Public perception of educators has changed.

K-12 teachers in Massachusetts are under-appreciated, over-worked, and burnt out. But we've got a chance to change that.

What has historically caused negative associations with public school educators and their unions? How exactly did the COVID-19 pandemic disrupt this narrative? And what policy-driven initiatives are opportunities to foster long-term common ground? Explore to find these answers and more.

Why does the public love their teachers but hate their unions?

Coming face-to-face with a novel virus in 2020 forced industries across the board to show their hands when it came to their capacity to treat their workers with dignity while ensuring their safety.

 

On one end, public health and frontline caregivers were momentarily infallible in the public’s eye as they were volun-told to present themselves as pandemic poster-children; on the other end, retail employees were suddenly rebranded as “essential workers'' who received no hazard pay on top of their minimum wage; somewhere in between existed K-12 public educators. 

Unionized teachers are no strangers to criticism. Scrutinized by anti-union commentators for their pensions, allegedly undeserved tenures, and bloated administrations, teachers are expected to continually defend their work and decision making, despite millions of families heavily relying on them for educating, trauma counseling, and fostering their children’s abilities to think critically and thrive.

However, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic opened a rare opportunity to dramatically shift this narrative, as families were forced to reckon with the time, money, and dedication spent by their teachers now that their children were learning remotely.

This site is a resource to learn about the history of public educator perception in the US, as well as what can be done to maintain control of the narrative in the fight against corporate-backed media and legislation.

Historical Context: How we got here

There are a number of entities at play whose common purpose is to vilify, sully, and hyperbolize the intentions of unionized educators. Corporations, lobbyists, and politicians as high ranking as the president of the United States have made it a nonpartisan call to action — by influencing the public perception of unionized educators while offering well-spun, union-busting alternatives, these entities are unified in their mission to weaken one of the country’s largest labor organizations. READ MORE

Recent Union Turbulence in Massachusetts

Over the past decade in Massachusetts, the popularity of charter schools has exploded — the amount districts pay in charter school tuition increased from $260 million in 2009 to $660 million in 2018. In 2016, one of the most aggressive pro-charter bills in the state, the Massachusetts Authorization of Additional Charter Schools and Charter School Expansion Initiative (question 2), got the endorsement from Governor Charlie Baker and The Boston Globe, with plenty of air time devoted to its parent nonprofit coalition, Great Schools Massachusetts. While the voices of educators prevailed at the voting booths (with 60% opposed to the measure), Great Schools Massachusetts raised $23.6 million in its campaign (vs. $14 million from the Massachusetts Teachers Association [MTA]’s, “Save Our Schools'' campaign), with significant funding coming from ALEC-backed entities. READ MORE

COVID-19 — Social Distancing Brings Solidarity in Mass

Using whatever was available in their living rooms, teachers in March of 2020 dropped everything in order to conduct their classrooms virtually through both asynchronous and synchronous methods, supplying handouts, links, and materials to parents as often as they could. As a result, the first few months of the pandemic that rounded out the 2019-2020 academic year were filled with high praise for educators, from both parents and the news. READ MORE

High Stakes Testing — No One Wants It, and Yet...

Nearly three decades since the Education Reform Act passed in 1993, the negative sentiment surrounding MCAS has not changed much. The necessity (or lack thereof) and future of the test has been a thorn in educator sides for years; it’s one issue teachers, union leadership, and the general public largely agree on — nearly no one sees the value of the test except the education commissioner and his superiors. Now, teachers have an opportunity to use this unanimous opposition to gain trust. READ MORE

Moving Forward — Where to Build Bridges

The ebb and flow of teacher support throughout the pandemic has certainly shed light on the work needed to rebuild trust and confidence in public school educators. Regardless of whether teachers deserve the public persona they hold, the truth remains that there are hugely influential powers working to squash K-12 solidarity. 

So, what can be done in Massachusetts? The pandemic has put in motion a number of opportunities, the most promising being capitalizing on MCAS cancelation support. READ MORE

According to a Recent Poll of MA residents:

And with MA teachers:

76%

approve of how public school teachers/educators have responded to the pandemic

66%

believe that we should take this post-pandemic opportunity to reimagine our school system

98%

of those polled worked at least 1-5 hours outside a typical work day; 40% put in more than 10 extra hours/week during the pandemic

47%

had a decline in all aspects of their wellbeing (mental, emotional, and physical) as a result of their pandemic workloads

How can we use this data to strengthen solidarity?