written by bendygirl at Friday, August 15, 2008
The rift is playing out in a blizzard of cellphone messages and e-mails, Facebook entries and posts on teacher blogs such as D.C. Teacher Chic and Dee Does the District.
Some of the teachers who want "green tier" salaries plan to demonstrate this morning at teacher union offices on L'Enfant Plaza.
Older teachers aren’t necessarily bad teachers. But Like I’ve said before, blaming teachers for why students perform badly on tests or administrators for why kids aren’t showing up, well, it’s like claiming that no one else matters in this equation, and that’s not true.
A few days ago, I talked about what it’s like being a parent with a child in DCPS. I wrote about other parents who often treated school more like a babysitter than a school. I talked about how, until we can make school the center of community again, firing administrators and teachers, well, it’s like blaming the nails for why the house fell down and not the builder constructing it. Without parents and community, we’re all screwed.
But, I digress. This post is about WTU and communication and for that matter, lack of communication.
So, let’s look at the DC 8 again. Sure, not many showed up, but like all unions, the WTU should be responsive to its membership. So, when the 8 showed up, WTU didn’t turn them away, Parker met with them.
All of 8 public school teachers, interested in the sizeable salary increases placed on the table by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, turned out at Washington Teachers Union headquarters on L'Enfant Plaza. They met for about 90 minutes with union president George Parker and emerged satisfied that they eventually would get a chance to vote on the pay package, which offers $100,000-plus salaries for tenured teachers willing to risk dismissal by going on probation for a year. Teachers unwilling to relinquish tenure would still get significant raises under the proposal.
"All my questions were answered," said Heather Migdon, a fifth-grade teacher at Nalle Elementary in Southeast. "I feel better about things." Migdon said that she wasn't concerned about the sparse turnout, and that it was to be expected with teachers still scattered on vacation and the last-minute notice (the gathering was called yesterday afternoon).
Instead of getting mad, signing on to nebulous groups like “strong schools,” why not actually approach the union in a more constructive way? They represent teachers. They are the voice of teachers in all negotiations. So, why not be more active and proactive with the union?
I’ve been thinking about this because of comments left on a previous post of mine. What struck me about Peter Poer’s comments wasn’t his support of Strong Schools (he’s a member and listed on their website) or that he’s an alumnus of Teach for America, it was that he noted this:
First, you write that Teacher have a voice in the negotiations -- their union. As a member in good standing with the WTU, I have not once been asked my opinion about the new contract. There have been no surveys, phone polls, emails, or any other means of communication between the WTU and me in which my opinion was asked for. How can the WTU claim to represent me if they don't know my opinion? The teachers who are working for Strong Schools DC are all teachers in DCPS, and therefore their voices are just as important as the voices coming from the unions.
To which I replied:
If "good standing" means that you pay your dues, then your voice isn't being heard because you aren't speaking up.
This holds true for all unions, but it holds doubly true for those of you out there who hate paying dues because you’re anti-union or don’t feel the union represents you, individually. If you feel this way, do something about it, again, from Peter’s comments:
I would also point out that teachers in DC must be represented by the WTU, whether they want to be or not.
Fundamentally, my problem is that the WTU leadership frequently makes decisions that I disagree with, and I have no other option but to deal with those decisions. If the union operated as an unbiased body that truly reflected the opinions of all of its members, then this would be fine.
Here’s the issue, Peter and perhaps 8 other DCPS teachers feel as if the union is not representing them. If there are more DC teachers out there happy or sad about the way the negotiations are going, they don’t seem to be communicating those feelings to the general public, so I’m assuming (and you know what they say about assumptions) that they are making their concerns and feelings known to the WTU, privately. This includes my forwarding of the exchanges with Peter over to WTU leadership (all of them) currently listed on the staff page. And in an effort to improve communications, if I get a response, I’ll post it here. If I receive no response, then I have to find that Peter’s other comments:
Feeling like I should put more effort into communicating with the union, I went to the website (www.wtulocal6.org). I should mention that, although I have never attended a union meeting, I've also never been asked to attend a union meeting. I have attended the meetings at my school, but these are infrequent and don't tend to discuss much actual union business. Anyway, looking at the website, there is no place to find information about when/where meetings take place. I have never received an email or letter telling me when meetings are.
I’d like to think this is an issue isolated to DC, however, another reader who is also in a teacher’s union in another state said this:
I love your site, especially reading about the DC teachers, Michelle Rhee and DC Voice, and could stay on it all day.
Though I am definitely pro-union, and have been a union member most of my life, I find that my union is unresponsive and undemocratic -- even unethical in certain areas. My main goal is to get the union to institute a list serve or an online bulletin board so that members can communicate with each other. Of course, I have larger goals for unions and our country, in general. But this goal is so basic and so ignored by most people in labor that I want to focus on that. If you have any suggestions and I can get this one little (but huge) thing done, then I will have psychic and other energies freed up to do the bigger stuff.
Is this an issue with AFT or is this a local’s issue? The fact that it’s teachers e-mailing me and leaving comments about this has me thinking that this is isolated to teachers and at this point, the new leadership at AFT has really got its work cut out for it.
To Peter and my other readers, I know it can be frustrating and you can feel like you aren’t being heard, but you are. It might just take more time to move your organizations toward the kind of communications you want to see and have and on that note, let me know how I can help. And WTU, send me a note and I’ll post it. Communication is a two way street and if your site isn’t getting the job done, then drop me a line and we’ll help.
In Solidarity- bendygirl