Boston teachers deserve to be respected, not disparaged

Democrats for Education Reform distorts facts on 'excess pool'

RECENTLY, BOSTON EDUCATORS ratified a new contract with the Boston Public School administration. Our schools are already reaping the rewards of that contract, which went into effect at the start of the school year.

Boston Teachers Union members are proud of the significant improvements for Boston students and families that we’ve helped to usher in, thanks to collective bargaining. We advocated for and won increased staffing of paraprofessionals and school nurses, and supports for Applied Behavioral Analysts who work with students with autism and special needs. We called for and won expanded restorative practices, including new staffing, that help at-risk students with social-emotional learning needs. For teachers who are also parents, we won clean, private spaces for breastfeeding moms to pump, and we won parental leave in line with other city workers for our early career teachers.

Of course, BPS still has challenges to tackle; there will always be more we can do together, but the two-year agreement represents a significant step forward for the district.

Unfortunately, our new contract and our members have faced unfounded criticism and attacks. The propaganda campaign from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) has been particularly callous. It has peddled misinformation about a small group of qualified, committed working teachers who have found themselves in the “excess teacher pool.”

These educators have been inaccurately characterized in both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald as “unwanted.” Accurate descriptors would be underutilized and hardworking. These teachers found themselves without a position not because of their individual performance. Rather, they joined the “pool,” for example, because budget cuts forced their school administrators to make difficult staffing choices, or a school takeover meant every teacher had to reapply for his or her job, regardless of their special skills or classroom performance.

 A teacher could end up in the “pool” because they recently returned from maternity or family and medical leave. Perhaps he or she lost a long-term position due to the state’s flawed accountability system. The teachers who have found themselves in this difficult situation include a biology teacher with 30 years of service and an advanced degree from Harvard; a bilingual guidance counselor credited with being the first in her school to make real headway with students of Spanish-speaking families; a recent Massachusetts Teacher of the Year finalist; a former social studies department head; and an award-winning robotics teacher. These education professionals have all ended up in the pool due to circumstances completely unrelated to their acumen and ability as teachers.

These educators are not sitting around waiting to work as DFER has suggested. In fact, those who do not immediately receive long-term assignments from the district, either through rehiring out of the pool or in a new role, go to work every single day filling temporary assignments and contributing to student success in schools across the district. Notably, these temporary positions are in understaffed schools where principals have applied to receive support filling unmet needs. In truth, these temporary positions should be long term positions, but they are not purely because of school-based funding deficits.

DFER’s false and insulting narrative is not dissimilar from the divisive rhetoric of President Trump. The DFER narrative implies that these dedicated, working teachers are somehow robbing students of something — perhaps funding, perhaps the chance to work with teachers that management deems better (or younger) — it’s not entirely clear, but it doesn’t matter. The point for DFER is to pit the public against hard-working, experienced educators.

Meet the Author

Jessica Tang

President, Boston Teachers Union
The members of BTU will not allow that to happen. We’re proud of the strides we are making standing shoulder to shoulder with parents, students, administrators, and communities to ensure all Boston student have access to a great education. We will not be distracted from our shared charge: to build on our hard work that has made BPS the most successful urban school district in the nation, and to always seek new solutions to address the real challenges our students face.

Jessica Tang is president of the Boston Teachers Union.