Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wisconsin as a watershed moment

My friends have been in Madison, WI because they are standing up for what they believe in. There is much debate going on in the media about what that exactly is. There seems to be two minds opposing the teachers and public employees. One is of the belief that the pain and belt tightening must be shared. The other believes that unions are illegitimate and should have no rights.

The former is illogical for a couple of reasons. Why do we give tax cuts to the rich, and demand working families and children tighten the belt? For many of the fiscal conservatives, the double talk hypocrisy has reached contemptible heights. As a society we must have priorities.

The latter is the age old argument by Republicans who wish for business model management to be imposed on public schools. Unions do not hire or fire employees. Unions do not defend bad teachers. Unions give people due process rights, as given by contracts with schools. A teacher is a slightly different kind of employee. Teachers are highly skilled and specially trained. Due process rights are there to provide security for a teacher to experiment, tinker, fail and succeed, and innovate without threat of unemployment. If the teacher is unable to perform up to expectations, administrators have full power to remove that person.

The issue there comes down to how much the administrator is willing to do. Very often the answer is very little, or the administrator is climbing the ladder, and will be gone in a year or two.

Five years ago I started my teaching career in a small unionized GM city in Wisconsin. I have a real soft spot for Wisconsin and it has been incredible to see the solidarity and positivity the public employees are demonstrating there. Today, I'm a member of the union, and a building representative. Every day, I see the necessity of the union.

This year administration has begun harassment of teachers, and turned the climate toxic. Our building had a climate survey, polling the opinions of the teachers. Over 70% of teachers reported feeling unappreciated, that administration has no concept of the difficulty of their job, don't feel supported, don't feel they have a voice in the direction of the school and district, and would leave if given the chance. Teachers are being pulled into the principal's office for minor 'offenses' such as sending out an email with an inspirational video.

Right now, our school is an anomaly in the district for our increasing test scores. The reason is because of the incredible staff I work with. We are professionals. The survey shows that one of three positive responses was that teachers work cooperatively and respect each other.

If administration had the ability, most of the veteran teachers responsible for our student's growth would be fired for minor silly 'offenses'. I recently caught the administration's ire for some supposed unprofessionalism at professional development. I left PD on ELA strategies to get my ELA class started on a lesson. I learned strategies that I used and got commendations for by all administrators. One person decided they didn't like my leaving. I got written up and put on a growth plan. My status for next year is now uncertain. Even though my teaching has always been praised, been given awards for having the highest scores, shared my curriculum with staff, and been recognized as a department and school leader, I might be fired. When I told my colleagues that story they all had the same reaction. They laughed, then realized I was serious.

This is why we need unions. Administrators come and go. Some like you, some don't. What remains are skilled specialized teachers, who sacrifice so much for their students. If the priorities of our country are tax cuts for those making half a million dollars, poverty for teachers, and crumbling schools, fine. Just say what your true intention is, then we can begin to have a conversation "without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

I wanted to add a video that gave me goosebumps. Under Gov. Walkers plan, firefighters would be exempt from the changes. In a show of solidarity, they marched in to support the public employees in full dress uniform, bagpipes blaring. I think the general public needs to channel this energy, and support the schools and teachers, instead of attacking them.


  1. T, that is, well, awesome! Ha! Actually awesome. I hadn't seen the video. Thanks for putting it up.