O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
This is an open letter to the city of Manchester and to all the people that live and work in this once great city. This is a call to arms. This is my rally cry.
There are too many people happily hiding behind computer screens, content with perpetuating the problems we face as opposed to becoming a part of the solution that helps mend a broken city. I have been a teacher and a coach in this school district for 18 years, and this has been one of the most trying years that my colleagues and I have faced in recent memory. It’s not the discipline problems that run rampant through the hallways, it’s not the lack of resources coupled with expectations that continue to grow exponentially, it’s not the lack of support from the people that run and populate this city — what it is, is lack of respect.
I can guarantee that on any day you walk into a Manchester school you will witness teachers performing miracles. Our job goes well beyond teaching kids how to write essays, read poetry, dissect organisms, or solve equations. We help raise these kids when their families can’t. We help find them warm clothing when the harsh winters roll through. We listen to their stories when no one else will. We help them plan their future when it seems that every opportunity is dimming in front of their very eyes. We find ways to give them positive reinforcement so they can maintain the strength to keep on fighting for their future . . . And sadly, it is frustrating to know that the Manchester chat pages will be burning up with statements of, “Well, that’s your job.”
The fact is that teachers perform tasks too numerous to count outside of their job description. If anyone were to question why we do this thankless job, it’s because we care, because it’s the right thing to do, because we are invested in the greater good, because we want to see all our learners grow and succeed in the world, because we recognize that the heartbeat of a great community lies within its people. If we want to see the city of Manchester reach its full potential, then that journey starts in our classrooms. We have the most expensive students in the state to educate, yet as a district we spend the least amount per pupil. Programs get cut, salaries get frozen, and public attacks turn hostile almost to the point of harassment . . . yet the teachers are the one constant. We come to work every single day ready, willing, and able to climb and conquer any obstacle that stands before us.
Despite popular opinion, the teachers in this city are not making obscene demands when it comes to a contract. We simply want to be treated with respect, treated like professionals with a level of dignity that reflects the very ideals that we instill in our students. Days pass by and the calendar turns over, yet the hope of getting a contract only seems to diminish. The toll this takes on the faculty is immeasurable, as the weight of these negotiations cripples our spirit. I understand the common response here is that these “disgruntled” teachers should go work somewhere else, and the city will hire newer, cheaper, and more innovative talent. This notion is absurdly laughable. Understand this: new teachers do not want to work in this crumbling district. Furthermore, the extremely talented teachers that we are begging to stay are looking to leave because this nonsense has become unbearable; we continually go the extra mile, only to be burdened with public displays of disrespect and ridicule.
We are not the only district to face contract disputes, but we are the only district that continues to fail at reaching a resolution. Other districts are finalizing contracts that include higher salaries and greater benefits than Manchester currently offers. As I type this letter, there are teachers in other districts that are celebrating a new contract, one that they did not have six months ago, and one that is tantalizing to the point where we have teachers taking action to leave Manchester. If there is any ambition to remedy the issues that currently stand in our way of progress, then let this letter serve as the catalyst.
I would like to make it very clear that this is not an attack on the BOSC, or a staunch defense of the MEA. I can’t speak to where the mayor stands in this tug-of-war because she has essentially been a ghost throughout this whole process, but this city needs her attention now more than ever. The situation has become so polluted that I believe all parties should take equal responsibility and share the blame. The time has come for everyone to sit down and work together to get these problems solved before any more damage is done. The he-said/she-said finger-pointing needs to end. Prior disagreements, political agendas, and slanderous immaturity need to take a backseat as we all work together for something greater than ourselves. If we can all agree to make the growth of our children the number one priority, then we can’t lose. The teachers in this district are willing to do whatever it takes to help our students and this city reach its full potential, however, we cannot sustain this level of blatant humiliation that borders on abuse and would be considered a disgrace in any other work environment. We are begging our union and our elected officials: please, find a way to figure this out. There needs to be a united front when establishing a clear vision and creating the healthiest learning environment possible for all of our diverse learners.
Teachers will always continue to put the welfare of our students at the forefront of any decision that needs to be made. The only question that remains is will our city and the powers that be do the same?
Matthew J. Cygan
Manchester Memorial High School
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