Op-ed: We cannot let this divisiveness destroy the district

The day we were each hired as a Darien educator is a day that we all remember well. Darien schools are the best of the best. They only hire the best teachers. It is one of the top school systems in the country. As new teachers in the district, our minds bubbled over at the prospect of all of the amazing things we would teach. Our creativity overflowed as we prepared to plan our lessons in dynamic ways. We finally got to do what we studied, worked, and trained to do: make a difference. We got to become Darien teachers.

Teachers enter this profession for one simple reason: children. We become teachers with the dream of imparting some knowledge, growing strong, confident, creative thinkers, and making a difference for the next generation. Much like parents want their children to have more, be better, and be given more opportunities than themselves, teachers want this for all of the students who enter our classrooms. We want them to feel protected, confident, supported, and loved. We want them to thrive regardless of their interests, strengths, weaknesses, similarities and differences. We love your children.

In order to best teach your children, we go through a multitude of processes to craft the best lessons. What is the objective of the lesson? Where does it fit into unit goals? How will I know if my students reached the objective? How can I differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of all of the learners in my class? How will I assess this learning? Am I using a multisensory approach so that I can engage students visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically?

As of late, a new layer of complexity infiltrated our planning process.

Will my lesson be twisted or misconstrued in some way? Will the graphics and visuals I am using be taken out of context and submitted to an anonymous website with claims that I am attempting to indoctrinate students? Will I be the next teacher put on community trial for my lesson materials? Will my reputation be dragged through the mud of social media? Am I going to be accosted by an angry individual making accusations against me? How is this going to affect my students?

The reality is, Darien teachers don’t feel safe. Every minute of the day we are now second guessing our teaching instincts; wondering if years of training, professional development, relationship building and hard work will somehow be used as a weapon in the political war that is raging in this community. We second guess what we say, what we teach, and how we teach it.

And the worst part of this situation is that our self-preservation instincts kick in. And we hold back. We hold back being the dynamic, impassioned, exceptional teachers that we are in order to protect ourselves, our reputations and our jobs. It breaks our hearts that we cannot be the best versions of ourselves, for fear of public persecution.

We often remind ourselves of the early days of the pandemic. The world shut down. We were all experiencing collective trauma. No one knew what to do. Things that were unthinkable became our reality. Schools closed their doors.

Who was there for your children? Darien teachers. Who turned their entire profession around on a dime to continue to provide an education to their students despite unheard of challenges and conditions? Darien teachers. Who spent hours well into the night recording and planning lessons? Darien teachers. Who sacrificed time with their own children to make sure they were available for yours? Darien teachers. Who drove in car parades and delivered cards and tee shirts and signs to “our” kids? Darien teachers.

For a time, we were “heroes.” We were the constant in a world of uncertainty. And we felt the love.

Now, here we are, just a short time later. We are broken. We are battered. We are being ambushed. We are being vilified. We are scared. We are becoming the casualties of a war we didn’t know we were a part of. Our students aren’t getting the best of us. How did we go from being regarded as beloved, highly-esteemed Darien educators to these alleged politically motivated influencers?

The bottom line is this: Darien educators did not become teachers to push our political ideologies on your children.

The discord caused by this narrative is negatively impacting our students' education and social emotional wellness. They deserve better.

Ask any teacher, in any grade, in any given year, and they will explode with stories and details about “their” kids. Stories about their pets, their friends, the goal they scored on the soccer field, the song that they composed on their own, the math problem that they finally understood. They will tell you which of “their” kids kept them up at night because they were worried about them. They will tell you how they often wonder, years later, how that child is doing. What will they become in life? Did they ever persuade their parents to get that dog? Did they choose to focus on ballet or tap?

We become teachers to love and nurture the next generation to become better, stronger, and more creative than ourselves. Some of you see our passion for teaching. There are parents and community members who have supported us in these trying times as we continue to educate Darien’s children to the best of our ability.

We give our all every day, even though we barely have anything left to give. Now, we need your support more than ever.

Darien is one of the best districts in the country — we cannot let this divisiveness destroy the district that we call home.

Jen Fischer, Vice President, Darien Education Association

Kate Curcio, Vice President, Darien Education Association

Barry Palmer, President, Darien Education Association