The following Op-Ed, by HFT Member Tiffany Moyer-Washington, appeared in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, October 3. The original can be found here.
Hartford teachers at the breaking point
This isn’t about our jobs being challenging. It isn’t even about compensation. It’s ultimately about how these poor working conditions negatively impact our students.
Speaker after speaker filled the public comment with lists of concerns. The primary concern: fair compensation for what we’re all being asked to do. Compared to surrounding districts, teachers, paraprofessionals, etc., make shamefully less and are being asked to work longer hours under stressful situations.
A colleague and I gave a short demonstration during my time of public comment. I read from a series of initiatives and duties required of Hartford teachers as I tossed balls at my colleague, who did his best to juggle them. Building relationships with students. Fire drills. IEPs. Grading. Truancy. Then we went into responsibilities added in the past two years: COVID-19. Social distancing. Additional professional development. Virtual teaching. Throughout, he had to choose which balls to drop and which to keep juggling. Our presentation was met with a standing ovation and whoops from the crowd. I was certain that the message was clear. Hartford teachers are being asked to do too much for too little.
This isn’t about our jobs being challenging. It isn’t even about compensation. It’s ultimately about how these poor working conditions negatively impact our students. With so many of us juggling, something, someone, is going to fall through the cracks.
Yet, on Sept. 23 at 5 p.m., staff from Hartford Public Schools received an email from the superintendent. In the email, Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez responded to a number of questions addressed at Tuesday’s meeting, one of which was about the teacher shortage as it specifically impacts Hartford. Her response was beyond disheartening.
Her message pointed out the signing bonuses for teachers in areas of need (no mention of the teaching ladder that leaves Hartford teachers making thousands a year less than CREC, New Britain, New Haven and other comparable districts). Many Hartford teachers aren’t leaving the profession; they are just leaving Hartford.
Her letter also mentioned an increase in resource teachers and support staff — yet nearly every one of the speakers at the board of education meeting talked of lack of staff at Hartford Public Schools. Students with special needs in need of 1:1 paraprofessional support, with not enough new hires; teachers teaching outside of their content area; teachers teaching during their prep; teachers being asked to cover for positions not yet filled.
Torres-Rodriguez also stated that teachers would be given more collaboration and learning time. Collaboration time is lost in covering dual planning for online and in-person as more and more students are being sent home for quarantine, and of course all of the new initiatives packed on from the district level.
The message went on to say that one of the ways the district is supporting and retaining staff in our district is through more staff development. When teachers are begging for less, support is never adding more. Trauma-informed training is important — but so is recognizing that teaching through a pandemic is its own kind of trauma. It is the third week in September and most teachers are more burned out than ever before. Anyone who knows anything about trauma knows that you cannot pour from an empty bucket. The lack of compensation, extra training, longer school days are literally poking holes in our buckets, leaving us emptier and emptier. Our priority is the students. It has always been and always will be the students.
But students cannot come first when the staff required to give them safe learning environments, engaging lessons, social-emotional support, are put last.
Something has to give.
Tiffany Moyer-Washington teaches ninth grade English and creative writing in Hartford.