My name is Jesse Gottschalk, and I’m a teacher at Lea Elementary School. I’m part of the PFT, the Caucus of Working Educators, and the OCOS coalition that worked hard to end the SRC in favor of…you. It feels great to be able to speak to you. I really believe you have a chance to be a different kind of leadership, so I’m here with a request: change the culture of how the District works with teachers.
Because we are not just your employees – we are your most important resource. Among our ranks, we have 100,000 years of experience and expertise. We know our schools, our students, and our practice better than any consultant or contractor. When you consider new programs and practices, remember that research shows teacher buy-in to be one of the most important factors in the success of any new initiatives. That doesn’t mean we need PDs to explain them, it means bring us on board to your planning, take seriously our reservations, and let us take leadership in making sure things actually work for our schools.
At Lea, as you may know, we have begun a campaign against the process of leveling. Not only are teachers across the District against leveling, but we can tell you why the arguments from the central office are wrong. They say that we don’t have the money and we don’t have enough outside candidates to fill vacancies. Regarding money, any teacher could tell you that our students need smaller class sizes more than a new online program from Pearson.
As for vacancies, that is a huge problem…and a new one. But it’s no surprise. Teachers are used to being disrespected, ignored, and told over and over that we weren’t worth listening to, even as our concerns were repeatedly borne out by reality and research – about the harms of testing, about our building conditions, about class size, and yes, about leveling. Rather than listening to us and fixing those problems, our own leaders blamed us. Want to fix the vacancy problem? Change the culture. Make teachers feel valued. That won’t solve everything. For instance, we need to specifically do a better job recruiting and retaining teachers of color. Lucky for you, plenty of teachers have already been working around this issue and are prepared partner with you to fix the problem.
So let’s get specific. First of all, all of your public committee meetings should happen after school hours. I’m talking specifically about your Finance and Facilities Committee meetings, but that should be a general rule. Second, create a transparent plan to give current educators opportunities to interact with you. Don’t just talk to teachers that have been selected for you by District staff – be inclusive, be broad, and be consistent. There’s a saying in politics that where you stand depends on where you sit. What I see is you sitting over there and us sitting over here.
We may seem stubborn, but there’s a lot of history behind why we don’t give our trust easily. But you have an opportunity. Win us over. Work with us.