Last Thursday, I wrote of how Thursdays evenings after school are typically dedicated to my participation as a local union leader. After I posted last Thursday, a person who had come across my blog attempted to shame me for my union advocacy. This person accused me of hurting children because I am a union leader. This person’s misplaced anger–and many more like her with far deeper pockets– seem to be winning the policy battles in this country though. So I have to wonder, as children are left behind in for-profit charter schemes, why a person would attack me for fighting for equity and access to a quality education for all. I have to wonder how I’m hurting children by fighting to ensure that every child has a qualified teacher in their classroom. I have to wonder how fighting for the majority of funds to go the classroom is harming kids. Of course, I know I’m not harming kids. My students may not always like what we are studying and they may not always agree with me. But they know that I am fair and will give them a safe space to explore and take risks.
Tonight, I spent five hours at a state level union meeting (yes, I arrived home after 9:30 p.m.) where we discussed the Supreme Court’s impending repeal of union rights this session. We also discussed what we see happening in our state, other states, and territories in the aftermath of catastrophic storms, fires, and massacres. We honored our fellow educators who lost their lives, were injured, or are facing post-traumatic stress after the Las Vegas mass shooting. We shared information on how to help them, as well as help our colleagues being affected by fires in both northern and southern California. We reiterated how to help fellow educators and students in hurricane-torn states and territories. And we discussed the legislation and policy issues our State Council will work on next weekend–including looking at statewide-office primary elections.
I am not ashamed to say I work to keep education a field for professionals. Just ask states where the shortages are so bad they are having to hire people without credentials to put in classrooms with our children whether they feel their education and expertise is valued in their communities (I started my teaching career in a deeply red state that has cut education to the bone–but I have family and friends who both teach and have their children in the school system there). K-12 education is a field dominated by women–except in the administrative ranks (nearly 80% are women). So I consider my work a fight for gender and pay equity as well. Fields that require education, expertise, and skills should be paid commensurately. Yet, we continue to be painted as overpaid babysitters by those who have never spent time in the pressure cooker that is the American education system. According to a 2014 report, between 40 and 50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Nearly half a million of our nation’s 3 million teachers move or leave the profession each year. This is a systemic problem in which I have worked long, hard, and against the odds to help solve. I hold the philosophy that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I want to work for the change that I seek. I do not want to stand on the sideline and just accept whatever injustice–to just acquiesce. I will work; I will organize; I will fight for my students, for my colleagues, for my profession, for my community, for the future of our country. Access to quality public education for every child is that important to me.
Nevertheless, I do not always agree with my union. But I do value the democratic process followed by my union. And if I feel union leaders are getting out of line, it is my duty to call them out on it. At my union’s state level, we have organized groups within the State Council that launch efforts to remind our elected leaders who they work for–they support opposition candidates and pull items for discussion and placing substitute motions on the floor regularly. They question. They vet. They ensure we do not rubber stamp. This is democracy in action–the kind of action that I also wish to see in my local community, Sacramento, and in Washington, DC.
Next week, I will probably continue to reserve at least part of my Thursday piece for my union work, because I will not shy away from a naysayer or two who would rather hurl “shame” my way rather than engage with me and learn about what I believe and why. I still refuse to believe we are so fractured in this country that we can’t even have a conversation anymore. I see my students wade through conflict and figure out how to resolve issues or seek mediation. They typically cut through all the political BS because they can see the simplicity of the bottom line. My students continue to give me hope. And they are why I continue to fight for a professional, well-paid workforce committed to effectively educating them and helping them develop into the creative thinkers we need in today’s world.
“Solidarity Forever” led by Utah Phillips