FRAMINGHAM – On Wednesday evening the Framingham School Committee and many administrators debated the role of teachers during this Covid-19 pandemic, including questions of what teachers’ working environments should look like, what technology they should use, and how they should collaborate. What was noticeably absent in all of this discussion about teachers, however, was the voice of the teachers themselves.
In a meeting that ran for over four hours, much of which dealt directly with teacher working conditions and safety, teachers were allowed to speak for less than 15 minutes, and then only during the public comment section of the meeting.
In contrast, Framingham administrators were given extensive time to voice their own thoughts about the teachers’ needs and working conditions, which took up the majority of the meeting.
This imbalance is far from unusual at Framingham School Committee meetings. It’s now an established routine that teachers are all but excluded from the conversation, even as they are often its chief subject. Committee members frequently comment off-handedly about the contentious relationship of the Framingham Public Schools (FPS) administration with its educators, and anyone who follows the local news knows that disagreements between FPS educators and the school committee often result in long, protracted negotiations and legal procedures. This relationship is good for no one, least of all students, as opportunities for real collaboration that could lead to thoughtful, educator-informed school policy solutions are missed every day.
But what if, instead of having their professional concerns sidelined, Framingham teachers were invited to the table to discuss policy issues with the Framingham School Committee?
What if Framingham teachers could speak, ask questions, and present their views to the School Committee with the same respect that administrators are given?
Educators serve many diverse roles around the district, and they have unique knowledge and experience to share. Including teachers in school committee discussions would mean more substance to discussions about the reality of how our schools are run, and more innovative policy solutions informed by direct experience with Framingham’s students.
There are a number of ways that teachers could be included in school committee conversations. For one, educators could be given space on the agenda to speak and present their recommendations on policy issues, as administrators routinely do. Another idea is to establish a seat for an educator advisor or advisors, similar to the student advisor role, so that a teacher representative could have a seat at the table and participate in committee discussions.
A plan to introduce educators into school committee discussions would raise some logistical challenges: How would teachers sign up to present at meetings? How would an educator advisor be chosen, and how could the many diverse roles and perspectives of district educators be represented equitably?
In spite of all of these issues, however, the alternative, to continue to exclude educators’ perspectives from the school committee, promises more of the same – more policy disputes ending in grievances and litigation, more frustrated school committee members, more demoralized teachers, and more tension in the community as Framingham parents reconcile the differing facts presented by educators and administrators.
Teachers are used to listening to others tell them how to do their jobs, but are school committee members ready to listen to teachers? Are FPS school committee members willing to let educators share their own perspectives, and learn from what teachers know about our students and our classrooms?
Framingham High School English Teacher