Monday, October 15, 2007

Teacher Workload

Our teacher team started the day today working with the district negotiating team on the norms we will follow as we discuss teacher workload and professional development. Together, both teams then identified our interests around addressing workload, what the current reality is around teacher workload, and what options might be relevant to addressing the issue. The district representatives were sincere in their interest to listen to all the workload and professional development issues brought up and ideas generated. While a lot needs to be ironed out, a lot of progress was made. We assigned ourselves some homework to continue thinking of solutions in preparation for a follow-up meeting with the district on Wednesday, October 17th after school.

In retrospect it felt a lot like the work you do as a teacher to build a classroom community. First you establish the sort of rules that will help you function, then you can introduce the interests that will guide your work. Most often in a class these are standards, with the implicit interest being the next skill or even grade level available, but at times the interests your students have and the interest you have as a teacher converge and are less tangible and more intrinsic. For me this would often happen when I had the chance to teach the elements of poetry by studying Langston Hughes. In the midst of a lesson about rhyme or meter or how he might play with space on a page, we would find ourselves lost in his words and discussing so much more. It almost seemed criminal to lasso the learning back to a mere academic standard when I had a glimpse of real-time learning blossom in front of me.

While we are going to have to be mindful of our January 15th deadline to complete our negotiating and all of the standards that pin-prick at our interests, it seems that we have a team that will look for every opportunity for real progress.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

This weekend I am in Silver Spring, Maryland for a 3 1/2 day workshop on peer assistance and review (PAR). I am very interested in PAR for a few reasons. First, I want teachers to be able to control the quality of our profession. Our union has organized teachers to address the quality of our wages, benefits, and working conditions but historically we have let our adversaries, or those politicians who know nothing about education, control the quality of our profession. I have been president for a very short time, but twice in that time probationary teachers have been let go despite being advocated for by a number of tenured teachers or experienced EAs who actually KNEW THEIR WORK as opposed to an administrator's 10 minute classroom visit and/or hearsay from another district. We are the group who should be the gatekeepers to the quality of our profession because we have dedicated ourselves to our profession. We do the work of teaching the students of St. Paul Schools everyday and we are responsible to build on the work of our colleagues. I can't wait to explore PAR with the building stewards, members, and Executive Board of SPFT, to determine how we can use this idea to ensure the quality and reputation of our profession.

We already have the language in the back of our contract that says we will develop PAR, now it is just up to us to do this in a way that supports and enhances a new teacher's achievement of tenure within some very clear standards that measure effective teaching. The more obvious we make it known that we have standards for quality in our teaching ranks, the more obvious it will be to everyone in St. Paul and Minnesota that St. Paul Public Schools and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers are both serious about working together to ensure a world-class education for every child.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Team Teacher"

Far more domestic, and certainly close to home, is the negotiating work I have been doing with the teacher and the EA teams. Because I had already started this blog for my study tour to the Middle East, I realized that this would be one 'real time' way to get out information about the process and progress of negotiations for the 2007-09 contracts for teachers and educational assistants in SPFT. Here is a start:

The teachers are a team. Wednesday night (the 10th) our teacher bargaining team met again in preparation for our all day meeting with the District on October 15th. It is an intense group and when our collective experience gets shared with each other we tend to agitate each other, make each other think, and most often inspire each other. These are feisty, articulate, thoughtful, and passionate representatives of SPFT who intend to advocate for healthier and more attractive working conditions at every opportunity. Last night's almost 3 hour, after school meeting was exclusively focused on the workload all of our teachers experience pre-k through 12 and within each license area. Even within the potentially demoralizing topic of workload though, there were stories of commitment to our students, our profession, and to each other. I am looking forward to our time with the District on the 15th because this team never fails to impress me with their focus and their dedication. I know we are determined to improve our profession. Keep your thoughts with us!