A State of Emergency: Teachers are fed up with Detroit Public Schools

 In Lifestyle

A State of Emergency:

Teachers are fed up with Detroit Public Schools

Mr. Earley, rest assured there is no one in this city, other than the parents, who care more about the education, happiness, and well being of the students of Detroit Public Schools, than we teachers do.

It is not rare for Detroit to make the news, rather it’s about sports, crime, lack of money or even the resurgence of the economy, Detroit seems to often make national headlines. Since 2013, when Detroit declared bankrupt and filed for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy, it seems Detroit, its residents and affairs are underneath a microscope facing much scrutiny. While many are rooting for Detroit, like Oscar-nominated actor Mark Wahlberg who says Detroit is one of his favorite cities, many are fed up with it’s lack of opportunity, resources and what many call gentrification. Those most fed up tend to be living and/or working within city limits. This holds true to the current state of Detroit Public Schools (DPS).

Teachers around the district have organized sickouts as an attempt to protest the current state of the school system. Sickouts are absences from work, where a large number of employees arrange to call in sick. Though, a sickout isn’t anything “new,” it has taken a toll on the city as several have occurred within a one week period- dating back to Monday, January 4 (after the conclusion of a two week holiday break). There’s claim of several grievances to be the cause of the protests including but not limited to, harsh and unhealthy working conditions, lack of resources to teach students, pay cuts, slash of benefits, over populated classes and so forth.

While there are so many problems that teachers are asking state officials to address, the lack of funding and insurmountable debt proves to be a great barrier. Teachers are growing impatient and looking for immediate answers to long, under-addressed issues. On January 8th, 2016, Pam Namyslowski’s frustrations grew unbearable. While watching Dr. Darnell Early’s press conference (from January 7th) about the state of DPS and teacher’s decisions to call off of work in droves, she aired her frustrations by taking to Facebook.

In a personal statement to emergency manager, Darnell Early, Ms. Namyslowski writes:

Mr. Earley,

I have been a teacher in Detroit Public Schools for 24 years. I feel the need to respond to some of the comments you made during your press conference this week. You described the actions of protesting teachers as “unethical”. I’m curious, then, how you would characterize the learning conditions of the children of Detroit Public Schools that have existed for years. These deplorable learning conditions happen to also be the teachers’ working conditions. We deal with unsafe environments – both in the neighborhoods surrounding our schools and often within the schools themselves. Unlike you, students and teachers do not have a driver and security guards. Students who travel to and from school pass numerous abandoned, dangerous buildings and have been robbed, assaulted, and raped. Teachers have been victims of violent crimes and have had their vehicles and personal property damaged and/or stolen, sometimes repeatedly. They suffer verbal abuse and some have been assaulted by angry students or parents. Many schools have numerous plumbing problems in the lavatories, drinking fountains, and sinks. Many outdated school buildings are crumbling – roofs, floors, windows, doors, and locks that are broken or in desperate need of repair. Far too many classrooms are overcrowded, creating conditions that are not even safe, let alone conducive to learning. I’m wondering where the concern and outrage over that has been? In the past decade, teachers have lent the district almost $10,000 that we now fear we may never get back. We have taken a 10% pay cut in a salary that was already significantly lower than surrounding districts. And now DPS teachers have to worry about the security of our pensions and wonder if we will even be employed during the next school year.

You called upon the mayor, the city council, the clergy of Detroit to “be the voice of the children.” Mr. Earley, rest assured there is no one in this city, other than the parents, who care more about the education, happiness, and well being of the students of Detroit Public Schools, than we teachers do. We ARE their voice. We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles. In the winter, we often work with them in freezing rooms with our coats on. In the summertime , we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset. We send food home with them. We encourage them to persevere and to be hopeful about their futures. We celebrate their successes. We comfort them when they experience loss and tragedy. We give up time with our own children to support our students, who we also consider our children. We spend our own money to buy not only learning materials, but things such as uniforms, hand soap, sanitizer, and Kleenex.

You accuse us of drowning out the voices of our students. You stated we are “using students as pawns to advance a political position.” You have it backwards. The children of Detroit HAVE been used as pawns. Their voices have indeed been drowned out. But make no mistake, this has not been done by the teachers. Educational decisions are now being made by politicians. Schools are being run like businesses. We have been vilified by these politicians. We have been made accountable for things we have little or no control over. We have been forced to administer numerous developmentally inappropriate tests to our students and then we and our students are judged by the meaningless scores. We have watched the debt increase to ridiculous, unsustainable levels under state appointed emergency managers, while the conditions we teach in have deteriorated alarmingly. We have been set up to fail in every way. The successes that happen in classrooms every day, both academic and emotional, largely go unseen, and most cannot be measured or displayed on a data wall. We, as teachers, know our students and what they need. It is heartbreaking to see that our students too often don’t have what they need and certainly not what they deserve.

The recent action of teachers is not an attempt to drown out the voices of the students. It is an attempt to finally make their voices heard.


Pam Namyslowski

Pam Namyslowski
4th Grade Teacher
Mann Elementary School




Tiara Fletcher of neighboring city Highland Park (HP) Charter Schools, understands why teachers like Pam Namyslowski are exasperated. She stands in agreement with those choosing to participate in the sickouts as a form of protest to voice their concerns and demand their voices are heard.

“I think the DPS teachers who are doing the sick out are strong! It’s something that needs to be done and I hope and pray they get what they deserve. The people who are making the decisions don’t understand the struggle that these teacher face daily. On top of the fact that the building conditions in some of those schools are so poor. It’s too hot in the summer with no air conditioning and too cold in the winter with heating systems that don’t function properly. We won’t even talk about the money! I don’t understand how teachers are the most underpaid professionals in the community, yet we educate our future doctors, lawyers, government officials, etc.

As a second grade teacher Ms. Fletcher, has seen her share of barriers working in HP charter schools. “Some of the barriers that I face to provide the best education for my students are lack of resources and lack of parental support. It’s more difficult to teach students when you don’t have the resources needed to provide the education they desire and deserve.”

Residents, Teachers, and Governmental Officials alike, all seem torn on the issue of teachers and their decision to unify with mass sickouts. Albeit, they all seem to agree the underlying focal point are the children who are being affected. The children are damned if the teachers do and damned if they don’t. What’s your thoughts? Do you agree with DPS teachers?

Written By

Shenise N. Foote

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