Open Letter to the Boston Herald
submitted by Mark Donovan, Superintendent of Schools in Woburn, MA
|To the Editor:
The Blind Men and the Elephant, by John Godfrey Saxe, is an adaptation of an ancient story that has been connected to many cultures. In the story, six blind men reach out and touch parts of an elephant. Then each man determines what an elephant is based on the part he touched. The man who touches the tusk determines that the elephant is like a spear. The man who touches the tail determines that the elephant is like a rope. The man who touches the ear believes that an elephant is like a fan. Each man is convinced he is right, and the argument is never resolved. Of course, each man is wrong. The lesson of the story is obvious: one shouldn’t draw conclusions based on very limited information.
This past week, the Boston Herald sent a few reporters to Woburn to investigate a story involving teachers. After a few hours, the reporters created the story, and the Herald labeled our teachers as “slackers.” I am now in my 22nd year as a member of the Woburn Public Schools and my seventh year as Superintendent of Schools. Let me offer my perspective.
Have you ever sat with teachers as they struggle to find ways to implement, in sincere ways, an array of initiatives handed to them from various government agencies? I have. Have you seen teachers collect school supplies and backpacks so that their most needy students can get off to a good start in the new school year? I have. Have you seen a group of elementary school teachers provide a trunk full of Christmas gifts to 8-year-old twins who were taken away from their parents two days before Christmas? I have. Have you heard about teachers and other staff members who go above and beyond to nurture and care for elementary, middle school, and high school students who experience the sudden loss of a parent through an accident or a drug overdose? I have. Have you seen school staff members the struggle of a terminally ill elementary student along with his family and his classmates? I have. Have you experienced the nurturing care that that student’s classmates receive from school staff when that young boy loses his battle? I have. By the way, none of these activities are “required” in any contract. Do you want to teach in Woburn? “Slackers” need not apply.
Those are some very dramatic examples of what teachers do. I assure you that the dramatic examples are reinforced by many other less dramatic acts of kindness and support teachers provide to their students every day of the school year—and sometimes beyond the school year. I often say that I probably know about only 10% of all of the good work that teachers and other staff members do every day. Teachers don’t like to do these things in the spotlight.
As you know, we are engaged in a long and difficult period of negotiations. I sit on the other side of the table from teachers in the negotiation process. No one should interpret this letter as evidence that I support every decision that the leadership of the Woburn Teachers Association has made. In fact, I strongly oppose some of their decisions. It is also clear to me that some teachers do not have a complete understanding of the offer before them, based on some of their statements. But those are matters that we will resolve internally through the negotiation process. Those disagreements do not diminish my respect for the hundreds and hundreds of school staff members who arrive every day at school trying to do the best they can under circumstances that can be very difficult. I count among those staff members the co-presidents of the Woburn Teachers’ Association—who serve as both teachers and athletic coaches.
Woburn is a proud community. We have an abundance of great teachers, and we are fortunate to have thousands of great students. A few years ago, while preparing for the opening day of school, I realized that many of the topics I wanted to present fell under a common theme. We continue to use that theme as our unofficial motto: “Great people doing great things.” Tomorrow morning, I will arrive at school and have the privilege to work side-by-side with hundreds of staff members who are working together to do great things for our students. I could not be more proud of our teachers and all of our staff members for what they do each day.