It's time for the education community to protect one another

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

In some families, there’s an unwritten rule. You may fight within the family, but if someone from the outside attacks, you unite to defend. Well, the education family is under attack. It’s time for all parts of the family—school boards, administrators, teachers, staff, and substitutes—to circle the wagons to protect the profession and our students.

I know a lot of educators hate politics and they hate the “us-vs-them mentality.” But teachers who’ve taught more than a couple of years realize the profession is being torn apart by the big school board in Des Moines, called the Iowa legislature. 

Teaching is political, even if we don’t like it. 

Public schools are at risk, and now is the time to protect one another and fight back. 

School board members

Thanks for taking the hardest unpaid job in this state. You stepped up for your community and for our kids. The teacher shortage is real and growing. At one time, you had 50 applicants for every job. Now, you have one, and you hope they are qualified. Here’s how you can help. 

Stop giving new hires bonuses. I know this is counter-intuitive, but there are three reasons this is hurting instead of helping. First, bonuses are taxed at a higher rate than regular salary, so the bonus evaporates before the new hire even sees it. 

Second, if you give a $5,000 signing bonus the first year, the second year, that teacher takes a big pay cut even if he/she takes a step on the salary schedule. Third, in a lot of cases, that bonus makes it so teachers with two or three years of experience earn less than a new hire. That hurts morale and erodes teamwork.

It’s certainly not all about money, but the best way to raise salaries is by using the salary schedule and increasing all salaries. If you were talked into getting rid of the schedule, bring it back. I know you are chronically underfunded, but that’s why there needs to be heavy lobbying of the big school board in Des Moines. You represent the community. 

In bargaining, having your initial proposal be your final proposal hurts the community—even if you can do that under the “bargaining lite” system Republicans established in 2017. Veteran teachers look for the exits, and you’ll be increasing the teacher shortage.

Give your administrators the freedom to say no to loud, book-burning parents, and have a workable procedure so parents can appeal that decision. But don’t make it easy to ban books.


Rely on the procedures the school board has established when the loud parents bang on the door. Don’t simply do what they want to avoid conflict. If you do, that’s all you’ll be doing until you take a principled stand. If you treat parents like customers, the customer is always right. They aren’t. Parents are partners. Partners listen and work out differences.

Rely on the professionalism of the teachers you helped hire. Don’t jump to conclusions just because an angry parent screams. Educators deserve professional autonomy and respect.


Most Iowans know the only grooming you do is to send kids with horrible hygiene to the school nurse. Most Iowans don’t think you are teaching pornography, and they know if you could indoctrinate, you’d have them put away the cell phones, show up on time, do the homework and pay attention in class. 

The political noise is nonsense.  

Police don’t go into dangerous situations without back up. You shouldn’t either. Your back up is the Iowa State Education Association. I know it seems expensive, but so is a $300 an hour lawyer to protect yourself from losing your teaching license because you may have violated one of the new vague, poorly written laws.


You make the school run and you’re grossly underpaid and underappreciated. Thank you. I know there may be a lot of issues in your school, but you also know there are a lot of miracles every day. You live in the community. When you hear lies spreading, tell your neighbors the truth.


You’re a vital part of any school district. Thank you. Please keep doing what you do. I know it’s tempting to go work somewhere else, but you’re building futures just like the teachers that are there every day.

The governor and the legislature are micromanaging public school curriculum at the same time they’re draining resources through an ill-conceived, unregulated, private school voucher scheme. 

We don’t have oceans or mountains, but we can again have the number one schools in the country. The education community with its parent partners needs to speak in one voice.

Top image of elementary school students with teacher is by Monkey Business Images and available via Shutterstock.

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  • merit

    Not all teachers deserve an equal pay raise – union doesn’t like to hear this. But like any occupation there are some overachievers who deserve bonuses(and recognition) and a disproportional pay raise compared to those are marginal employees. Pay raises and retention should be based on merit. I’m sure we all remember an outstanding teacher or two that had a major impact in our lives. While others – not so much. Teachers salaries are paid by the taxpayers – like it or not they are the “customer.” Is the customer always right? Heck no, not even in the retail world. Actual quote is “the customer is always right in the matter of taste.” With the popularity of school vouchers there will be more scrutiny on public schools(and teachers) as tax dollars are walking out the door. Increased competition for hard earned tax dollars is good. The superior public schools will always been in demand but this is a crisis for mediocre and below average public schools as the vouchers have students and families leaving for private schools.

    • Merit

      The others “not so much” may well have a “major impact” on other students. While trying not to be condescending, you miss represent the culture of schooling. The analogy would be more like a submarine crew than a retail store The whole school creates a culture of high expectations? And each sailor must do his/her job for the result. The pay rate has to one that the teachers see as fair and keeps them coming back. We are on a period where teaching has become gut wrenchingly hard with naysayers and critics on every corner Which creates a sellers market. Have you noticed the. “Help wanted” signs in every school ?

  • Merit Pay and Vouchers aren't the Answer...They are the Problem

    First, the bonuses I described being provided are not based on merit. They are for new hires. Merit pay in schools has crashed and burned decades ago because it was judged to be grossly unfair. We have a critical teacher shortage now, if a merit system was implemented, it would even be worse. Iowa needs to wake up and understand we will have classrooms packed with kids and absent a qualified teacher unless the pay and working conditions are improved significantly for all.

    Iowans want quality schools.

    The private school vouchers and the reckless tax cuts will soon have the state looking for revenue. There is no accountability for the voucher scheme. I would think a conservative like yourself would demand some accountability.

  • This is a comment on one small phrase in a very good essay...

    …but I’ll take this opportunity to make it. It’s time to drop-kick the decades-old saying that “Iowa doesn’t have mountains or oceans, but it does have (insert the thing)” into oblivion. That saying is an indirect insult to the entire Upper Midwest landscape. And it also reinforces the Iowa attitude, an all-too-common attitude, that Iowa’s landscape doesn’t have the kind of dramatic beauty that actually counts, so the abuse we continue to heap on the Iowa landscape doesn’t really matter.

    I know a number of people who happily live and/or vacation in Minnesota, and they don’t complain about the absence of mountains or oceans up there. Let’s end the use of the mountains/oceans saying, including the variant that uses “mountains or beaches,” and find another way to give ourselves credit for the good things we have and/or used to have and/or could have again. Like really great schools.

  • Turning inward isn't the answer

    The Iowa Republicans have gone too far; however, this comment needs more critical thought. “In some families, there’s an unwritten rule. You may fight within the family, but if someone from the outside attacks, you unite to defend. Well, the education family is under attack. It’s time for all parts of the family—school boards, administrators, teachers, staff, and substitutes—to circle the wagons to protect the profession and our students.”

    Public schools need to rise to meet the challenge of competition rather than circle the wagons and turn inward. Problems need to be talked about and fixed, not hidden. Parents, including special education parents, should be treated as partners all of the time, not just paid lip service.