Madison teachers draw attention to issues facing educators by cutting extra hours of work 

By: - May 12, 2023 5:30 am

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Teachers in Madison have been  only working contract hours this week, hoping to draw attention to deteriorating wages and working conditions during Teacher Appreciation Week. 

Michael Jones, the president of the Madison Teachers Union, or MTI said teachers are underpaid for the amount of work they do, which is why they have been “reclaiming their time” this week. 

“Our whole education system really takes that for granted,” Jones said. “They assume that work is going to be done and don’t give any or sufficient time during the work day to actually get done.” 

Jones said that teachers often end up feeling manipulated to work extra hours because “if you don’t do it…you don’t care about the kids.”

Jones said that MTI and Madison teachers led the Act 10 protests in 2011 to demand better wages and working conditions that were protected by the union before Act 10 eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public employees.  But “it has only gotten worse” since then. 

Teachers feel not just that they’re being paid less but that  they have even less of a voice in the workplace, said Jones, causing  many to leave  for Minnesota or Illinois. 

Jones said everyone has a breaking point, and for some teachers, the recent MMSD budget proposal that declined to give teachers  a cost of living adjustment was a breaking point. 

The budget proposal would effectively cut teacher wages by not accounting for inflation. MTI has asked for an 8% base wage increase as an inflationary adjustment. 

Jones said it is frustrating because the budget provides more money for new curriculum, but no extra allotment to teachers who will have to work extra to learn the new curriculum. 

“They have every right to do that,” Madison Metropolitan School District spokesperson Tim LeMonds told local news channel NBC 15.

LeMonds told Madison’s Channel 15 that the district agrees with MTI but adds if there are going to be changes, they need to happen at the state level.

“They deserve better pay. They deserve to be valued for their work. They impact our students daily; our school district had 32 National Merit scholar semifinalists this year. I don’t think there’s a number higher in Wisconsin,” he said. “Until we see some budgetary corrections from our state Legislature, this is going to continue.”

Peggy Wertz-Olsen, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council said she is hopeful that the state, which is in the process of drafting the next biennial budget will use part of its $7 billion surplus to increase funding for  special education, mental health initiatives and school meals. 

Wertz-Olsen added that  Wisconsin ranks 31st in the nation for teacher pay and  that it is hard to keep teachers in Wisconsin for that reason. 

Diane Hess, the dean of the UW School of Education, says fewer  students are applying to the school, especially minority students, in recent years. Because of the decline, the school of education launched the  Teacher Pledge Program, offering to cover  tuition for students  who agree to teach in Wisconsin schools for three  to four  years after graduation. Hess said this encourages teachers to stay in the career, and in the state, even though teacher salaries are lower than in other states. 

“And even though we, UW Madison School of Education, can’t do anything directly to raise teacher salaries, we can increase their standard of living by reducing the amount of student debt they have,” Hess said. 

Christian Phelps from the Wisconsin Public Education Network emphasized that supporting  teachers an important way to support  students. 

“Unfortunately, teachers are asked to be the incredible professionals that they are in Wisconsin that are not treated or compensated like those professionals,” Phelps said. 

Phelps said the best kind of appreciation comes from action. 

“Real action across the state that says we shouldn’t be in a position where teachers are doing unpaid work, going above and beyond and performing the very difficult and nuanced, professional work of being an educator without being compensated and treated like one,” Phelps said. 

Phelps said the state has the power to improve things through the current  budget process. 

“[Budget investment would] allow so much more of the attention to be spent not on penny pinching, but on creating the conditions that allow educators and students to thrive at school,” Phelps said. 

Wertz-Olsen encourages people to write letters to teachers to appreciate them, and to legislators to encourage them to support teachers. And she hopes this week’s work-to-rule action will help raise awareness.  

“We really want to draw attention to this for our students, for our colleagues, by just working our contract hours. You know, it is certainly something that I think is catching people’s attention,” Wertz-Olsen said. 


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Abigail Leavins
Abigail Leavins

Abigail Leavins is a student journalist at UW-Madison. Her writing has been featured in the Cap Times, NBC15, WORT, the Madison Commons, and the Badger Herald student newspaper. Her primary interests for coverage are protests, unions and rallies.