“I think the
Common Core is
heading us into a
nice, more balanced
Lisa Messina, who
teaches at the
Elementary School. Messina
said that before she attended
a workshop on using the
standards, she had negative
feelings about them.
president of the
United Educators of
Pittsfield, talked of
a concern common
to many in his local.
“We’ve been a
little bit frustrated,
and I’ve heard this from a lot
of people, about resources
regarding technology and the
replacement of computers and
laptops that educators use.”
By Scott McLennan
W hen a member of the MTA Board of Directors asked educators in her area what gets in the way when they are
trying to do their jobs, the responses ran the gamut
— covering everything from a need for space
for art supplies to concerns that a seismic shift
is occurring in public perception of the teaching
Board member Ginger Armstrong, who serves
as president of the Lee Education Association,
and fellow MTA local presidents reached out to
Berkshire County educators via written surveys,
face-to-face interviews, meetings and videotaped
focus groups. The project by the Berkshire
Educator Action Network — known as BEAN —
turned up myriad topics.
In written survey responses, educators
included these comments:
Brendan Sheran, president of the United
Educators of Pittsfield, talked of a concern
common to many in his local. “We’ve been a
little bit frustrated, and I’ve heard this from a lot
of people, about resources regarding technology
and the replacement of computers and laptops that
In the area of new initiatives, teachers
repeatedly brought up the new Common Core
State Standards. While many were optimistic
about the Common Core, some felt that more
training on aligning curricula with the standards
would make for an easier rollout.
“I think the Common Core is heading us
into a nice, more balanced direction,” said Lisa
Messina, who teaches at the Lanesborough
Elementary School. Messina said that before she
attended a workshop on using the standards, she
had negative feelings about them.
Several teachers targeted what they called an
overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing
as antithetical to their attempts to help students
learn to think deeply and solve problems. Even
teachers working in subject areas not directly
tested on the MCAS felt the impact of the
Joshua Hall, who teaches history to middle
school and high school students in Lee, noted that
MCAS remediation eats into the history classes
that students should be taking.
“Having to catch them up limits what I’m
able to do, but that’s because of the tests, not the
teachers,” Hall said.
Educators also pointed to shifts they see in
students’ readiness to learn.
One K- 5 visual arts teacher in Pittsfield
wrote: “Take away some of the stress on students.
Allow them time to play and share. They are
hungry for human connections, and the pace is so
strenuous it is difficult to allow time to just listen
BEAN will be organizing MTA members
around such concerns and identifying actions to
achieve the educators’ goals. But more important,
Armstrong said, the BEAN project is meant to
empower and energize teachers, giving them a
more prominent voice in decision-making that
affects their careers.
“We don’t want a list of complaints,”
Armstrong said. “What we want is to have
members learn how to work within their locals to
address concerns in their buildings and then work
together within the region and state to address the
issues we all face.”
Christina Duval, a physical education teacher
and president of the Clarksburg Teachers Association,
said that her members had a positive response to the
listening tour video, which was played at a meeting on
“Everybody agreed with everything that people
were saying in the video,” Duval said. “It made our
members feel good because they were feeling, ‘Oh,
we thought we were the only ones who felt this way.’
It’s not just us. Everybody is going through this.”
Duval said that having these conversations will
help participants grapple with the issues locally and
work more effectively with other leaders in the region.
Armstrong said her goal is to hear from 100
percent of the members in the Berkshires.
She and other BEAN members not only want
to hear about problems; they also want to work with
members and administrators to develop solutions and
organize for change. Future steps for BEAN include
meeting with superintendents in Berkshire County
to determine which issues can be dealt with locally,
then working to fix them.
Another goal is to share their views with parents.
“We need to reach out to the public and share
our thoughts about what inspires students to become
lifelong learners,” Armstrong said. “Much of the
student’s day is out of the control of the classroom
Members also want to publicize positive stories
about public schools, educators and education unions.
“The MTA, our unions and our locals are not all
about the trouble,” said Armstrong. “We’re there to
educate the kids.
“If I want to know what teachers think, then I’ve
got to get out there and you’ve got to get out there,”
Armstrong added, gesturing to other local presidents
who met about the listening tour in December.
“We’ve got to all come together. We are it.”
Barbara Manley, vice president of the North
Adams Teachers Association, added, “One of the
most important things we try to get through to our
teachers is that MTA is them.”
For a link to the Berkshire Listening Tour video,
go to www.massteacher.org/listeningtour.
‘We need to reach out to the
public and share our thoughts
about what inspires students
to become lifelong learners.’
— Board member Ginger Armstrong
Continued from previous page
‘One of the most important things we try to get through to our teachers is that MTA is them’