A Delaware teacher in the Red Clay Consolidated School District asked the Delaware Dept. of Education for the growth goals for Group 1 educators, which would be English/Language Arts and Math teachers. Not an unreasonable question given that we are already a month into school. It would be a pretty neat idea to have teachers measure goals based on the goals the DOE provides them. Especially since this is a major part of their evaluation each year. But in the below email exchange between Red Clay Teacher Steve Fackenthall and DOE Teacher/Leader Effectiveness Unit employees Laura Schneider and Jon Neubauer, something comes out.
I apologize for the squinty eyes some of you may have experienced looking at the pictures of these emails. I tried to make them bigger, but c’est la vie! But notice how the teacher had very specific concerns about the targets and the response from Schneider at the DOE? As a married man, if my wife came to me with a concern and I said “thanks for sharing”, she wouldn’t take it too well. I know if my boss addressed something with me at work and I said “thanks for sharing” and walked away, that would NOT be good for me. So why is it that the DOE feels they can talk to teachers like that? I give the DOE a hard time…a lot. But it is this kind of exchange which lends that feeling of a lack of communication a great deal of credibility. I understand the DOE is busy and they have a clear mandate for what their duties are. But a bit of empathy and compassion goes a long way.
I know John Carney (should he be elected as Governor) wants to make the DOE less a compliance factory and more of a valued resource for educators. If I were a DOE employee and I read the teacher’s concern, knowing Carney is probably going to be our next Governor (based on what others have written), I might think twice of giving a “thanks for sharing” response. Something to the effect of “that is a valid concern. Maybe we should talk about that” or “can you go into more detail?” would go a loooong way towards mending old wounds teachers feel.
Many teachers feel that the DOE gives off a superior attitude to teachers. It shouldn’t be like that. It should be a collaborative relationship. The very nature of the teacher’s email shouldn’t even be a reality. Those goals should be sent out before school starts so teachers can start preparing. Targets are one thing, but actual student’s goals shouldn’t wait until over halfway into a marking period or well into a trimester (which some districts and charters have). This is the number one complaint I hear about the Delaware DOE. And I think the lack of transparency is connected to that attitude. It gives off a vibe of “we will release information when we want to do it, not when YOU want it”.
I have seen many emails from the DOE that came from FOIA requests. I have seen them totally dog teachers between each other. I’ve seen a dismissive attitude when teachers or other district staff reach out to them for help.
The DOE is filled with a lot of caring and wonderful people who care about kids. But the leaders and higher-ups need to look at the perception people have of them. If not, we can expect more of the same no matter what John Carney or the next Governor plan. I understand the DOE isn’t going to please everyone all the time. They get their marching orders from the big boss (and it is not the Secretary no matter what you think). This same thing does take place in some charters and districts. Just because you have a loftier position does not mean you are better. It means you have an opportunity to provide more answers and deal with employees and constituents (whether they are parents, teachers, anyone really) on an equal level. You might get a bigger paycheck but it should always be about the end goal: helping kids. And upsetting and frustrating teachers is not the way to go. They are the front line in education. I get that politics play a big part, but be human! I’m sure this sounds hypocritical coming from me, but when I react it isn’t always pretty. I get upset when I see this kind of thing. I could have easily written a title like “DOE doesn’t give a crap about teachers” but it has become more than obvious that there is a severe disconnect happening in Delaware education. This isn’t anything new. But how can we set a new course if the old matters aren’t addressed or pointed out? Sitting at the table and hashing it out is good if there is less baggage to deal with. That baggage needs to be dealt with.