Deborah Gatrell: Treatment of Utah educators is becoming abusive

Some parents and legislators are attacking their community’s teachers.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Herriman High social studies teacher Michael Stone holds a flag in strong bitter cold winds as educators, parents and other public school advocates rally on the steps of the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Advocates feel many anti-public school measures have been made by the Legislature this year.

There’s an old saying in the military: The beatings will continue until morale improves. It’s spoken in irony when leaders make life more difficult without good reason.

That’s what teaching feels like right now: abusive.

Educators moved heaven and earth these past two years in a valiant struggle to meet the needs of students. We love them as our own and want what’s best for them. Praise for educators gave us strength, at first.

As the war against COVID continued, and we settled in for trench warfare against this wily global pandemic, some of our neighbors turned on us, the frontline workers keeping society afloat through suffering and death brought on by each surge. They disrupted public school board meetings. They encouraged followers to call the police about school library books.

I’ve never seen such hostility from parents before this year. From multiple emails in one school day demanding a response, while I was busy teaching students, to criticisms for not replying in “one word,” it feels like I can’t do anything right for some parents. This year, for the first time, I was asked if I was “brainwashing” students or “teaching white children it’s not okay to be white.”

This is absurd, and the parent should know that. My materials are already available on Canvas and align with state standards. But it was deeply hurtful, and I had to use precious time carefully responding to these personal attacks, involving school administration and district personnel in case things escalated.

If you want to know what is happening in schools, attacking teachers first and asking questions later (if at all) is not the way. Please, come volunteer in classrooms. Come to Back-to-School Nights and Parent-Teacher Conferences. Join the PTA! Sign up to be a substitute teacher, cafeteria worker, bus driver, librarian or custodian. Observe a class with your child. Read the emails and notes we send home. Ask your students what they are learning and ask to see their work. Let us know your concerns, but please assume best intentions.

We do want to collaborate with you, the parents of our students, as partners. We need your help. That never changed.

But, because a few people screech about CRT being taught in Utah’s public schools (it’s not) and make bizarre claims that “porn” is in our buildings (it’s not), there are shrill calls to micromanage overburdened educators in new and ridiculous ways for the sake of performative “transparency.”

Calls for “transparency” assume teachers have something to hide. We do not. But ill-thought demands that we spend obscene amounts of time digitizing lesson materials or that we prepare detailed plans of an entire school year demonstrates a poor understanding of the art and science of education.

Some claim that micromanaging education for the sake of transparency will build trust. Not so. It just facilitates a game of “gotcha” for those hunting witches in all the wrong places.

Sadly, the supermajority party accepted the demands of this noisy group demonizing public school teachers and made them priorities this legislative session.

Adding insult to injury, this legislative session keeps one-upping horrible legislation: Sen. Lincoln Fillmore’s micromanagement “transparency” bill, Rep. Jordan Tuescher’s misguided attack, Sen. John Johnson’s clearly unconstitutional “education sovereignty” bill, Rep. Ken Ivory’s frivolous lawsuit, censorship and book ban bill and Rep. Candice Pierucci’s voucher-by-another-name bill, and more.

Now, in a final assault, the supermajority is going for the jugular — constitutionally dedicated education funding from the state income tax.

The hits just keep coming, and good education bills being run by reasonable representatives with support from the PTA, School Board Association, Superintendent’s Association, State Board of Education, and Education Association are little salve.

But there is hope.

Most elected officials abusing educators right now are running for office again this year. You can run for office, too. Filing closes March 4 at 5 p.m. If that’s a bridge too far, attend your neighborhood caucus meeting on March 8 or 22 and run to be a delegate. Delegates select candidates for the fall ballot at conventions this April. If we put more good candidates on the ballot, we’ll have better elected officials next year.

Let’s stop the beatings by choosing candidates who support public education as the essential public service it is.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deborah Gatrell is a candidate for Salt Lake County Council District 2, October 17, 2020.

Deborah Gatrell is a social studies teacher in Granite School District and a veteran with more than 20 years of military service. Her opinions are her own.