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Teacher Appreciation Week Board Speech

Good evening everyone. I’m Matt Meyer, President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers. 

I’d like to start tonight by noting that it is Teacher Appreciation Week and there is MUCH to appreciate right now. 

All over BUSD, educators in all roles--and when I say educators, I mean to include our indispensable classified staff--are working hard to keep our district functioning. 

They are: keeping students engaged and learning; communicating with families on many platforms; providing moral support and comfort to students, families and colleagues; handing out food and supplies; solving technical difficulties; sharing ideas and strategies; providing the information and records that students need to move to the next stage of their education; participating in interview panels to select our new district leaders and colleagues; and helping to figure out how we can re-open safely. 

Many teachers are also working in the broader community, hoping to narrow the gaps in access and support experienced by the families with the fewest resources. Many BFT members have contributed to The Berkeley Public Schools Fund, local food banks, funds for undocumented immigrants and other attempts to mend our frayed safety net. They are also joining essential workers who are demanding safe and fair working conditions for everyone. 

They are doing all of this with huge constraints--obstacles like shaky wifi, tiny spaces, toddlers in their laps while they try to work, materials that don’t translate to a screen, questions about how much screen time is appropriate for their students; and all while experiencing the pervasive anxiety and uncertainty that affects everyone these days. 

We know that the Berkeley community supports its educators--and the feeling is mutual. Let’s hold that thought and try to stay patient, compassionate and appreciative while we find a way forward. 

Speaking of moving forward, many of us are turning our thoughts toward the time when we can return to our classrooms and resume doing the jobs we love. We know our School Board and district leaders will feel pressure from many different angles about how and when to reopen our schools. 

While reopening schools is essential to getting back to “normal” and getting our economy moving again, the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff should be our highest priority when making this decision. Any decision about when and how to reopen schools must be done at the local level based on sound public health guidance; through collective bargaining with local unions; and with the input of educators, school workers, parents, and the community. 

Our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, has five core recommendations in its plan to safely reopen schools, which include: physical distancing; testing; aligning public health tools with educational needs; involving workers, unions, parents and communities in all planning; and investing in recovery by providing more--not less--investment in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals and local and state governments. 

We strongly support these principles. Yet we also know that the devil is in the details and that we will need to work with the facts on the ground in our own community.  We also know that the situation is still changing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We appreciate the district’s collaborative approach to this incredible challenge and hope it will continue as we make the tough decisions together. 

I’d like to close with a story of how one teacher is creatively addressing the challenges of teaching under quarantine. Tara Fouche, a Malcolm X 5th grade teacher, was frustrated because she feels she’s only reaching visual and auditory learners through the screen--and that’s not how she usually teaches. So she came up with Malcolm X Family Math Challenges as a way to inspire students to explore math and science. Malcolm X students from TK through fifth grade have made paper airplanes and marble runs. Next up are bridges and kites. There’s lots of math and science content and vocabulary baked in, but as Tara says, “These projects are more about accidentally learning some math and science through joy and curiosity. They are more about problem-solving and developing a mindset--that through trial and error, making mistakes and adjusting, we can have success. I think this mindset will be especially necessary next year!” 

I couldn’t agree more. Here’s to all the teachers who are working to reach, teach and inspire their students!