I attended a meeting of 'Teachers Very Angry about the New Contract' the other day. I was asked to by my Building Union Rep (who wanted to go, because he is similarly ambivalent to the contract as I am), as well as this big gun in from NYC (the BTU has apparently hired a union firm from NYC to try to get this thing passed). They've tracked my thoughts on this blog, and on InsideEd, and knew I was someone who was kind of 'convinced' of the merits of the contract throughout the 2 week timespan. However, I talk about the contract all the time, and also see and discuss its deficiencies. Privately (until now), I'm kind of glad I didn't have to make up my mind and vote for it last Thursday.
So I went to the meeting. There, I felt a little like a spy, until I got there, and realized that the vast majority of the teachers there were like me -- people with solid reservations about the contract, but see some merits in it. One guy even announced that he'd been sent there by the union, like me. I'm sure there were more.
Still, I quickly didn't feel bad about being there because, even though I'm an optimist, as were many of the people there, I still recognize that this thing has some holes in it. It needs to be fixed before I'll vote 'Yes'.
On this blog, upon making the decision I liked the contract, I said I would have voted for it; however, now I'm not so sure. First, rewarding the union and North Avenue for presenting a poorly-defined and rushed contract by voting it in in 2 weeks just doesn't seem like good precedent. It's good to be suspicious of things done in a rush like this. As it is, I am now happy that the contract did not pass. I like that both sides seem to be trying to define the terms of the contract (which, as it's written, seems ripe for corruption) more.
Here is why I am glad it did not pass:
1) AUs (Achievement Units) still aren't defined at all, except for taking courses. If these are the check against getting a Satisfactory evaluation, or the tool a teacher gets to move to the next salary level, they need to be defined more before I sign off on the contract.
2) "Model Teachers" aren't defined at all. The carrot of being a "model teacher" is the only benefit of the contract for me (otherwise, I get a tiny raise of $200 or so, plus the signing bonus), and I want it - bad. It would mean a significant raise. Since this is pretty much the only benefit of the new contract for a good teacher in the middle of his career (and, don't get me wrong -- it's a significant one), this needs to be defined.
3) The way that principals will get teachers now that they couldn't do before would be to give lots and lots of 'Satisfactory', instead of 'Proficient', evaluations. Currently, 11 of 14 of the teachers in my department, for example, get 'Proficient' evaluations every year. I think they probably all deserve it. I feel like the new contract, which will put principals in effective charge of a raise or not because a 'Satisfactory' means only 9 AUs instead of 12 (the raise), allows them more of a chance to mess with teachers who, for example, confirm to a parent that, yes, he did threaten to beat up your kid in front of me, yes, your kid is telling the truth (yes, that happened to me, and, yes, my life was turned into a type of hell for a couple years after). Therefore, there needs to be language in the contract about being able to grieve a Satisfactory evaluation if one is handed down. Currently (I believe), teachers can only grieve unsatisfactory evaluations.
4) In the new contract, Building Reps can be transferred at the CEO's will. According to someone at this meeting, Marietta English didn't even know this was in the contract when he confronted her about it. This seems a pretty big deal (the building rep at our school, plus the rest of the union chapter committee, was involuntarily transferred from our school about 4 years ago because they were calling the principal to task... Dr. Alonso came into the that summer and re-instated them after a swell of protest), and I'd like to see this (yes, relatively minor) clause out of the contract to provide the union building rep more protection. I see the union building rep as an important check against administrator power in the new contract.
5) There needs to be language about Total Class Load in the new contract. Let's hold administrators and Dr. Alonso accountable to getting enough teachers in the classrooms and lowering the numbers. Show us that you're willing to give something, too, something that will be good for the students.
6) How about we make the negotiations more transparent? Some school systems have negotiations televised. Let's see/hear what is happening.
I do not question Dr. Alonso's motivation for this new contract. I sincerely believe that he wants what is best for the students. However, he does not control the money. When he first came to the city, he said he would have a book in every kid's hand. I've still never had enough textbooks. It's not Dr. Alonso's fault, but I worry the new contract (with, if done fairly, will increase many teachers' salaries significantly) will make schools lose teaching positions (which is why the Total Class Load is important). If that clause is not possible, there needs to be guarantees that teacher positions are not eliminated because of the new contract.
Define some parts of this vague contract, tweak a couple parts, and I'll vote Yes.
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