do their job out of fear not out of joy.   

The Times Union sadly knows that teachers are afraid yet they refuse to report on it which makes them culpable with the problems we are having. Their job should not be to cover for the district and sell its all is well narrative.
Let me ask you a question would you be effective at your job if you were concerned about your safety, or believed you were doing harm, or if you spoke up you would be punished? 


  1. I notice that RETIRED teachers are frequently quoted. Those still in the system are afraid to speak out. The consequences are very real. DTU does nothing, though I noticed that harassment of teachers is in bold in this year's contract. But they are just pretending to care. The most accommodating union in the country continues to do nothing to protect teachers from harassment or hostile environments. Why is it in bold print if the status quo continues? Are they just taking the baby step of acknowledging the reality? When will they actually protect teachers and not just collect dues from them?

  2. This is a REAL problem. At some schools, teachers are afraid to speak about "real issues" even with principals. From a leadership perspective, the challenges DCPS face will continue to grow UNLESS the perspectives of those OTHER THAN Vitt's chosen few are considered. AGAIN, WHERE IS THE SCHOOL BOARD? Doesn't Vitti work for them and don't they work for the citizens of Duval County?

  3. The T-U is not obligated to deal with the working conditions of teachers, though it would make a compelling story. There is no excuse for DTU, collecting almost $60/month from their members and ignoring a very real problem: bullies, disguised as administrators.

  4. Chris, you've written a lot of good stuff... this is one of the best pieces I've read on your blog. I know you're aware, and I hope you don't mind if link my own column, but the Times-Union published a guest column of mine earlier this year ( about Superintendent Vitti, with Ms. Amos's help. They ran Superintendent Vitti's rebuttal alongside it (

    These columns ran the same day as Ms. Amos's article on Vitti's closure of school libraries hit the front page of the Times-Union.

    I think she and the Times-Union ran that story because there was no gray area, no room for spin: it was a stark, obvious, verifiable systematic action with a paper trail.

    I along with many others directed her towards which school board meeting minutes to look at, which documents to look for, and to make an open records request. Not to mention, they had already published their own research when Khris Brooks worked for them. Ms. Amos quite obviously did hours upon hours of research after that to be able to write the column she wrote, and I know for a fact I was not the only teacher who spoke to her regarding libraries.

    When we gave her something concrete, she wrote. My advice is to keep giving her something concrete. When it's strong enough to publish, I have faith she'll publish it.

    And I could be wrong, but I really get the feeling that she is on our side but has to be extremely cautious regarding making sure anything critical she publishes has strong sources and paper trails.

    Give her dates and times of emails that she can do an Open Records Request on. I really think she wants to help, but we have to help her.

    There are ways to do this without implicating yourself. I would never normally say such a thing, normally I'd just work with within the system and try to effect change in my own classroom little by little, but what's happening in Duval is disturbing.

    If it weren't, I wouldn't have spoken out.

  5. I read those dual columns, Mike, and I don't doubt a word of your story. DCPS is brutal when it comes to beating down teachers who won't cower. They forget that the primary purpose of school is learning, even though that is their stated philosophy. Were you in the union? Were they any help?

  6. I was in the union. I filed a grievance and went up the CTE director's chain of command until I copied the School Board and Dr. Vitti on my grievance emails to DTU. (I later found the CTE director was acting under Vitti's orders regarding the immediate specifics of my grievance.) Three of the seven School Board members expressed concern and responded positively. Dr. Vitti responded with a very political, non-committal response.

    After doing so, the new CTE Executive Director appointed by Vitti at least stopped penalizing my students in repeated attempts to teach me a lesson.

    Some of my students ended up getting internships with the District which was wonderful... the District became reasonable and accommodating to the needs of my students for exam schedules, etc. so as far as the grievance/complaint was concerned, mission accomplished.

    I'm confident escalating my Union grievance one step at a time through the chain of command, up through the school board, was the reason they left my students alone afterwards and offered them the opportunities they were due.

    Filing a grievance/complaint rather than just shooting off an email on my own allowed everyone to know definitively that I was speaking for myself, not anyone else at the school they might to retaliate against.

  7. Chris, For the exact reasons that you state, I retired from DCPS. I cannot continue to teach a curriculum that I do not believe is constructive. I cannot continue to teach in a classroom where disruptive students are given favor over the students that are there to learn. I cannot continue to teach under intimidation and fear. My physical and emotional health have hit bottom. I'm done! Can I help you and our colleagues in any way? I no longer fear retribution.

  8. Anne, I am so ready to follow you for all of the same reasons. Disruptive students get no consequence, harassment and accompanying emotional exhaustion, 24 hr/day job leading to physical health deterioration and all I get is criticism.