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Saturday, May 14, 2016

MTA Annual Meeting 2016: Rattled

After attending The Annual Meeting yesterday, I was rattled.

Is that good or bad?

I was rattled for many reasons.

First, the drive in was long and crowded. I'm used to my short commute.

Next, the total cost of tolls and parking was very expensive. I could have taken the train, but I simply didn't have the time or energy to organize that due to a busy week.

After that, the food and drinks available were very expensive and difficult to access, and there were no official breaks for lunch. Typically that doesn't bother me, but I wasn't prepared. I'm sure it was noted in the prep materials, but because I was signed up late, I didn't receive those materials on time.

Then there was the crowded room. It was difficult to move around due to the numbers, yet it was exciting to be with so many educators from all over the state.

In addition there were the debates. So many viewpoints. So many different and same experiences by educators at multiple levels and communities throughout the state. There was also frustration amongst many for multiple reasons. The debates were civil, thoughtful, passionate, deep, and moving. I was proud to vote with my union members for resolutions that were promising for our union and for the families, students, and communities we serve. I agreed with most of the bylaw changes which mainly aimed to serve members and schools better.

Finally, we listened to the speeches of the candidates running for office. Clearly there were different perspectives about how to lead the union forward in the days ahead.

There's a part of me that just wants it all to be easy, peaceful, and calm, yet there's also a part of me that is frustrated with the status quo for educators and too many students, families, and communities--a climate of accountability where we often have to fight for voice and choice to do what we know is right and good for children and their future.

There's particular frustration on behalf of educators in areas that face high rates of poverty and social injustice. There's an urgency there about what is and what can be. And you could hear talk amongst some in schools who are frustrated with low pay and less support. Adjuncts and education support professionals were especially mentioned in this regard. Further, highly educated and experienced educators shared experiences of struggle and contest with regard to using their knowledge and experience to impact school decisions and efforts to teach children well.

Of course, the impending decision about whether to lift the cap on charter schools also rang through the hall for a long debate and discussion. What would lifting the cap mean for our commonwealth--how would that affect our population now and in the future? Would that decision result in a two-tier system of education for the have's and have not's, and would it take away from fair working conditions and quality credentials related to educators and education? How will changing hands from public to private oversight affect education as the foundation of our democracy? Will privateers profit from this? Are they already profiting from public dollars?

Already many communities are losing public dollars to charter schools, and some private organizations are profiting from these dollars? Public government left a window open for this change--in some cases, public schools were not meeting the potential and promise they held. Why did this happen? Was it underfunding? Was it due to the way dollars were spent? Was it apathy and disregard on behalf of some?  Was it a lack of regard with respect to the social/economic climate and needs? Did government support the ability of schools to keep up with research and cultural needs/interests?

In so many ways, Massachusetts schools are top notch. We have much to be proud of in this state thanks to many both in our union and outside of it. How can we continue and make better this fine tradition of quality education and service to our children?

Going forward, I'm interested in the following:
  • The availability of a high quality, holistic public education for every child in our state.
  • Careful consideration of each community's needs and meeting those needs in sensitive, local ways. Teaching well is not a "one size fits all endeavor," but instead a "get what you need" endeavor that serves children and communities differently and the same dependent on need and interest.
  • Continued high quality standards of teaching and learning.
  • Respect and development of education as a profession. Too many educators can't do the job well due to unrealistic, inefficient, and defeating mandates, structures, roles, and rules. I am a fan of high expectations and credential for all educators, yet I'm also a fan of letting educators do the job that they are trained to do with appropriate support of quality working conditions and fair salaries for all.
  • Continuation of a strong public school system as the foundation of our democracy. I particularly like the way that Lehmann and Chase talk about this in their book, Building School 2.0: ". . the fundamental purpose of public school--physical spaces dedicated to and people committed to educating a nation--is a good one." "In an age when segmentation of society keeps people apart from those who think, look, and live differently from how they do, schools bring us together to learn from and with one another." "As a nation, we can imagine many different models for school, but the fundamental idea that we build places where all children can come together to learn remains one of the best ideas we've ever had as a society. We shouldn't lose it. We just have to make sure our schools reflect the time in which we live."
As I head in to The Annual Meeting today, I'll put my support behind those who want to protect and promote the best of what public schools can be, and the best of what our Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) can be with regard to valuable support for every educator and local organization with regard to professional roles and responsibility and promising policy work. 

I know that education holds great promise for our students, schools, communities, and country. I know that we can continue to move schools forward in ways that matter, ways that improve the lives of many and hold promise for our students, families, neighborhoods, communities, state, and country. How we educate well will continue to change? The way we define school will change too? 

As citizens, I believe it's our collective obligation to support all children in the state with high quality education and opportunity. To do this costs money and demands the voice of many through public committee work, leadership roles, taxes, and voting. When we move too far into the realm of private support, we lose the diverse voices of the public. This can result in leadership by few rather than many. In general, our decisions as citizens profit from the diverse voices of many from multiple cultural, economic, geographical, and interest groups rather than the voice of a few who, perhaps, are from mostly privileged economic groups.

The charter school decision, in many ways, will mirror other current political decisions and choices. It's a time where we have to look to our imagination, values, and beliefs with regard to the education we want for every child, and what that will mean for the future  of our communities and country. A well educated population holds promise for our communities and world whereas a population where some are well educated and others are not points to a troubling future gap, greater disruption, and less problems solved and peace. 

At this turning point, I am a fan of re-investing in what we can do together to lift up education in fair and collective ways so that every child profits from public dollars, public debate, and public investment. I am now a fan of #keepthecap too. I am afraid of what greater privatization of our public schools will do for our good state and dynamic, diverse populous. That's where I'll put my votes today and energy in the days to come.

Rattled, but re-energized too.