Monday, January 28, 2008

2008 State of Our Union

Teachers told union organizers: “My mom and dad are union members. That’s why they had enough money for me to go to college. But…what kind of professional joins a union?”
-from Tough Liberal, Albert Shanker and the Battles over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy by Richard D. Kahlenberg

The question above begs an answer and I have it. Whether it is job shadowing an educational assistant or team-teaching with an ELL teacher, I have had the opportunity to see that you are that kind of professional. Every time I spend a day with a member, attend a staff meeting, or read your emails I can answer that question.

The kind of professional who joins a union seeks meaningful advanced degrees and professional certifications. We learn from our colleagues. We believe in students. We engage in our community. We set professional standards for ourselves and meet them because we believe in ourselves. We work to get better at what we do. Never mind that these things may show up in the Teacher Code of Ethics or the Standards of Effective Teaching, these are job expectations we have for ourselves.

SPFT, Local 28 members exemplify that kind of professional every day. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to be the kind of union a professional would join. This year we will mark the 30th anniversary of the recognition of our educational assistant bargaining group and the 90th anniversary of our union affiliating with the American Federation of Teachers.

2008 looks to be the year of Local 28, so let's make sure we are the kind of union that a professional would join.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Teacher Quality does Count...

... so measure it. Last week both Rob Panningmiller and I were quoted in a StarTribune article about the release of their annual "Quality Counts" measurement of education. What was curious was that "Teacher Quality" in Minnesota received a D+ and so that was the focus of the questions asked of both Rob and me. You have to go beyond the label and look at the measurement however. When I think of quality teachers, those I have taught with, those who have taught my children, and those I learned from, I immediately think of how well they grasped their subject matter. Was that counted in "Quality Counts"? No. I also think of what evidence of being a life-long learner is present so that my students and my children can see that learning takes many forms and they are encouraged to press on. Did "Quality Counts" measure saturation of advanced degrees in our state? Number of National Board Certifications? No and no.

I also love to teach with teachers who love to teach. That seems fairly common, so I don't think that makes me unique. However, from this job, I know that teachers do all we can to maintain that love of teaching amidst weak support. Programs that are rolled out poorly, mandates that are funded with dollars that used to go to music teachers, field trips, and custodial service; and administrators who are not ready for prime time, all contribute to high burnout and low morale.

Now that I think of it, I see who deserves the D+, but it's not our teachers.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What was your boat project?

Now that contract negotiations are finished for 2 of our 3 groups, we can focus on the state and national issues that drain the joy from our careers. As difficult as contract negotiations were, the thought of renewing No Child Left Behind seems worse. What the preponderance of testing mandates and useless, late arriving, apples to oranges scores has done to our career was underscored by a story my husband told me the other night.

A colleague of his just ran into a former student. They recognized each other and the student said “Remember that boat-building project we did in 4th grade? I loved that project and now I’m in school to be an architect!” How many students are we going to hear say, “Remember that test prep we did? Now I’m working for Education Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey!”

Our students remember experiences that taught them something: something about themselves, how to think, how to collaborate. You don't remember the Gadsden Purchase unless it happened to fall on your birthday.

I hope teachers still have time to do "boat projects" with their students every year, and I hope they get to hear about the impact of their work. My plan is to make sure that this story is shared as a way of reminding all those adults hovering over the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind that they had boat projects that meant something to them, too.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The OTHER news we've been waiting for

When we returned to the office on Wednesday we were greeted by a quick email from the manager of the Public Employee Insurance Pool (PEIP). He stated that he got the results from their study of our insurance pool and he would like to make a presentation of what it would cost to maintain the health coverage we have but to be insured through the PEIP rather than through the district pool.

(REMINDER: There is a state law that says a collective bargaining group—our union—can leave the group from which they are insured and join the Public Employee Insurance Pool. I learned about this over the summer, requested and obtained support from the Executive Board to pursue the feasibility study for obtaining more affordable insurance from PEIP for our pool of teachers, educational assistants, and school/community professionals, made the formal request and have been providing updates at each subsequent membership meeting.)

At this point I cannot tell you what sort of news he has for us, but there are a few comments I would like to make just knowing that there is news to report.

First, regardless of the news he has for us, this is a great example of our union looking for solutions to a very complex problem on behalf of our members and, ultimately, the families we serve as well. No matter what news PEIP has for us, we need to use this moment to recommit to finding a solution to the problem of access and affordability to quality health care that will work for our entire community.

Next, if PEIP can illustrate an opportunity to offer us the health insurance coverage we currently have, but less expensive than what we are currently paying to Health Partners through the district, our ENTIRE union will have a serious discussion about this decision and our ENTIRE union will make this decision. If the information is promising, I will bring it to the Executive Board for a full discussion and a vote to bring the information and opportunity to vote to the full membership. If the Executive Board votes to bring the information to the membership, we will have extensive information available and every member will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not our entire bargaining group will leave the district pool and join the Public Employee Insurance Pool instead.

Finally, know this: Our creativity and courage in exploring PEIP as a viable option has served as an inspiration to about a dozen other teachers’ unions in the state. Our step forward to request a quote from PEIP was noticed and other, smaller, unions were encouraged by it. Let us take this opportunity to continue to show leadership across the entire state during the legislative session regarding all viable health insurance legislation and in our work with Take Action Minnesota, so in the end, we will be proud of the role we played in creating a community solution to this problem.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tentative Agreement for Teachers

By now just about every building steward had picked up materials for their respective site and sat through an explanation of the highlights. In the next few days that information will be shared at each site and additional informational meetings will take place for all licenced staff (members and non-members) at the St. Paul Federation of Teachers office. Because the SPFT Executive Board has already approved bringing the tentative agreement forward to the membership for ratification, the following timeline will guide us through that process:

January 3rd: Building/site membership informational meetings
January 4th: 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. SPFT general informational meeting
January 7th: 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. SPFT general informational meeting
January 8th: 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. SPFT general informational meeting
January 9th: Vote in buildings/site (see building steward for details)
January 10th: St. Paul School Board scheduled to approve the agreement

As soon as we have a ratified agreement we can ascertain the date of our retroactive pay.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Amazing Results! A new weight loss plan

WARNING: The following blog is intended for immature audiences only. Contract negotiations, 4-letter words like diet, and mild use of the drug-subculture lexicon for metaphorical purposes may all be referenced. Reader discretion is advised.

It seems that in the course of negotiating 2 contracts this year, I have lost 4 pounds. Just in time for the new year, I may have come across a potential new diet sensation: Union contract negotiating. At one point it was actually 7 pounds, but then the winter break came and I actually had dinner with my family a few times, so we’ll call it four. I could not have predicted this considering the nights when we were practically mainlining Doritos or speed-balling that 3rd can of Coke at 7:30 p.m. but there it is. I should have thought to attach that stupid, little pedometer to see if it would click away in recognition angst or ideas. Of course, I would have needed to find it. And I probably would have needed to take it out of the bubble packaging it came in, too. Regardless, it would be futile because, with this new contract-negotiating-is-more-effective-than-heroine diet I am going to get left behind if I am honest on the annual, standardized Health Partners test next open enrollment period.

Think of what this could do for the union movement if it catches on, too. Nationally it is said that union enrollment is declining, but wait until the unorganized workers of America realize that union involvement can help you lose a dress size. Move over Duchess, a new spokesperson for weight loss has emerged, and she’s hummin’ “Solidarity 4-eva.”

But wait! I have one contract left to negotiate. We are just starting to organize information for our School and Community Professionals contract. Kiss these dice Baby, because I could be rolling 7 after all.