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The Deafening Silence of Teachers

on Mar 15, 13 • by • with Comments

As Americans we have always been taught that one of the greatest things about being an American Citizen is that we are protected by the First  Amendment in the United States Constitution. We pride ourselves with having the ability to speak without fear of retribution and to make sure if injustices are occurring, we...
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As Americans we have always been taught that one of the greatest things about being an American Citizen is that we are protected by the First  Amendment in the United States Constitution. We pride ourselves with having the ability to speak without fear of retribution and to make sure if injustices are occurring, we have the ability to addressing them.

However somewhere between the United States Constitution and modern day education reform in America, teachers have lost their ability to speak up about injustices without fear of retribution.

 

According to the Cornell School of Law, the First Amendment Freedom of expression consists of the rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and the implied rights of association and belief.

Despite the US Constitution being a “living document,” there are educators who are petrified of speaking out against the wrongs we are currently witnessing in education today. To demonstrate how freedom of speech is non existent  in some schools,  walk into any school and ask a teacher to go on record to discuss the ills  in public education.  Instead of getting an abundance of answers you will be met with a deafening silence. Silence not because teachers  don’t have an opinion, but silence because their words many times are used  to hurt them professionally. Apparently, the first amendment does not apply to teachers.

As a pretty opinionated teacher, I am always  full of ideas and speak out  regularly against practices that are  unjust or not beneficial to students. However, time and time again I have been  “scolded” by more veteran teachers who warn me that being vocal would quickly get me “blackballed”  in the district. This fact was even more evident last Saturday when I was invited to a private screening of a new documentary in Atlanta, Georgia entitled “Scapegoats“. The film uses teacher interviews to examines how teachers have historically been made to be the scapegoats with anything bad that occurs in education. While I was in total agreement with what was being said in the document, I was dismayed that more than half of the teachers interviewed opted to have their face (and voices) distorted so their administration would not retaliate against them.

As I  listened to teachers to recall the atrocities that occur in public education, it was evident that these educational “pundits” and politicians have made it nearly impossible for teachers to exercise their first amendment rights. Teachers are terrified  of voicing their opinions because many times it not only makes them a target but could possibly make them not get their contract renewed for the following year!

Instead of forgetting my feelings and just chalking the film up  to that how things are, I got angry.

So in addition to falling wages and increased demands, teachers are now  forced to hide our feelings? Why are we forced to secrecy in order to address the social ills we see daily in our schools? Are we telling falsehoods ? Of course not, but the truth is painful to hear and see. To admit that public education is failing at the hands of politicians and political pundits, then they would have to admit they are not the experts in education. Instead they would be forced to admit that the only way to improve public education is to allow the real experts speak about what they live everyday of their lives, the classroom teachers.

In any other profession, professionals are not retaliated against if they speak out about issues in their respective fields. If a physician remarks that more patients are coming in with Diabetes, no one tries to stop him from working in the hospital.  If an attorney remarks that the amount of personal injury cases are quickly increasing, and gives strategies to help potential clients, they aren’t “blackballed” from the profession. We are the only profession where the real experts, teachers, literally have no voice!

When I started this magazine, I approached several teachers to write about their expertise from the classroom but many  were scared that their principals would be upset if they wrote about anything that happened in their classroom. I was floored. When did it become okay for administrators, school boards and district offices to decide what OUR truths were?

The truth is hidden while the public is made to believe that  lies are the truth. Truth be told, the majority of teachers loathe standardized testing. Truth be told, the people who make policies about education don’t even have their kids enrolled in public schools. Truth be told, the people who run the school districts are usually not equipped with the pedagogy or experience to actually lead a classroom in 2013. Truth be told, federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are just programs to further destroy public education and allow private entities to take our tax dollars.

Now what do you think about that?

Despite the deafening silence, there are many educators who are getting angry and speaking up with no regard to the possible consequences.  You have district administrators like John Kuhn who say “enough is enough” and write eloquent pieces like “Exhaustion of the American Teacher.”

You have teachers who decided to make the film “The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman” and expose the policies that hurt our students.

You have the teachers in Chicago that courageously decided to strike to ensure that their voices would be heard.

Times are changing, and I for one am glad. The truth is no longer being hidden by our deafening silence.   There are more teacher in the world than people who might want to silence us. So speak, act, march, discuss and demand to be heard. Apparently, we might have the 14th Amendment on our side.

If you’re tired of teachers having no voice, please sign our petition here.

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Comments

  1. Pam Jacobson says:

    After a successful career in teaching for 30+ years, I became more and more familiar with the politics of education. I had always focused my attention on the needs of each of the students in my classroom, however, when something goes wrong, the public has to blame someone. And it has become the nation’s teachers.
    Those of you who have experienced any bullying, harassment, or any other NUMEROUS illegal actions by administrators, you MUST have the courage to speak up.
    If you are uncomfortable doing so, please contact Karen Horwitz in Chicago. She was the victim of harassment and discrimination. She has pulled together an organization called NAPTA. NAPTA stands for National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse. One of the books she has written that is a MUST read for EVERY teacher is White Collar Chalk Crime. Please check out her website at NAPTA. Karen is open to receiving emails from teachers who have experienced abusive situations in their schools and has written about them in her books. The more information that is put out there, the more we as teachers can feel unified and not alone in our struggles and frustrations. Don’t wait until the situation in your school gets bad enough that you become a target for these administrators who seem to have the answer to every educational issue that a teacher faces. They don’t! We as teachers need to show our strength in numbers and stand up to these administrators who are NOT in the classroom and are clueless about the curriculum we are being asked to teach. Please contact Karen Horwitz at NAPTA for more information on how you can be supported by other teachers.

  2. Roseanne Eckert says:

    This month marks the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that guarantees counsel to the indigent in criminal cases. When I was a public defender, my ethical code governed my behavior when it came to excessive case loads or policies that could hurt my clients. Educators who are serious about protecting children need to develop their own code when it comes to recess, testing, and homework. http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_aid_indigent_defendants/ls_sclaid_def_eight_guidelines_of_public_defense.authcheckdam.pdf

  3. Roseanne Eckert says:

    This month marks the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that guarantees counsel to the indigent in criminal cases. When I was a public defender, my ethical code governed my behavior when it came to excessive case loads or policies that could hurt my clients. Educators who are serious about protecting children need to develop their own code when it comes to recess, testing, and homework.

    1. Michelle says:

      Did you lose your job when you spoke up?

  4. Michelle says:

    Unfortunately, it is all to easy for teachers to lose their jobs for putting their students first. With bills to pay, especially if they are parents themselves, it is a Hobson’s Choice.

    I speak out when I have to… and then have resources pulled, or even direct verbal reprimands for it. Also, other agencies know that to silence someone who happens to be a teacher, even if the person is acting as a private citizen, just contact the administrators and state that one of THEIR teachers is speaking up. I had this happen to me about fire code policy enforcement in the schools. I wrote a letter as a parent to my state congressperson and governor stating that I was upset fire marshals were limiting supplies, print-rich environments (books are combustible), and student work displays to 20% of wall coverage, even though the national code states 50% for educational institutions. I was reprimanded… they tracked down my employer, saw I was employed by the public schools, and complained to my admin. I was told NEVER to write anything, even as a private citizen, without clearing it with admin first because no matter whether or not I say I’m on my own on something, I represent the district 24/7 as their employee. So, shush! (Unless given permission…)

  5. I have been speaking up since 2000 with a comic strip called Mr. Fitz in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and online. Mostly I’ve gotten away with poking fun at testing, merit pay, and the rest of the nonsense, but in 2007 (I think), I did a series about a standardized curriculum I called “Teach By Number.” I wanted to make fun of all scripted curricula, but some district people took made out that I was picking on SpringBoard, the College Board’s workbook curriculum (which I suppose I was). I was called on the phone at home and warned that I’d made people very unhappy with theses strips. At the time, I nearly caved, and became extremely stressed out and depressed. I had two small children at home and my wife wasn’t working full time… I couldn’t afford to lose my real job over some comic strips. It eventually blew over, and later another district person who hadn’t heard about the incident told me that it was “embarrassing” and never should have happened. Since then I’ve gone back to speaking out about Common Core, Testing, Merit pay, and even teacher depression. Nobody’s been calling me on it, and the school board chair emailed me to tell me she loves the strip. So everything’s cool– for now. I shouldn’t have allowed them to get to me the way I did. Sometimes all they can do is blow hot air. That’s why it’s important I still have tenure. Teachers entering the profession in Florida no longer have it…

  6. cindy says:

    As I come to the finish of my administrative certificate, I vow to NEVER forget the people in the trenches of education. If I do so help me GOD strike me immediately with a lightening bolt! I have taught for 26 years and will NEVER stay silent to the atrocities going on in education today! Politicians and RICH businessmen are deciding the course for our children, not the educators. That has to stop!

    1. Sue says:

      Cindy – I hope you mean what you say, because I’ve seen and heard it from those just like you. All I can say is don’t drink the kool aid and you’ll be okay. Remember he effect of JJ cult. Best of luck to your in your quest to better the educational system.

  7. Tom Bloom says:

    Here is my lawsuit concerning the 1st and 14th Amendments….I am trying to attend my elected County Commission meeting which I was elected against a Board of Education member….

    Mon County commissioner’s lawsuit against school board transferred
    CLARKSBURG – The Monongalia County Board of Education has removed a lawsuit filed against it by a county commissioner who also works in the school system to federal court.

    The board removed Tom Bloom’s lawsuit, originally filed April 11 in Monongalia Circuit Court, to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on April 25. The lawsuit says the board violated Bloom’s First Amendment rights by not allowing him to take half-days off to attend commission meetings.

    Since Bloom is arguing the board violated the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the case should be heard in federal court, the board is arguing.

    Barbara L. Parsons, Michael L. Kelly, Ron Lytle, Nancy Walker, Clarence Harvey Jr. and Frank M. Devono were also named as defendants in the suit.

    Bloom has been employed by the Board of Education as a guidance counselor since Aug. 22, 1977, and through the end of the school year 2012, he was assigned to University High School, according to a complaint filed April 11 in Monongalia Circuit Court.

    Bloom claims on Dec. 2, 2011, he announced his pre-candidacy for County Commissioner of Monongalia County for the Democratic primary election to be held on May 8.

    On Jan. 9, 2012, Bloom formally announced his candidacy for the open County Commission seat and between Jan. 11 and May 2012, the UHS principal and Devono combined to reprimand and/or cite Bloom for a total of nine times for alleged violation of School Board policies and rules, according to the suit.

    Bloom claims he filed a grievance and denied the alleged violations asserted against him and on May 8, he won the primary election for the Democratic Party nomination.

    On June 12, Devono presented evidence of the alleged infraction on one of the pending reprimand/disciplinary actions and Bloom denied the charge and presented evidence on his behalf, according to the suit, and Bloom advised the school board of Devono’s actions since Dec. 2, 2011, which he claimed constituted a pattern and practice of actions designed to thwart and interfere with his candidacy and were egregious violations of his rights.

    Bloom claims on June 13, the defendants’ counsel contacted his counsel to negotiate a confidential settlement of the charges pending against him after the end of the 2011-2012 school year, Bloom requested and was granted a transfer to Morgantown High School, where he continues to be employed.

    On Nov. 6, Bloom won the general election for County Commissioner and on Dec. 9, Bloom was advised informally by MHS’s principal that Devono would not grant a request for flex time or be allowed to take unpaid leaves of absence in half-day increments, but that he could take unpaid leaves of absence in full-day increments, according to the suit.

    Bloom claims on Jan. 3, the Monongalia County Commission requested Devono to cooperate in granting flex time and further advised that the County Commission was temporarily moving the meeting to 3 p.m. to accommodate Bloom until the matter was resolved.

    The defendants’ acts, conduct and behavior were performed knowingly, intentionally, in bad faith and/or with reckless or callous indifference to the protected rights of others, according to the suit.

    Bloom claims the defendants have violated his First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.

    The defendants also violated Bloom’s 14th Amendment rights by not allowing Bloom to be granted flex time or being allowed to take unpaid leave of absence to attend meetings of the Monongalia County Commission or to attend to other County Commission business during school hours while flexibility of schedule is inherent in the job duties as a school guidance counselor, according to the suit.

    Bloom is seeking for the Court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining and enjoining the defendants from interfering with the right of Bloom to attend meetings and other business with the County Commission; order the defendants to grant him an unpaid leave of absence for the time spent away from MHS during school hours; enter judgment in favor of Bloom against the defendants; and compensatory and punitive damages. He is being represented by William E. Ford III of Ford Law Office and Robert M. Bastress Jr.

    Representing the defendants are Kenneth L. Hopper and Keith C. Gamble of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe.

    From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

    This entry was posted in Federal Court, Monongalia County, News and tagged Keith C. Gamble, Kenneth L. Hopper, Monongalia County Board of Education, Monongalia County Commission, Robert M. Bastress Jr., William E. Ford III. Bookmark the permalink.

  8. sonja says:

    The first amendment doesn’t protect us from one another. It only protects us from the government. If there is no union to protect the speaker, then the speaker may lose her/his job for speaking out against her/his employer, just as with any employer.

  9. [...] The deafening silence of teachers [...]

  10. Tracy Stroud says:

    …and thus many of the reasons I feel I can’t teach any more. Having a voice in education, and/or advocating for one’s students, is punished. Literally. This should be WHY we’re in the job, not fear of speaking up for our kids, or our colleagues. Teaching has turned in to a game of self promotion. Teachers pushing themselves instead of their students. All of this goes against every moral and ethical fiber I posses and therefore I have hung up my “chalk.” I can’t work within a system that refuses to let me do my job.

  11. [...] above injustices are all ways to brainwash teachers, that they do not matter and that our voices do not [...]

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