Let Teachers Teach

Last Saturday, the National Education Association of Rhode Island put on an event called “Let Teachers Teach”, a day-long conference about the attack on public education and on teachers and about how we can and should respond. I was not able to go, as I did not have childcare available, but I would have gone if I could have. I want to ask a simple, open question: how was it? I would like to know. (I did, however, get a T-shirt, thanks to a certain videographer!)

It seems to me that precisely this sort of conference is what we need more of—in addition to pickets, rallies, protests, etc…which I have been haranguing my local and state union officials to do for some years now. Ah well. In any case, it seems to me that this is a good step—and improved by the solidarity extended to the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, who were also invited and had speakers on the program. This is a good sign—the RIFT has actually broken solidarity in the relatively recent past, namely over the questions of the attacks in Central Falls (RIFT) and East Providence (NEARI), and the approach to the Race to the Top Application. But rather than let this betrayal poison relations, NEARI has continued to support and work with RIFT locals. (As I write this, I think perhaps I ought to write another post at some point about RTTT…)

One other quick point to make about unions and getting members involved: I was not able to go because I did not have childcare, and crucially, nor was childcare provided on-site. When I asked my local president about this, her response was: “I have not had anyone else tell me that a “babysitter” is the reason that they are not going. Between you and me, I’m not sure that it would bring that many more people in.” Now keep in mind, I really like my local president, and unlike all the state-wide leaders of both unions, well, she’s a woman. But a single woman, so far as I know, without kids, in a union movement that long ago forgot to take care of its base. Talking to retired teachers who were militants in their day, childcare at events was a basic thing that they made every effort to organize. The other aspect of her response indicates a basic ignorance of parental life: teachers and union members who are parents, and who were not previously active union members and/or activists, have already written themselves out of activity. They didn’t say, “hey, I want to participate but I can’t get childcare” because they looked at the announcement, assumed that it didn’t mean them, and didn’t participate. This is not everyone, of course—but it is a significant chunk of teachers. And a significant section of teachers—because it’s the parents, and specifically the mothers, among the teachers who are being scapegoated for not being “superman”, for not spending every waking moment on their students. These are the people being squeezed the most by school “reform”, and they will be an important factor in rebuilding a fightback against the union-busting now in vogue.

It’s this kind of thinking that we need to move forward on building our unions and stopping the attacks—both the broad questioning of the overall “school reform agenda”, as well as a deep and genuine concern about how to involve people who have thus far been inactive or who may have material life circumstances that keep them out of activity as it’s been conceived up to now.

So to reiterate the question: folks who went to “Let Teachers Teach”: how was it?

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About riredteacher

I'm a foreign language teacher and socialist in Rhode Island.
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2 Responses to Let Teachers Teach

  1. Jo Boss says:

    No doubt that the squeezing of parents who are teachers is already happening. Most cannot attend “voluntary” meetings held by administrators. It also makes after school professional development a hardship for parents. This is especially true when the children are disabled. If teachers do not consistently participate in professional or community based meetings, they may be given a basic for part of their Danielson evaluation. Now, is that really fair.

  2. Paul Hubbard says:

    I was at the NEA conference on Saturday. In my mind, the most interesting speaker was the VP of the Canadian teachers union. He described how different (and vastly superior) the Canadian education system is from the US system. Five things stood out.
    1: Public education and the teachers in Canada (who provide the invaluable service of training the next generations) are truly respected and receive compensation and benefits that reflect that appreciation for the crucial work they do. I always thought it was a cruel joke that a typical lawyer in the US makes 3-100 times what a teacher makes. I have immense respect for teachers – I can’t say the same for lawyers.
    2: There is a robust social safety net in Canada. Children and their families receive resources so that no child goes to school hungry or without proper books and clothes. The universal Canadian health care system insures that the youth are healthy, and children with special needs are cared for with first rate treatment. In other words, when Canadian children enter the classroom, they are not bringing the terrible physical and psychological costs of poverty and lack of material resources with them.
    TEACHERS CAN ACTUALLY TEACH in Canada. They’re not asked to be cop, psychologist, social worker, substitute parent in addition to teaching. The Canadian social safety net cares for children and their families outside the classroom which gives Canadian students a huge leg up when pursuing their educations.
    3: There is virtually no move to privatize the Canadian school system – it’s a non starter in Canada. Public education is well funded, properly resourced, and supported by the public.
    4: The teacher’s union is strong and participates in all decisions effecting the Canadian school system. School principles are in the union and play the role of ‘lead teacher’ in the classrooms. They are there to help the teachers teach, not boss them around and make their working lives miserable. The US system sets up a natural adversarial relationship between principles and teachers that causes many problems.
    5: There are NO high stakes tests for teachers or students in Canada. There is testing, but it is used to identify weaknesses in a student’s education or a teacher’s method. Genuine remedial help and resources are then provided to assist the student or teacher so they can improve and achieve their potential. Teachers are offered many opportunities for achieving higher degrees and extra training while still being paid. NO test is used to fire or discipline teachers.
    Canada certainly isn’t perfect. The Quebeqois are second class citizens and have the right to self determination, indigenous people still face daunting problems trying to preserve their cultural and historic heritage and there is a right wing government in power that wants to chip away at the social benefits the working class has won through bitter struggles. There is significant environmental degradation that threatens the natural wilderness (tar sands mining, etc.) but at least the Canadian capitalist class has been forced to provide a decent social safety net and robust public education. They realize and accept (at least for now) that a healthy, well educated working class is in their long term interests as well.

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