Dear Editor,

The recent article entitled “73% of Teachers Chronically Absent in JCSD” was not only mistitled (“Chronically”) but also misrepresented the absenteeism of our school district’s teachers. If one read the whole article, on the second page, the statistics indicated that about half of the numbers of days that teachers missed came from extra duty contracts —which means they are with kids and doing a different kind of teaching as they travel with students on activities — or from school-related trainings that, again, are designed to improved teachers’ skills with students. The way that the article went on implied that teachers (particularly younger teachers) were just taking days off rather than taking advantage of accumulating days for incentive pay. There was no mention that many of the teachers take time as sick days for either themselves or for their children. 

I have substituted in the district for about 16 years after having taught for 25 years as a regular classroom instructor. It is my observation and my experience that teachers do not willingly take time off for the euphemistic “mental health days.” Teachers have an incredible desire to see their students do well and know that the kids do not do as well when the teacher isn’t in the classroom. The amount of preparation by the teacher for a substitute teacher, especially for elementary classes, is a lot of work. 

The term “chronic” implies a serious problem of teachers making choices to be gone. It implies that teachers are not doing their jobs. I don’t see that from the perspective as a substitute teacher. The teachers I work for are nearly always gone either because they have taken students to some kind of event — whether it be competitive in nature or some kind of academic activity — or because there is an emergency. If there are chronically absent teachers, it is really the responsibility of the administration to address those as individual cases — not embarrass or chastise the staffs of the schools in the district as if everyone is guilty of abusing the system. 

The article did nothing but further demoralize a group of hard working teachers. Over the past year, other articles published in the Buffalo Bulletin have damaged teachers’ reputations and insulted the ones who work tirelessly to teach and guide students of all ages as the school administration has implied the teachers are not doing their jobs, i.e. students not doing well on tests. Then this article about “chronic absenteeism.” To me, it is an affront to people who work throughout the year to teach well, who are told to adjust to regular and constantly changing testing requirements and who have experienced nearly eight years of administrative and board conflicts. Then suddenly they were asked to adapt instruction literally overnight during the COVID virus shutdown and still face unclear futures as they prepare for a new school year. Despite all these demands, teachers have been repeatedly critiqued over the past year for doing a poor job. 

If there is a problem, the administration needs to address the problems with the teachers directly — not use the newspaper as a bully pulpit. But perhaps more effectively, instead of criticizing, the administration needs to work at building morale — a tried and true teaching tool used by great teachers. 

Margaret Smith


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