Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

I meant to post this yesterday, in order to show my EDUSolidarity, but WordPress was having some issues and I couldn’t log on to finish it. Well, better late then never.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, when I first entered the field of education, I was skeptical of unions, but was coming to appreciate the protection from short-sighted policy and budgetary broadsides that a union affords. One of the benefits of the events in Wisconsin is that it has served as a clarifying point to many people like me who may have been on the fence or uncertain about their support for unions. It forced me to examine whether I really supported the collective bargaining rights of a union, as well as to consider more broadly whether I felt the field of education might even be better with the power of unions subverted. As I considered these issues, I realized that the tactic which Republicans and businessmen were calling for was not surprising, given the values of management and capitalists in general, but that it brought to the forefront a major issue with untrammeled access of private interests in public education. Education in our country is based on the ideals of a working democracy, and if we can’t handle the messy debates and political process that such democracy entails via a system of checks and balances, then we will be cutting out the legs from under the efforts of education reform, even as it might momentarily appear that we would be gaining greater efficiency.

Simply because our economy is suffering due to misguided policies that benefit the wealthy few does not mean that we should begin slicing away at the very foundations of our democracy. The Economist is heralding the demise of unions, and they sound so eminently reasonable, don’t they? Problem is, they’ve forgotten that they are discussing real human lives in their equations.

Unfortunately, our society likes to pay lip service to our soldiers, our teachers, our firemen, our policemen, etc. But if the issue is ever broached that we would have to raise taxes to pay for those essential services, everybody clams up. And they hide away in their protective ideologies and behind their pacifying Fox news blather and tantalizing talk show hate radio. I don’t care what the situation with the economy is. We should NEVER cut essential services such as education or social services in our budgets. Because those services are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy, and when we cut those services, we cut into the lives of those members of our society who need them the most. We can talk about accountability, sure! I’m all for it. I’ve seen too many of those federal and state dollars go to waste sitting in a closet. We need to invest that money smarter and track the effects of contracted programs in districts. Definitely! But should we be laying off teachers, subverting the roles of unions, and eliminating some of the few incentives and protections that teachers have in a highly challenging role that produces a product (competent students and citizens) that is of utmost value?

We need unions to protect the interests not only of teachers, but of the children who are raised in poverty. When we cut services or diminish rights in the interest of efficiency or economic duress, we cut directly into those children’s lives. Unions serve to balance the power of government and private interests. That doesn’t mean unions are saints or that I agree with all their policies or organizational structure. It means that I believe unions are a necessary counterbalance to bring the interests of various stakeholders to the bargaining table.

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Making Things Happen

Can I just toot my own horn a little? Please? Sometimes, folks, the horn just needs a-tootin’. Cuz ya gotta celebrate accomplishments, especially in this day and age in which all you see on the daily nightly news is tragedy and apathy.

It’s been a while since I last posted, which is because I’ve been swamped. My life could be seen as kind of dismal, I suppose, except that I’m excited by what I’m doing right now, so all the hard work and no time to play is all right, for the time being at least. I’m starting to get a bit burnt out, which is not good, but there’s a few spots of days off this month which I think will allow me to squeeze through it.

I’ve been keeping up with my ‘barefoot’ running regimen, and it’s helping me to keep more physically in tune, and also serves as precious decompression time. My feet have fully adapted, and it feels great! It took me all summer to get broken into it, but now it’s like butter.

I’ve realized that the school where I’ve been working, for all its many problems and dysfunctions, is actually the perfect place for me to hone my skills and grow as a professional. It’s a disorganized and often chaotic school, but everyone in the building means well and tries their best. Meaning that for all its dysfunctions, the place is ripe for change. All it takes is some applied pressure.

I’ve been talking on this blog for a long time about a holistic, whole systems design approach to change, and for the first time, I’m really getting to gain practical insight into that theory. I’m discovering that true power is about seeing opportunities in problems and seizing those opportunities to advocate for greater systemic change. Furthermore, true power is working in collaboration with different types of people and harnessing their skill sets as resources.

I may only be a second year teacher, but I have skill sets from my management experience that I’m beginning to draw more upon, now that I have had some space to grow into my current role. I’ve become the go-to-guy for attending workshops (simply because I’m willing to go to them, really), and as I’ve been going to all these different workshops (Common Core State Standards, Response to Intervention, Inquiry, Quality Review, Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, just to name a few), I’ve been thinking of ways for how to synthesize and apply the information in the school.

I want to accomplish these goals this year:

1) Begin tackling the Common Core State Standards in our school

2) Begin coordinating school-wide systems of academic interventions

3) Advocate for a PBIS system for behavior

4) Advocate for a system of referral tracking (SWIS or OORS)

5) Build emotional literacy in the building (understand student acting out behaviors, not simply punish them)

6) Implement the Response to Intervention model

7) Make the process of inquiry and using data authentic

My first strategy was to create a team of special education teachers. It was something I had put on my agenda since last year, but with all the other things going on, especially with my growing awareness of the Response to Intervention model, it made sense to finally get it put into place first thing this year. In tandem with that team, I came up with a short vision proposal and presented it to the principal, which included utilizing the inquiry team and the special education team to begin implementing school-wide interventions to move the school into the Response to Intervention framework, in addition towards implementing the Common Core State Standards. She agreed, and the plan I put in place has begun picking up steam.

I feel good about what is happening, because there are many points that are currently converging in the building: 1) the Common Core State Standards, which are getting rolled out statewide this year, have been examined and discussed school-wide already in an authentic, collaborative way; 2) technology, which many teachers have been highly resistant towards using last year, is now being increasingly used, such as our Google website for inputting team meeting minutes; 3) grade level teams now have discussed and implemented a team protocol, which will help to structure and build accountability for team meetings; 4) the special education teachers are already beginning to be viewed as leaders and pioneers; 5) I have successfully advocated for an assessment for reading to be used in the building that more accurately targets foundational deficiencies, which many of our students–especially students with IEPs–lack, and I subsequently designed and implemented the headers to be used in a tracking spreadsheet that is being created for our school (I had a timeline of about a week to do all of that, from advocacy to spreadsheet!); and 6) I was able to include lexile measure correlations on the spreadsheet, which will position our school to be ready for the Common Core State Standards use of lexile measures.

And this convergence all happened practically within one week! There is a momentum in the building that is exciting to see. Obviously, I am taking some credit for it (why not, I get to celebrate myself sometimes, don’t I?), but the reality is that I simply took the first steps towards putting it together. The actual implementation only has been able to occur because there are great people in the building who want to see things get better just as much as I do and who have been willing to step up and put themselves on the line to make it happen.

It remains to be seen whether this momentum is sustainable, but it’s a great start. I’m chugging along through my graduate work and if all goes according to plan, I should only have two classes left in the Spring semester. Here’s to making things happen.