BATs Quality of Workplace Team Meets with USDOE - 7/24/15
By: NY BAT Jamy Brice Hyde, M.Ed
I have had the privilege to work with a team of teachers who suffered enormous trauma while teaching. In September one of my team members was called to cover for her friend of 25 years as she had an emergency. There this teacher sat at her friend's desk with her friend's belongings strew on the desk and her friend's jacket left over the chair. Inside the top drawer was her friend’s suicide note. This teacher’s friend had left the building to commit suicide and succeeded. My team member has chronicled the emotional and mental abuse she and other teachers have suffered in this school. It is a shocking story but the truth is, this is happening in our schools across America. The American teaching profession is under assault and the damage is catastrophic.
A teacher's work environment is a student's learning environment. Does this story make you wonder what is really happening in our public schools?
Shortly after hearing this story, I heard of several more teacher suicides. These stories of teacher abuse were so very shocking to me as I had never seen nor experienced these things in my school; I sent an email to Randi Weingarten the President of AFT and asked her, “What are we doing to help our teachers?” She responded by having her Chief of Staff call me to ensure I was alright. That phone call resulted in a town hall phone call on the abuses suffered by professional teachers in public education. On that call Randi heard the testimony of several teachers from across the country. The stories were shocking, heartbreaking, and began a call to action. A team of volunteers from that group created an action plan to expose “teacher abuse” in public schools. From October 2014 until April 2015 a team of BATs partnered with the AFT to create a survey that would expose the changing environment in our public schools. On April 21st we launched an 80 plus question survey on social media and via email in a ten day window 91,000 employees of public education responded and 31,000 completed the survey. The response was unprecedented. The results revealed the collateral damage of the "test and punish” environment currently engulfing public education.
Over the course of the past 9 months the BAT/AFT Quality of Work Life Team was formed. This team has forged a deep friendship as working toward our goal allowed much healing to take place. We have indeed become a strong sisterhood and empowered warriors. We fight abuses such as bullying, ageism, sexism, discrimination against those with disabilities and minority teachers! Our team had experienced all of these abuses first hand. The AFT and Bats jointly released our top lines of the survey. We went into action calling for a national scientific study to be done of the quality of the education work environment. Together the Badass Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers took action. We sent letters to NIOSH, USDOE and called upon our legislators to create a law to mandate a study to address issues in the quality of the work environment in public education. NIOSH responded they are interested in conducting a study. Senators Booker and Bennet responded with an amendment to the ECAA. The legislative language was placed in the main frame of the ECCA and passed in the Senate on July 16th 2015. OUR TEAM HAS PASSED NATIONAL LEGISLATION!!! Our hope is it will be included in the reconciled bill between the House and the Senate. We may call for your support as the reconciliation process proceeds!
Our team was far from finished. Sandy Goodwick sent an email requesting a meeting with the USDOE. Laurie Clavert of the USDOE organized a meeting. On July 24th at 3:30 the BAT/AFT team entered the infamous “house of pain.” We were placed in the Secretary of Educations Conference room with a very long and large table. Name tags were placed in front of each of us.
The meeting began with introductions. Attending from the USDOE were:
Ruthann Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary
Brad Jupp, Office of the Secretary
Ronn Nozoe, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
Ary Amerikaner, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
Matt Lehrich, Strategic Advisor, Office of Communications and Outreach
Emily Davis, Office of the Secretary
Laurie Calvert, Office of Communications and Outreach
Each team member testified to the horrors they endured in their public schools while highlighting survey results reflective of the fact that they experiences are occurring across the country. We discussed teacher suicides in light of test and punish evaluation systems. We discussed the mental well being of our students as they experience intended failure while corporations profit. We exposed the ugly side of ageism and sexism in our schools. We exposed the level of neglect our students and teachers with disabilities are experiencing. We exposed the horrors of the physical working conditions around the country including black mold, asbestos and rat infestation. BAT team members cried and wept as each finally had the opportunity to speak the truth to power. This was a tremendously empowering moment for those healing from deep traumatic wounds. These BATs are the most courageous warriors I have ever met! To bear witness to this event dug deep into the souls of those present. As each BAT ended their testimony you could have heard the flap of hummingbirds’ wings, the silence was solemn almost reverent for the suffering that was heard. There were no tissues in this room only tear drops on the table.
We called for the healing of public education and requested action be taken by the USDOE. We asked for a commitment to work with our team to change the climate of our public schools to positive healthy working and learning environments.
The members of the USDOE were emotionally affected by the stories and extremely interested in the results of the survey. Some members of the USDOE had difficulty keeping their composure, some cried, others held their eyes low. Ruthann Buck committed to our team we will have an opportunity to collaborate with them on solutions and that they are in the process of responding to our AFT/BAT letter. She reiterated that what happened to the teachers in the room was simply wrong and would not be tolerated or condoned by the USDOE.
WE MADE AN IMPACT WE ARE SURE! We await the USDOE’s formal response. Stay tuned there is much more to come from the BAT/AFT Quality of Work Life Team.