October 10, 2016
To: Burlington School Board
From: Amy Demarest
Our Curriculum Matters, Burlington, VT 05401
Something very basic is missing in the current conflict between the Burlington School Board and our teachers. Respect. I keep looking for a sign of good faith from the School Board—a sense that you are reaching out with all that you have in order to bring about a more amicable settlement. I don’t see it.
I think that the public stance you take as School Board members should, in plain words, just be nicer! At the very least, you should sound more supportive of teachers. Show us that you understand the toll that your words and actions take. A lack of public support impacts how effectively teachers can do their jobs. This has been a continuing problem. As a former classroom teacher and as a resident of Burlington, it has always bothered me.
I strongly believe that one of the most important ingredients for success in the classroom is that teachers go to work every day feeling supported by the system they work for. Teachers need to feel good about being with students and confident about their ability to deliver the massive agenda set forth by our society. They should feel respected for the demanding job that they do.
How teachers FEEL may not be high on everyone’s agenda. It is about money, schedules, responsibilities, benefits—the fine points of the contract. All of these details need to be worked out and it will take a lot of work to do so. But mostly it will take a new openness by the Board. The dialogue from this point on should reflect a basic respect for the complex job of teaching. I do not believe that the chronology of this conflict has shown our school board to honor teachers—which is part of working for fiscal integrity and the success of each child.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are some difficult negotiations happening. And I am not suggesting any particular kind of concession be made so teachers “feel good.” This is a complex business. What I am asking is for each of you to examine the spirit with which you are proceeding. It is not the new solution that will help us as much as a more understanding attitude from members of the Board.
This is an important week coming up. I urge all school board members and District leaders to think about each child that walks into the classroom every morning and looks expectantly at the person in charge for the day. And then ask yourself: Have I done everything possible to make sure that the person in charge feels supported? Acknowledged? Am I being as professional as possible so that these negotiations proceed with a fresh wave of hope and openness? People can solve problems when they work together and treat each other with respect. Try it.
Out-of-towners who want more information on the Burlington situation: