At first blush, it seems comic: The teachers union is complaining because the school district has said teachers can’t bring beanbags to class anymore.
Truth is, though, the teachers have a point.
Because it’s not really about fluffy couches, beanbags and string lights. It’s about communication and respect.
This emerged in a recent Manhattan-Ogden school board meeting, where the head of the local teachers union spoke about the work environment. Teachers are saying that “the joy is gone” from their profession, according to the union head.
School district administrators have thrown out the couches, beanbags and easy chairs that teachers have brought into their classrooms, on the grounds that they could harbor bedbugs and lice. Every time the district has to treat for those pests it costs $5,000 to $10,000. Plus, of course, the families of the kids in the school have to wash everything and comb through everybody’s hair.
We get it. The comfy chairs are nice, but they’ve gotta go. Meanwhile, the strings of lights, lamps and wall coverings are evidently verboten, according to fire codes. And, you know, it’s hard to argue with fire safety.
It would be easy, as we said at the outset, to frame this as a bunch of whiny teachers who like beanbags, complaining because they just want to complain.
The problem, though, is really that the enforcement of those rules has been inconsistent, and the communication about those rules has been spotty. To his credit, Superintendent Marvin Wade asked if the real problem was that there was an appearance of insensitivity in making decisions about these items without consulting with staff. Erin Meyer-Gambrel, a teacher at Bergman Elementary who is the current union president, answered simply: Yes.
There you go. It’s not about couches. It’s about ears.
This is a reminder to administrators, who no doubt want the best for students and staff: When there’s something that directly affects people’s day-to-day lives at work, you need to communicate directly, and you need to listen, and you need to do your best to understand. People can put up with change, and they can put up with being told to do something they don’t want to do, but they can’t stand it when they don’t feel understood.
That doesn’t cost money. It takes some time, but it’s an investment of time that’s well worth it.