Education Opinion

Undermining Teacher Morale

By Walt Gardner — March 10, 2014 1 min read
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If there’s one thing that is certain to demoralize teachers, it’s being betrayed by those they expected to have their back. The latest example is P.S. 106, an elementary school in the New York City school system (“My time at the ‘School of No,’ ” New York Post, Feb. 22). Proudly recognized as a School of Excellence in 2004 for its English and math scores under former Principal Arthur Strauss, it transmogrified into a school of hell under Principal Marcella Sills, who replaced him in 2005.

Instead of making teachers partners in educational decisions that they deemed to be in the best interest of their students as in the past, Sills poisoned the atmosphere by playing favorites. Teachers whom she disliked for one reason or another were given scathing performance reviews. Sills further alienated teachers by frequently being late to work or not showing up at all.

A teacher who wrote a letter to officials was reprimanded by supervisors from the Department of Education. When other teachers wrote anonymously, their actions resulted in the entire staff being rebuked for not signing their names. Clearly, teachers were damned if they did or damned if they didn’t. I’d like to know where the teachers’ union was throughout this travesty. It was either uninterested or impotent because nothing was done.

Once teacher morale was shredded, the transfer rate soared to 60 percent, and enrollment plummeted from more than 600 students to only 250. Nevertheless, P.S. 106 received a stellar report, despite the absence of a special education teacher, the scarcity of textbooks and the lack of mandated physical education on top of everything else, including failure to account for millions of dollars in additional funding to help low-income students.

Finally, in mid-February, Sills was removed as principal. Her departure can be seen as belated justice, but I wonder if she wouldn’t still be in the front office of the school if the New York Post hadn’t revealed the events that transpired. Let’s be frank: Teachers still have no one in their corner when it comes to speaking out about unacceptable events at their school. Their alleged all-powerful teachers’ union certainly was derelict in its duty, as were high officials in the Department of Education.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.