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