Ever been so sick of your job that you needed a sick day just to recover?
That’s what happened in Detroit recently, when a series of teacher protests threatened to shut down an entire school system.
Eighty-eight of 97 city schools were forced to close last week as hundreds of teachers took the day off to protest deteriorating conditions at Detroit Public Schools. The closures forced more than 45,000 students to miss a full day of classes.
That educators in Detroit are upset should come as little surprise. Even as businesses have begun to recover in the wake of the city’s historic 2013 bankruptcy filing, schools have been slow to improve.
A recent article in the New York Times decried increasingly filthy and unsanitary conditions in the city’s flagging school system. “We have rodents out in the middle of the day,” one teacher told the paper. “Like they’re coming to class.”
Lacetia Walker, an instructional specialist and one of the educators who participated in the protest, said teachers and staff had simply had enough.
“Things have been happening for so long, and I think teachers felt like they had no voice,” Walker told the Detroit Free Press.
Detroit’s problems are at turns tragic and severe, but they aren’t new. There isn’t an educator out there who hasn’t been frustrated by a perceived lack of funding or resources at their school or district.
So let’s be clear: The city’s teachers didn’t cripple the school system to simply call attention to yet another mandate to “do more with less”; they did it because they felt powerless and ignored. The protest was a last-ditch effort, the only viable way they felt they had to contribute to a solution.
Which also raises the question: Could this whole mess have been avoided?
Funding was always going to be an issue in Detroit given the city’s fragile financial state. But had district officials worked to communicate these challenges more openly, or invited more consistent feedback from teachers and staff during the decision-making process—had they simply found a way to work better together—it’s at least reasonable to think that a protest could have been avoided.
Dealing with discord and frustration in your district?
What approach do you take to engage faculty and staff in constructive conversations? Do you have a plan for listening and responding to their concerns and feedback? Do your employees have a voice? Tell us in the comments.
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