Read at the school board meeting on February 24, 2014, but written

December 7, 2013

Dear School Board Member,

It is with deep regret that I write this letter. Other than to read a colleague’s letter to you, I have not publicly spoken at a meeting about the contract negotiations.  I have sat silently waiting for a resolution.  From my understanding, the resolution is not in the near future, so I am sitting down to write a letter to you.

I have found it difficult to find the words to express my feelings, and this morning I realized why.  I have committed my entire teaching career to the Marquette Area Public Schools.  I want to continue to speak highly of this district but I find it more and more difficult to do so.  Yes, the State of Michigan’s budget woes and decision makers have made it difficult for all school districts, but what is it about the word “steps” that provides the proverbial line in the sand?

I understand other unions have agreed to contracts with no steps.  That does not mean, however, that I must. As a middle school teacher, daily I fight the “herd mentality” of middle schoolers.  I continually teach them to think for themselves and not always follow the crowd yet I’m being told to follow the crowd myself? I was taught to stand up for what I believe in even if others sit down, so that is what I’m doing.

Why stand up and fight for salary steps?  Because my experience in the classroom counts.  I am not the same teacher I was last year.  Each year I work to better myself and my instructional practices.  I don’t pull out last year’s lesson plans and say, “I’m set.”  A solid lesson needs to work for this year’s students, not just last year’s.   There is also the addition of more technology.  With this added component, my learning curve increases, but I don’t slam on the brakes and stop.  I continue forward, sometimes at a quicker pace.

So what is experience?  What does that word mean? (Take items out of backpack.)

1 Pencil: Just like a pencil is a practical tool, my experience provides the district with practical knowledge.  With a pencil I can write a message, but add my experience and my messages become filled with prior knowledge, depth, and insight.  The pencil is only as powerful as the writer writing with it.

2. History book:  War happened more than once in our history and I’m not saying I haven’t repeated some of my mistakes, but my experience certainly allows me to avoid more than I repeat.  When I have a student struggling in my classroom, I can look back in my history and find possible causes and solutions based on my previous experience.

3. magnifying glass: As a first year teacher, I looked out at my classroom and when something went right, I was a young child peering at the world through a new tool.  My response was typically, “Wow that’s cool!”  But did I know what I was looking at?  Not necessarily. Without experience I didn’t fully understand what I was seeing.

4. mirror: A mirror reflects and without experience, I would have continue to look through the magnifying glass as a young child.  Now I can look more deeply and understand what I see, when there are discrepencies between what I know and what I see.  I can find patterns I never noticed during my first years. The magnifying glass provides a closer look but my reflecting back to my previous experiences provides the ability to understand my students, their strengths and weaknesses, and determine how best to help them be successful

5. Savings Bond:  A savings bond matures over time.  Yes, in the beginning my experiences grew exponentially, but that doesn’t mean I don’t continue to grow in value.  The longer I hold onto a savings bond, the more I gain.  The longer you hold onto your teachers, the more your district gains.

6. The backpack: My experience is part of me that cannot be separated.  You can’t have me without also getting my experience.  Not compensating my experience is robbing me of my true value.

So why fight for salary steps?  Because my experience counts.  As a MAPS teacher, I have experience that cannot be taken off and emptied as I did with this backpack.  Steps acknowledge my practical knowledge, history, maturity, know-how, background, understanding, insight, awareness, and sophistication gained by my 19 years being an employee of MAPS and the Marquette Area Public Schools’ taxpayers.

I am hopeful you will realize the importance of validating the MAPS teachers’ experiences. Again, I understand the State of Michigan has made it more difficult to do this, but we’ve all made sacrifices.  At some point, we need to be rewarded for the sacrifices we’ve made and the experience we provide.

Thank you,

Paula Diedrich