On DISD Teacher Morale

As Zac mentioned in Leading Off, there’s a story (paywall) in the paper today about low morale among teachers in DISD. What I didn’t see in the paper was any mention of this Matthew Haag blog post from yesterday. Principals were recently told to find teachers who would write something nice about the changes being made by Superintendent Mike Miles. Those responses were compiled in a 51-page document titled “From Teachers to Teachers.” You know how you can tell when you’re in trouble? When you have to force people to say something nice about your leadership. Or, in this case, force people to find someone else to say something nice about your leadership.

Pretty much everyone who has ever reported on the district is hearing from disgruntled teachers. Read this post by Jim Schutze, if you haven’t already. He makes the observation that when he and DMN editorial writer Tod Robberson are hearing the same complaints from teachers, that’s a bad sign.

Here’s the biggest danger with this rising tide of disgruntlement: from what I can tell, Mike Miles is hard-wired for a narrow interpretation of negative feedback. In an email I got through an open-records request for this story, Miles wrote the following to Jennifer Sprague, his embattled communications chief: “Ten years from now, when I’m gone from the district … they will say, ‘I can’t believe there was a time when DISD didn’t have a cabinet-level communications person’ [meaning Sprague]. The innovators and change agents always get beat up because most people can’t imagine a different way until they are shown.”

You see, Mike Miles is a change agent who is a decade ahead of his time. Change is difficult. Change is painful. So when people complain, when it becomes obvious that they are in pain, Miles’ wiring system tells him, “Aha! This change is working. Press on!”

That is certainly one interpretation.


  • Concerned Citizen

    Miles is right though. Leadership sometimes means making certain people upset. If you are implementing true change, there will always be those who are opposed to disruption of the status quo. DISD needs a shake-up and that is certain to ruffle some feathers. Give Miles time to implement his system for awhile and show results. If it doesn’t, then you can bring on your trademark snarky comments. Till then, give the guy a chance. He was hired for a reason.

    • Disrespected Profession

      What he practices is NOT leadership. Bullying is more like it. Using escape goats, even closer! Wasting tax payer dollars on an expensive staff and leaving thousands of students without a certified teacher is NOT leadership. Making up fraudulent evaluation tools for teachers is against TEA guidelines NOT LEADERSHIP!

  • billholston

    the ‘added’ 45 minutes is a morale killer. Because good teachers were already working that 45 minutes and it simply takes them away from substance for the ‘paperwork’ they all hate. That’s a big mistake. Teachers already work ten hour days.

  • Lynn

    Funny thing about that comment on the Communications Chief being part of the Superintendent’s Cabinet is that it’s completely inaccurate. If they’d do some research, they’d find that was the case from the 1950’s to 2001 when it was changed to report to a deputy.

  • Tim Rogers

    Upon further consideration, it’s hard to see how teacher morale could be THAT low, given that so few of them have offered their opinion in this space. FrontBurner currently draws about 100,000 unique visitors per month. Just for perspective.

    • Since you asked…

      I believe most of the teachers are still busy working or filling out applications for other jobs.

      I’ll tell you that some of my friends have already quit. I myself have considered it. Many excellent teachers at our school have declared (in October and November…hello, red flag) that they refuse to return next year to this district. It is very sickening and disheartening because many of DISD’s students NEED great teachers to help them overcome the obstacles of being second language learners, low income, etc.

      Parents, have an honest talk with your child’s teachers. Look them in the eye. They’ll either clam up because they’re afraid for their job or they may tell you the truth. Your children are probably starting to sense the stress as well (or at least have more substitutes like mine). We need your help to make change happen.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry I couldn’t reply sooner. I arrived at school this morning before the sun came up. I spent around 30 minutes adjusting my lesson plans (3 of my 5 preps) to reflect what my students were really going to learn and do. I spent another 45 minutes working with one of my mentees. I then taught classes, sat through a PLC and witnessed an unflappable colleague have a total emotional break down, volunteered to teach her class during my lunch, taught some more classes and, in the interim, broke up two fights.
      After an hour and a half staff meeting, I spent another hour putting grades in because I was roughly 2 weeks behind on inputting them. Needless to say, the sun had set when I walked to the staff parking lot.
      I spent the last 3 hours writing assessments for the next six weeks for our department.
      In short, I’m sorry we can’t all respond to your post in a timely manner. Things are horrendous in DISD. Teachers are stressed to the breaking point. Miles has created a culture of fear and confusion. We’re given contradictory orders on an almost daily basis and told our overwhelming anxiety, trepidation, and anger are our fault.
      Miles is attempting to copy and paste his failed and unoriginal initiatives from Colorado into a district that is wholly different from Harrison both in terms of student demographics and educational organization.
      I’d love to carry on, but I have papers to grade and need to sneak in four hours of sleep.

  • Just so ya know

    To all who pay taxes for DISD,
    Many teachers are still afraid of retaliation for posting on regular sites. If you want honesty, Disdblog.com is where teachers are actually talking.

  • DISD Teacher

    Look at his record in Colorado. Everything he is doing here, he did there. The community was not too happy there along with the teachers. The teacher turn over rate was high. Look at Focal Points, his consulting website. Too many think this is a conflict of interest. Also, look into the fact he ran for the senate in Colorado then tried to be appointed when Salazar left his office by the current administration in DC. I wished the board did their homework. However, look into the mayor’s influence with the educational PAC. It’s obvious this man has a political agenda. So much the real importance, the students!

  • Tim Rogers

    Thank you, Anonymous, for taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s important that they’re heard.

  • Oh, your’e interested?

    Some of Miles’ ideas (though not backed by any data I have seen) helps teachers focus on student achievement, but a lot of what I’m hearing from principals and other teachers is discouraging. No one performs well if there is not a feeling of safety (teaching 101). The constant drumbeat of media’s berating of teachers, joined in by opportunistic and well-paid “professional educators” kind of numbs us, at best. Of course, our Legislature’s constant underfunding of the most important function of government, well, I guess we’re used to that now….

  • Diane Birdwell

    Did it ever occur to you that where teacher morale is low, they are pretty unwilling to comment openly? I have always been one fo the few who will put their name with their comments, but most would never do that.

    Many do not trust you or your magazine. We don’t see a genuine involvement by this magazine concerning education issues. I learn more about Highland Park from “D” than I do about BIG D itself. I know about BBQ joints or plastic surgeons, but not much about the cuts in funding for most educational programs across Texas, much less Dallas. Have you ever asked Florence Shapiro why she seems to hate public schools? Have you ever surveyed all the Chamber of Commerce members to see how many actually have kids in DISD, and not just the Magnet Schools?

    Hopefully, you will take a more active, journalistic role in all this. Since the Mayor wants to be a part of education, hit him up on why most of my teen students cannot find summer employment. Ask him why the I-30 E corridor between Downtown Dallas and Mesquite is severely lacking in sustainable, middle class establishements. Jobs mean advancement for my students: money for college, etc…

    But at least you noticed something is up, and that is good. You are about 15 years late to the party, but you are finally here.