Saturday, July 23, 2011

Save Our Schools--Why I'm Marching

A few months ago when I decided to support the Save Our Schools March and Call to Action I had a long list of where I thought “education reform” had gone off the tracks. But it wasn’t what angered me or scared me that sparked my interest. It was finding a national community of people who matched the indomitable hope and determination that exists within me and the members of my union that we can do better together despite setbacks, insults, attacks and deliberate mischaracterizations.

Recently, I decided not just to support the Save Our Schools March and Call to Action; I decided to be there to march as well.

I’m marching for the teachers who joined me for the last 3 years in having the temerity to develop our own alternative licensure program for St. Paul: CareerTeacher--a better alternative to diversify our teaching force and meet the needs of all students.

I’m marching for the 4 years of work we’ve spent intentionally developing a full-spectrum, career-long, continuous-growth model teacher support and evaluation system based on peer assistance and review. I’m marching for an administration who believes in doing this work with us and not to us.

I’m marching with and on behalf of the St. Paul teachers who wanted a better, more direct relationship with parents and instituted a thoughtful parent home visit program.

I’m marching for the teachers who pitched the idea of a local union-delivered professional conference and then worked their tails off to deliver it six years in a row. And I’m marching for the 300+ teachers who have given up personal time that annual Saturday each spring to attend because they value learning from each other.

I’m marching for the veteran teachers who took monstrous amounts of their own free time to support me as I earned my National Board Certification. While Marlene Dietrich said something like “It’s the friends you can call at 2 in the morning that count” I know it’s the expert 20+ year veteran teachers you can email with questions in the middle of the night, who answer you back, who count for me.

I’m marching for the parents and teachers who want to set up site-governed schools.

I’m marching for the parents, community members and groups who have opened their doors and their ideas to our local union.

I’m marching for the success of the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood initiative, where a city, school district, community and union have come together to solve problems and meet the needs of people rather than point fingers.

I’m marching for every child who deserves a well-prepared and effective teacher, which is every child, by the way. Including my own. I march for my two children who, like their fellow public school peers, have one shot a great K-12 learning experience.

I'm marching for my dad and his peers who worked to improve the teaching profession I inherited from them with the understanding that I would not rest on their legacy but I would continue their work to improve teaching and learning as well.

The timing of the March could not be better for me to march for the State of Minnesota. We just finished a difficult and, in some cases, damaging shutdown by coming to some difficult and, in some cases, damaging conclusions.

However, I will march on Saturday with the stubborn, dogged determination of someone determined to work in community to make an opportunity out of every last policy-laden sentence of our new K-12 bill and maybe even the higher education one, too.

I will march for a statewide teacher support and evaluation framework that intentionally supports a teacher’s natural instinct to get stronger, not a system designed to play ‘gotcha.’

I will march with determination to reject someone’s intent to end integration aid and turn it into a vibrant, committed statewide conversation about ending racism and improving equity instead.

I will march to prove collective bargaining is the most powerful tool we have to reach our common goal as a state to meet the needs of every child.

I will march to do whatever I can to include parents in our work and in the conversations we’re going to have.

I will march for a principal support and evaluation program that most values support of good teaching and learning.

I will march for the work it will take to come together to prepare to deliver every child to post-secondary learning and assure that learning is affordable, accessible and excellent.

So, while my list of education reform gone off the tracks is long, my list of everything that suggests our best days in public education are ahead of us is longer, and more motivating. We can do this work together and so I invite you to join me where ever you can along this march.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fighting the status quo since 1918

Dear SPFT Community:

Our union is a powerful force for justice, innovation and democracy. That sentiment often comes out when SPFT leaders have a conversation about our narrative with fellow members. The “narrative conversation” that stewards have been trained to hold with members is meant to introduce all our members to a story about us that is told by us. It is not a story told by Waiting for Superman. It is not a story financed by Bill Gates. It is a story lived out by our members as we spend each workday meeting the needs of our students and families. Our narrative is the one that promotes the real reason we chose to work in education, when we could have chosen to work anywhere. Our narrative story is the one that illuminates the needs of the whole child, not because issues like poverty, violence or homelessness keep us from teaching, but because those issues in our students’ lives keep us up at night. Our story about our work puts us at the table willing and able to solve problems.

I think the phrase about our union's work for justice, innovation and democracy gets highlighted because it is both historical and an accurate reflection. Unions, by our very nature and definition, have historically and persistently challenged the status quo. We represent change and evolution. Unions represent progress. It is our union's job to challenge the status quo. The Labor Movement is responsible for child labor laws, for access to affordable health care, and safety standards. Unions helped put an end to discrimination of all kinds. Teachers unions, in particular, played a critical role in improving the school day and improving instruction by setting standards for the teaching profession. There is no statement more untrue in the deliberately debilitating education debate than “unions protect the status quo.”

Local 28, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, has a long history of effectively challenging the status quo. Managers, administrators, and politicians have sought to destroy unions throughout history for the plain fact that we consistently, and often effectively, challenge the status quo. We won equal pay for equal work to end salary discrimination against female teachers. SPFT was the first teachers union to go on strike to insist on healthy teaching and learning conditions.

Recently, our union challenged the status quo about teacher evaluations and traditional site governance. As a result, we won contract language that will build a promising, career-long, continuous support and evaluation system. Additionally, we now have agreed to a process for groups of educators to explore site governance within our district so teachers don’t have to take their innovative ideas to charter schools. We are active politically, too. This session we challenged the status quo argument that teachers aren’t accountable. We challenged the status quo by fighting for a fair economy and budget solution.

We have more status quo to challenge. Our state government needs a special session to finish their homework. We’re beginning contract negotiations. We’ve just elected our building stewards. This summer, another round of MCA scores will be released where the same things will be said by the same people. All of these events offer us an opportunity to continue to challenge the status quo and work collectively for justice, innovation and democracy.


mary cathryn

Monday, May 2, 2011

Teacher Appreciation Day

May 3, 2011
Dear SPFT Community:

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day to all of our educators!

I celebrate this Teacher Appreciation Day with more reverence than ever.

As a student I had teachers who cared for me so greatly I can’t even begin to tell you what I actually learned from them, teachers I learned so much from I never noticed if they cared about me or not and I loved both experiences.

As I have shared before, I grew up in a family of teachers. I saw, firsthand, the work that went into getting ready to teach a new class in the fall. I knew the stress difficult negotiations put on a house. I knew the sleep lost over limited resources, student behavior, or colleagues.

As a teacher, I have experienced, firsthand, the lightening quick speed of a class period humming along on a well-tuned lesson and the abject pain of a clock ticking on a lesson that I can’t for the life of me figure out how it bombed.

I have had the privilege of spending time learning from some of this city’s best educators and I’ve spent time in deep distress with a teacher accused of failing to teach.

Now as a parent I’ve had 8 years of teachers in St. Paul Public Schools taking responsibility to teach my children. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the anticipation of parent/teacher conferences, the panic of bedtime due-date revelations, and the slope of the learning curve that is supporting your child through Everyday Math.

I celebrate your work on this Teacher Appreciation Day because I want everyone to recognize the teaching profession’s complexities as I have as a student, family member, practitioner, and parent.

I want students to understand and appreciate why, when you could have done anything, you chose to teach and I want those students to learn from you.

I want our families to see and be proud of the work we do.

I want every educator in the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers to know the thrill of that well-honed lesson and have the thorough support of our colleagues when we need help diagnosing what afflicted the other one.

I want a teaching and learning system designed for continuous growth and improvement for our teachers so we all get to learn from and become some of the best teachers in this city.

I want every parent in St. Paul to choose St. Paul Public Schools, to choose to have you educating their children because I know they would appreciate you like I do.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! Please take care of yourself and take care of each other.

Together, mary cathryn