Wednesday, August 13, 2008


It was a weird goodbye ceremony today at the end of our week-long professional development class. After six teacher presentations that varied in quality, and a Yemeni television interview (“What do you think of the teachers you worked with? What are your future plans to work with this union?), we were treated to a completion ceremony where the president the General Union for Teaching and Education Professionals spent the better part of 10 minutes saying that he was not a liar, he does not associate himself with liars, he would not be sitting next to us if he was a liar, and may he never have the opportunity to be in the same room with us again if he is ever caught lying.

Well, now that we established that, I realized we got his show because we worked with the Yemeni Teachers Syndicate (their rival union and I suspect the aforementioned liars…) the week before them. He made it clear that he has no intention of recognizing them, let alone working with them. They obviously do not get along, so when it was my turn to speak I told them a story a friend of mine pointed out years ago. My friend said to me, “We could spend all day with you arguing that your football team is better and me arguing that my football team is better, or we could decide that it’s great that we both like football.”

As much as the fact that he was a Packer fan bugged me, he had a good point: One that I have tried to live by in many situations since that day. It is most applicable in my teaching life: growing up, in St. Paul, and here.

I grew up in an “FT” household. Over the years I watched my dad and his friends organize to get a majority of members in the Hibbing Federation of Teachers so they could bargain the next contract and I heard them grouse when they didn’t feel they were represented at the table. But when it came time for me to join the SCEA in St. Cloud, no one encouraged me more than my dad. When I moved back from the West Coast and Korea, it seemed to me that no one was more ready for the merger of the MFT and the MEA than my dad and the others who had lived through those years of bitterness and rancor. In Minnesota we had finally decided to stop arguing about whether my union was better or your union was better and decided to think it was great that we all wanted a better future for Minnesota’s students together as Education Minnesota.

I hope that the Yemeni Teacher’s Syndicate and the General Union of Teaching and Education Professionals decide someday that, despite these hard feelings that seem like they will never go away, they will think it is great that they all want a better future for Yemen’s children together.

I want that for them, too. And I was glad I was here to tell them that it can be done.

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