I blog from southwest Michigan where, today, I spent the day decorating the South Haven Moose Lodge with my family as we prepare for my little sister's wedding on Saturday.
Part of me wishes I could have had my voice heard in the new contract vote, which took place back home in Baltimore. However, the vote really wasn't very close: it was soundly rejected by a count of around 1540 to 1100.
Here are my thoughts:
1) First off, straight up: the contract vote should have been delayed. A couple hundred teachers, including me, signed an online petition asking for more time before the vote took place. At first, I felt this way because I wanted more explanation. After I got that more explanation, I wanted it delayed because I wanted all of my colleagues get all the information, too. I finally felt fine about the contract on Monday, three days before the vote. I know all the teachers in my building couldn't make that meeting, and, basically, the word just spread badly. How anyone could think that a 2-week turnaround time on the new contract -- especially one as "historic" and "groundbreaking" as this -- was enough is beyond me. Especially a 2-week turnaround time without any public forums until the week of the election. The communication was terrible, which magnified the need for a delay.
2) That's the most important piece. Most teachers I know do not believe that the BTU represents them, and are a bunch of disconnected previous-generation types who do little to help good teachers. The way they handled this contract -- one that I believe was a good one -- is a good example of that. They rushed it through, acting as if there were something to hide. I do believe the BTU has the best interests of teachers in their hearts, but I believe the time has passed them by on how to be solid communicators of that information. The communication of this contract -- especially in the wake of pronouncements that it was "historic" and such (honestly, I don't think the contract would have been that "historic", and that sort of language just scares off folks). Their website is terrible, they allow InsideEd to be overrun with extremists (Marietta English should have her ass on InsideEd every day, commenting, and that's years overdue), and they allow everyone else to dictate the information. I couldn't believe the sort of fliers we got at the school, fliers worthy of Fox News, with scare tactics and fact-twisting and flat-out lying. BTU, who no one really trusts to begin with, was hidden. It wasn't until I met a real teacher who worked on the negotatiating team that I felt confident about the contract. I wanted this contract to have people out there defending it, and it wasn't until Monday when I felt like I could even do it.
3) Dr. Alonso's side isn't blame-free, either. If you want teachers to take a leap of faith for you, don't do crap like not give us our steps on our old contracts in the next school year. Be more transparent. Both sides agreed to a framework, and I could live with the framework, but many couldn't. Why was there no definition -- ever -- of what a "model teacher" was? Most teachers have had experiences with horrible red tape at North Avenue with regards to certification or tuition reimbursement; and now we're supposed to trust that our contract, which is dependent on undefined AUs and undefined ability to move to different pay scales, will be handled by North Avenue, without those assurances from you? The BTU tells us that if they (you) can't handle the red tape, that the contract could be voided. But we needed you out there, making clearer how this would all be done. When I bring up these concerns, people tell me I'm being too picky -- "More time wouldn't give any more information about that, because the committees wouldn't be formed yet" -- but why? Why can't that stuff be determined?
4) How in the world is the turnout only 2600 out of 6500? Seriously? For our new contract? I did hear the voting was a huge mess, a portrait of how disfunctional our union is. Everything about this, in fact, was.
5) The timing on this, in the wake of Waiting for Superman's publicschool-hating propagineering, in the wake of Rhee's resignation, in the wake of Obama and Duncan slamming teachers, in the wake of the state changing the laws so 30-50% of the teacher evaluations must be via student performance, was also shitty for the contract.
Anyhow, I thought it was a cool contract. But I am generally an optimist and a trusting person. And I hate the current contract and think it is full of loopholes and disparity. With those things in its favor, though, it took me a while to come down firmly on the side of this thing. I don't think most of my colleagues had this experience.
I can't wait to see what happens now. More transparency, more information, more time -- hopefully. But the basic ideas of the contract, I hope they stay the same.
I might also suggest the following: Class Load limits and a 12-month contract. Both would be awesome.
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