Saturday, September 15, 2012

Optimism and Tenacity

These are the comments I prepared, and more or less delivered, for my speech at the Chicago Teachers Union rally today.

Good afternoon!

Thank you very much to President Karen Lewis & the entire Chicago Teachers Union team for your generous invitation to speak today.

And thank you for your extraordinary leadership that brought us all here today. A strike is never an easy choice. In fact, we know it's a last resort when all else has failed. Your extraordinary sacrifices of time with your students, of time with your family and risking financial stability are not lost on us.

Like your president, I am also a National Board Certified teacher who sees teaching and union activism as complementary missions to directly improve people's lives.

I am here representing the educators in St. Paul, Minnesota a local union just up Interstate 94 that went on strike in 1946 because they wanted their classroom windows to shut, wanted to fix condemned school buildings, wanted enough text books for their students, wanted job security and wanted a more responsive administration than the mayoral controlled political-favors school system that had been deaf to what was needed for better schools. Does that sound familiar to you?

Those teachers won better schools for their students and so will you.

But I am not here just to reminisce about the past. I am here as a representative of the educators in St. Paul who stand with you today looking into a future of better schools with that same optimism and tenacity as you.

These same issues have been negotiated at our bargaining table. These same goals for students & their families are fought for everyday through our work in solidarity with our community as well as with you.

Like you, we bring up solutions to support families that include just housing policies because school shouldn't be the only roof our students can count on--especially if that roof is leaky, too. We work for just health care policies because our school nurses should not be doing triage Monday mornings & their offices shouldn't be the only urgent care families can afford. We advocate alongside our brothers & sisters in the labor movement for a living wage because every worker deserves that dignity.

We advocate for dependable class sizes, for every child to have music, art, world languages and more because it is vital part of instructing students to be more than test-takers, to making them the innovative, creative, rightful inheritors of the future of America's ingenuity and spirit they deserve to be.

Contrary to what noneducators say about us, we don't bring these things up because they keep us from teaching. What they don't understand is that we bring these things up because the violence these injustices do to our students and families keep us up at night.

Chicago teachers, support professionals, families you have our support because your goals for your students & families are our goals for our students and families. Your goals for our profession are our goals for our profession. You can count on us and we are proud to stand with you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Chicago Strike and Earth without Art

One of the many inspiring signs I saw on the first day of the CTU strike was "Earth without art is just 'eh'" and it sure is.

One of the most cogent points Chicago teachers are making is that their students deserve more creative subjects back in their school day like art, music & world languages. Chicago teachers are insisting that if a student day is going to be discussed that it makes no sense to myopically discuss the length of a student day and ignore the quality of that student's day. Merely lengthening the day puts students at risk for even more standardized test prep rather than the opportunity to experience, firsthand, what makes us a vibrant civilization rather than just a concrete collection of humans.

Exposure to and mastery of art, music or world languages, for example, does not just make students more appreciative of those things (but so what if it did?), it does not just help English teachers like me with additional fodder for metaphors (but so what if it did?); studying art or music or a language other than English puts context to history, offers valuable grounding in math concepts and more. It is vital to instructing students to be more than test-takers; it makes them innovative, creative, rightful inheritors of the future of America's ingenuity and spirit.

A world-class, well-rounded education should not be dependent on a child's zip code or the numbers on their parent's tax return. It should be accessible to every child. This is what fuels the sort of KittyHawk-like ambition that lands us on the moon--not a fixation on standardized test prep. Because before you can think through rocket science, you have to dream it and believe in rockets or there is nothing to think through.

It is one of the reasons in 2009 our teachers in St. Paul prioritized negotiating school-based control over the content of the additional length of any school day that may be voted on at a particular site. Our union understood that school sites may want some flexibility in the length of a teaching & learning day AND we committed to making sure the creative control of any negotiated time was determined by the school community because we know the closer a decision gets made to students, the more relevant that decision is to those students.

We've negotiated over a dozen of those agreements in the last three years. Have they been perfect? No, not yet. It has been a work in progress, with an emphasis on the progress part. Progress because we have a commitment to talk to each other at the site--as close to our students as possible--rather than have decisions made by someone who stopped by St. Paul for a cup of coffee and a rally. It is that commitment to talk to each other and make those decisions together that will improve our process. And that agreement came from our bargaining table.

I support the Chicago teachers at their bargaining table and on those strike lines that are bringing attention to the discussion we must have and decisions we must make about the school day our students deserve. Please join me.