Labor Voices: Politicians must stop trying to divide educators and parents
Educators and parents are an essential team in helping students reach their full potential.
But some politicians want to drive a wedge between parents and their children’s teachers in hopes of short-term political gain. If left unchecked, these dangerous schemes – in which political extremists create artificial controversies – can cause long-term damage to our children and the future of our state.
The latest decision came last week, as Republicans in the State House introduced a bill create more bureaucratic paperwork for schools and require them to publicly list all field trips, reading and writing assignments scheduled before the start of the school year.
This type of information, which is developed by educators throughout the year to meet student needs, is best shared directly with parents during parent-teacher conferences and other one-on-one communications. Publishing it online – where strangers with unknown motives could access it – is a dangerous idea.
Educators and parents should ignore these election year tricks and vicious political rhetoric and instead work to forge stronger relationships. After all, many studies show students whose parents are actively involved in their education achieve better grades, better social skills, and a much higher likelihood of sustained success.
When families and educators are unnecessarily put at odds — by partisan politicians, social media trolls, and cable headliners — it’s our children who suffer. Instead of driving a wedge between educators and parents, lawmakers should commit to giving educators and families the tools to form an even stronger bond.
For example, parents could benefit from greater flexibility from their employers. Education is a critical ingredient for economic success, so employers are encouraged to give parents occasional time off to attend parent-teacher conferences or volunteer with their child’s class.
According to National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states and the District of Columbia require employers to provide unpaid time off for school activities. Michigan is not one of them. Recognizing the importance that school attendance plays in employee morale and economic vitality, some employers offer parents a day or two of paid school leave, in addition to vacation or personal time. It is an idea to reproduce.
Meanwhile, educators need more time to build relationships with parents. Reducing the endless stream of bureaucracy, paperwork, and standardized testing can give educators time to build meaningful relationships with students and families.
Likewise, we must ensure that Michigan has sufficient numbers of educators – an ongoing challenge due to our severe shortage of qualified teachers and educational support professionals. Too many people leave the profession due to insufficient pay, overwhelming stress and a lack of professional respect. Fewer and fewer students are choosing education as a career. Unwarranted political attacks and additional bureaucracy only compound the problem.
Our state’s leaders must take decisive action to address the shortage of educators. That means better pay for veteran and new teachers, retention and signing bonuses, reduced student debt, and treating educators like the professionals they are.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to invest $2 billion in various efforts to recruit, retain and respect educators. His bold proposal will help keep good teachers in the classroom and attract more young people to education. We call on state lawmakers to set aside partisanship and support this proposal — for the good of our students, educators, and families.
It’s time to come together. We cannot let partisan politics or Facebook-fueled furor further damage the essential relationship between teachers and parents. Instead, we must work side by side to strengthen this vital bond and build a brighter future for Michigan students.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
voice of labor
The Labor Voices columns are written alternately by United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, Teamsters President James Hoffa, and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.