Mission, Vision and Leadership at AFT  

“NCLB has outlived whatever usefulness it ever had. Conceived by accountants, drafted by lawyers, and distorted by ideologues, it is too badly broken to be fixed.”

I couldn’t agree more with Randi Weingarten in her remarks delivered in Chicago.

Randi Weingarten, the new president of the American Federation of Teachers, declared war on the No Child Left Behind Act in her speech to delegates today, saying it has become, for many members, “a four-letter word.”

Wow, did you catch that? The New president of the American Federation of Teachers at her conference speech.

Did you notice? No?

Randi Weingarten is, well, SHE’S A WOMAN.

It’s TRUE and she’s not the only one, either!!

The top 3 posts at AFT are now held by women, and I love it!! Take the short mini-bio-paragraphs in the Chicago Tribune:

Lorretta Johnson was reading to her kids and others in the library of a mostly black Baltimore elementary school when she decided to ask for a job helping teachers. That was over 40 years ago.

About the same time, Antonia Cortese wasn't sure if she wanted school work. But she gave it a chance, starting out as an elementary school teacher and social worker in a poor rural district near her upstate New York home.

Over 20 years ago Randi Weingarten quit a cushy Wall Street lawyer's job to do legal work for the New York City teachers union. Wanting to know what it was like in the classroom, she took a part-time job teaching social studies at a largely black and Latino high school in Brooklyn.

These are amazing women. Women who wanted to make a difference and in doing so, moved toward the union, not away. In that move toward being unionists, they worked to make the lives of kids and their families better as well as the lives of teachers and teaching para-professionals (often called teaching assistants).

Not only have these women moved toward their roles in the union, including their own personal leadership role, but they are the first to lead a major union. Again, from the Chicago Tribune:

Their election would mark the first time three women will hold top positions in a union whose membership is more than 70 percent female. Similarly, no other major union in the U.S. has such a female-driven leadership, AFT officials point out.

And somehow, we still aren’t done yet. Again, from the Chicago Tribune:

As for the union's future, all three women talk of signing up more early childhood workers, paraprofessionals and charter school workers. They talk of stepping up the union's political activities so that schools get support from state and local lawmakers.

They also want to expand teachers' roles in their own professional groups.

One issue for Weingarten is helping workers deal with discrimination.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, she felt a drop-off in women serving in top union positions in the New York City area. Her only explanation was that the tragedy triggered a harkening back to "more traditional roles."

She faced her own fears about discrimination when she announced at a public meeting in New York City last October that she was gay.

"I never hid my sexuality, but I never talked about it," she said.

She had hesitated, she explained, because "the things that most people are afraid of, I was afraid of too."

Much to her pleasure, the response, she said, was overwhelmingly supportive.

So, not only do we have these amazing women leading a huge union, but one of them is also an openly gay woman who makes as one of her goals to ensure that workers no longer face discrimination?! OMG!! This is FREAKING AWESOME!

It’s thrilling to see this sort of enthusiasm and excitement about the work of organizing and ensuring the rights of the membership as well as empowering these same workers to establish links in the communities in which they serve along the lines of services that I recall having at school when I was growing up. From the New York Times (login may be required)

Ms. Weingarten >snip< lays out a “new vision of schools for the 21st century.”

“Can you imagine a federal law that promoted community schools — schools that serve the neediest children by bringing together under one roof all the services and activities they and their families need?” Ms. Weingarten is expected to ask in the speech, a copy of which was provided by the union to The New York Times. “Imagine schools that are open all day and offer after-school and evening recreational activities, child care and preschool, tutoring and homework assistance,” the speech reads. “Schools that include dental, medical and counseling clinics”


Ms. Weingarten’s speech says, “Sisters and brothers, this is an idea whose time has come.

“Imagine if schools had the educational resources children need to thrive, like smaller classes and individualized instruction, plentiful, up-to-date materials and technology anchored to that rich curriculum, decent facilities, an early start for toddlers and a nurturing atmosphere,” she says.


“We all have to work tenaciously to eliminate the achievement gap and to turn around low-performing schools. But the folks who believe that this can all be done on teachers’ shoulders, which is what No Child tries to do, are doing a huge disservice to America.”

Leadership, mission, and the vision to get it done, I think this pretty much sums up Antonia Cortese, Lorretta Johnson and the new AFT President, Randi Weingarten. I’m so excited to see what these accomplished, activist, unionist women can do for AFT, America and the labor movement. Tall order, huh? But these are women with the kind of shoulders to carry this burden and excel at it!!

Congratulations AFT! Congratulations!!

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