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There’s a John Sterling (a radio announcer for the Yankees) quote my husband likes to shout through the house while the rest of us ignore him. It starts out: “And the Yankees, on the preci- pice of defeat…” The imagery in this phrase is fantastic. You can feel the impending doom. It’s exciting, unless the precipice of defeat that’s looming is your own—or your profession’s.
This past weekend, I was given the opportunity to attend NY- SUT’s regional leadership conference. While there, I went to a workshop entitled “Connecting the Dots: Understanding Educa- tion Reform”. The workshop was presented by Jim Henck of NYSUT and Jamie McNair, a New Hartford science teacher and our region’s PAC (Political Action Committee) chairperson. Since I already have some knowledge of the cloud hovering over education, I was less surprised than others as, over the course of the next day, the presenters detailed exactly how close to the edge public education truly is.
During our Friday night session, which is typically a quick intro- ductory session, the presenters showed us the beginning of a documentary called “The Reformers”. The documentary was made by a parent of school age children in the Douglas County, Colorado school district. The filmmaker had become increas- ingly alarmed as he watched teachers in the district start to leave in droves. He heard that morale was low for those who had not left, and he set out to find out why. At the outset, he did not aim to take sides, but to tell the whole story of what was going on in education in that county. The story ended up taking him in one direction. I won’t give away the whole documentary, especially since I purchased it and will be offering to share it as soon as it arrives. I’ll sum it up with a quote from Jim Henck: “Your pro- fession is being hijacked, and it’s for profit.”
It’s easy to lay blame on individuals nearby when it comes to the ropes that are tightening around us—the common core state standards, the new APPR regulations, the modules, and the threats to tenure that ring out constantly. And the onus should lie on these individuals, but not on them alone. It’s much bigger than our city and, in fact, even our state. From the Reagan ad- ministration on, a storm has been brewing in education. As far back as 1981, reports started to come out belittling public educa- tion. Initiatives started to pop up trying to “fix” education. Fast forward to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top and our presidents have all but served us up on a platter to big business.
Savvy business people, as a result, started to ogle the education field as a place to make their next million/billion, and they are working hard to make that happen. Just look at this quote pro- vided to us during the workshop: “…it (the next generation as- sessments) will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn, and every teacher get better.” My first question for this speaker, Bill Gates, is: why do I need to get better when I’m not sick? Of course, I jest, as I know what he meant. What I find problematic is the insinuation that teachers are comfortable in their mediocrity and we need the help of peo- ple outside of our field to ‘cure’ us. I am just fine on my own, thanks. I seek out professional development on a regular basis, and I collaborate with my colleagues—people much more quali- fied to give me advice than Mr. Gates. My second problem with this statement is the idea that there is a need to create a customer base. I’ve known for quite some time that the tests given are more of a money making opportunity than an actual assessment, but it’s shocking to see someone admit to it so freely.Mr. Gates and his wife are not the only ones suddenly interested in education, though. The Walton family (of Wal-Mart), have started financially backing reforms and charter schools at a rate that, if the money were directed toward the public school system instead, would have already solved many problems in education. Add to the list Eli Broad, Eva Moskowitz, Campbell Brown, and more. These individuals all spout platitudes that would have one convinced they are going to save education by offering choice, and thereby, superior education. But here’s the kicker: choice does not always mean better. More and more we are seeing that charter schools do not really outperform public schools, even with their ability to hand pick the student body. As far as I’m concerned, these people ought to go back to their own fields of expertise and leave us to ours.
What most concerns me, though, is the state of education in Douglas County, Colorado. Why? Because it could be us in a heartbeat. Parents and teachers organized in Colorado to elect school board candidates that would slow reform and advocate for students and teachers. Those candidates lost, though, be- cause they were outspent in their campaigns ten times over by reform candidates backed by wealthy individuals outside of the county. Add in to that a lack of education law designed to pro- tect teachers, and you have a board that does what it wants (or what its investors want) and teachers who are afraid to take a stand. As a result, good teachers are leaving, classes are being cut, and education is suffering. This is not exactly the promise reformers make, is it?
If New York moves along in this same manner, and that of Wis- consin, we are in trouble, and soon. So how do we make that not happen? How do we protect our teachers so that they don’t have to be afraid to stand up for themselves and their students? This is an overwhelming and increasingly scary time. We must not sit in the dark and pretend everything will be okay once the sun shines again. We need to stand up for what we believe in. The first step is to get informed and involved. We cannot live in ignorance now and complain when the fight is lost. Another step is to increase our contributions to Vote Cope. Our dues money cannot be used to combat political acts against teachers in this state. It is all done through Vote Cope. The easiest way to give to Vote Cope is through payroll deduction. Having a dollar or five taken out of twenty paychecks during the course of the year would be almost unnoticeable. It doesn’t have to create a hardship for the person donating; I myself have four dollars taken out of each paycheck, and despite my lack of funds, will be upping my contribution yet again. If everyone could commit to at least one dollar per paycheck (twenty dollars total) this year in addition to what you’ve given in the past, we would double our contribution as a local union. That would be amazing, be- cause this is the fight of our lives. Most importantly, though, be the voice of your profession. Correct people when they com- plain about tenure and teacher’s salaries. Inform them and cure their ignorance. As Jamie McNair stated, “You are the antidote to lies. You need to spread the truth.” We all do. Dangling on the edge is no way to live–let’s band together and pull ourselves back from the precipice.
In solidarity, Kirstin Vivacqua
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am a teacher. It’s the only answer I had when asked as a child. And it’s still the only answer for me today all these years later through the constant pedagogy pendulum swings and political mandates. It does feel more frustrating these days as the challenging demands increase and real teaching time with my students seems to decrease. And yet, I am reminded everyday why being a teacher matters to me, my students and to you, my members.
So I continue to teach in my role as union president. My goal is to inform you. Knowledge is power and the more we have, the stronger we are, and the less likely we are to be taken advantage of. There are many who do not want us to be strong, who do not want us to know. The beauty of living in a democracy is the right to choose. The power of the choices we make comes from our access to information. It’s not always what we want to hear or read, but it is information we now have to make informed decisions, decisions that can have a posi- tive impact on our lives and the lives of our students.
I encourage each of you to be active information gatherers. Take a few minutes to read the NYSUT and AFT magazines each time they are delivered to your home as well as their respective web pages. Go to the NYSUT MAC and read the letters being sent to state politicians to affect positive changes in public education and while you’re there, click the FAX button. Put your name on the NY AFLCIO mailing list. Join a UTA committee and engage your colleagues in meaningful dialogue. Create an active Faculty Advisory Committee at your school if there isn’t one. The point is to be informed not to necessarily agree. Positive actions come from sticky conversations.
We know what changes need to take place to improve public education. Let us commit to being part of the solution not the problem. Let us make the commitment to be more in- formed by asking the tough, pink elephant questions noting the responses we get. Let us not be intimidated by the nay-sayers and the kool-aid drinkers and instead, focus on what we know to be right and good for the children we serve. In the words of NYSUT President Karen Magee, Let us decide to “be the collective voice that can’t be ignored!”
In Solidarity, Cherie
Read about it here: http://www.aqeny.org/small-cities-big-consequences/
One of my friends recently remarked, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Now, usually this is the phrase associated with Christmas and the other winter holidays, thanks to the popular song. It fits for me at this time of year, as it does for her—for some of the same reasons, and some different.
For my friend, it is the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of a long summer of crafts and library trips, running through sprinklers and the ice cream man, children whining that the sun is too hot, the pool is too cold, I’m bored, he’s bothering me, she won’t stop copying me, can I have a snack, and on and on and on. She looks forward to the moments of peace between when her cherubs board the bus and when they clamor off again. She looks forward to being happy to see their smiling faces again after too much together time.
That part fits for me, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children. When I was younger, I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. It’s one of the things I love about my job. I get the best of both worlds. But I gotta tell you, that stay-at-home mom stuff is hard. It is never ending. It is unforgiving. It is monotonous. So for me, the fall is the most wonderful time of the year because I go back to being a working mom (which offers me a break from the never ending “Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom” as well as an excuse for my messy house), but also because I get my other kids back. I walked down the hallway last week, and heard “Hi Mrs. Vivacqua,” “Hey, it’s Mrs. Vivacqua!”, “Will I have you this year, Mrs. Vivacqua?” –all of this punctuated by little hugs— and it was music to my ears. And the thing is, they don’t even realize how happy I am to see them.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year because we get to start again. A fresh beginning, full of possibilities. Another chance to make a difference in someone’s life.
I know that sounds cliché and idealistic, but it’s true. You may not realize it, but every day, you are making a difference. You are struggling under ever increasing demands, less time, larger classes, more paperwork, less paper. And yet you are making a difference. You are the stable figure in the life of someone who lives a life ruled by chaos. You are the smile in a world of an- ger. You are the cheerleader so needed on the side- line.
This is just what you are for these kids. For the parents, you are a safe place to send their children. A place where they know their kids will be fed, both literal- ly and figuratively. A place where they know someone will care for their child and do the best they can in that child’s best interest. And that’s precisely why parents can look forward to the start of school—the trust that they have that we are going to care for their children and teach them, all while giving them a few moment’s peace. Thanks, teachers, for allowing me to easily send my children to you. I know they’re in good hands.
For a less gag-worthy take on the start of school, make sure to check out ‘Baby Got Class’, a parody video by the Holderness family. It can be found on you tube, or at theholdernessfamily.com.
Dear Union Sisters and Brothers,
It was a very busy summer at the UTA office as we continued to move forward with the goals established by the Executive Committee. Your UTA office was open during regular business hours to accommodate the needs of members. The large conference room, reception office and back hall were all painted. The first floor bathroom was renovated and is nearing completion. Office technology was updated and evaluated for expansion. Office space and furniture was rearranged to create a dedicated work area for our secretary/ treasurer and additional storage in the teacher workroom. Many hours were spent sorting through old files, organizing existing files, and creating new files. All of this done in an effort to increase the efficiency of the daily tasks needed to run our union making it a more effective resource for you, our union members.
Your UTA Committees also experienced increased activity this summer as well. APPR reviewed the new legislation signed by the governor, determining its impact on members and have prepared a UTA APPR Handbook. Negotiations reviewed proposal language. The New Teacher Committee planned for and hosted orientation for many of our new members. PDP planned for and coordinated members to facilitate the open- ing days of school. Credentials and Elections researched the number of members at each building and in ac- cordance with the UTA Constitution, advised schools on electing building representatives so that all of our members are represented. LAP met for a refresher session to review the four pillars and discuss future activi- ties that support the UTA mission dedicated to building and sustaining community relationships. Health Insur- ance Committee attended several informational meetings with the district. CNY Labor Council delegates con- tinued to meet this summer and discuss the challenging political landscape for labor unions. UTA delegates attended the NYSUT Endorsement Conference in Albany and the NYS AFL-CIO Endorsement Conference in NYC in August and actively participated in the political process designed to address some of those challenges. Thank you to all active members who made time this summer to carry on the good work of our union!
Your Executive Committee also met this summer in a day long retreat at the Central NY Regional Of- fice in New Hartford. We revisited our original goals established upon taking office, determined our success for each one and if a mid-course correction should occur. We identified many strengths, our members being the most valuable, in addition to weaknesses and threats, and the opportunities we have or can create to ad- dress them. We identified increased communication as a key goal and the numerous methods available to ef- fectively communicate with members. Building reps will have additional information on this subject at your next UTA building meeting. Thank you to each Executive Committee Officer for their continued dedication to the members of our union!
I attended the NYSUT Leadership Conference held at the Maritime Institute in Maryland. It was an honor and privilege to meet and speak with Cecil Roberts, United Mine Workers of America President; Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President; Liz Schuler, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer ; Lily Eskelsen García, NEA President ; and Randi Weingarten, AFT President. These are some of our greatest national labor leaders! It was also wonderful to meet my NYSUT sisters and brothers from across the state and realize that we are all in this together. We face the same challenges, share the same goals, and accept that we are a stronger labor force when we stand together as one! In the second year of this administration, your UTA leadership is com- mitted to moving our organization forward. We intend to build on our strength, which is, at heart, the quality and professionalism of our membership.