Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just the Facts About Collective Bargaining (that nobody seems to be considering)

  • In Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN states that the the ability to organize trade unions is a fundamental human right. Item 2(a) of the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work defines the “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining” as a basic right of all workers. (http://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/introduction.aspx)
  • In Title 29 > Chapter 7 > Subchapter II, the US Labor Relations Act states that the government should be "encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection" (http://www.nlrb.gov/)    
  • In 1975, after the state Supreme Court unanimously supported Timberlane teachers in a strike, New Hampshire created a labor-management committee which in turn drafted a bill that Governor Thompson passed as law. The NH Bar Association reports that "The Act declared that the State must 'protect the public by encouraging the orderly and uninterrupted operation of government.'  The Act made bargaining mandatory and created a Public Employee Labor Relations Board 'vested with broad powers to assist in resolving disputes between government and its employees.' " (http://www.nhbar.org/publications/archives/display-journal-issue.asp?id=340)
  • In a February 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% of the American public supports collective bargaining for public employees.  (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-02-22-poll-public-unions-wisconsin_N.htm)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Collective Bargaining Rights--Now a NH Issue

While it is tempting to write about what really consumes our teacher minds, like why at 2 pm there are no used paper towels in the boys' bathroom garbage, as reported to me by a male colleague (eeew), there are greater issues at hand that we must attend to.

Two nights ago the House Finance Committee adopted language into the state budget around 6 pm with no prior notice that effectively ends collective bargaining for state employees.  The language reads, "For any collective bargaining agreement entered into by the parties after the effective date of this paragraph, if the impasse is not resolved at the time of the expiration of the parties' agreement, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement shall cease and all employees subject to the agreement shall become at-will employees whose salaries, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment shall be at the discretion of the employer."

After spending a great deal of time reading up on the Wisconsin debate, I am aware of a couple of things:  First of all, 61% of the public support collective bargaining (Gallup and USA Today Polls). Seven percent are unsure.  And the other 32% are angry and vocal. Secondly, when talking about collective bargaining, the conversation does not tend to be linear.  It branches out into other areas, sending us off topic, confirming the need for these rights and reminding us that reform is not easy.

Those who are against collective bargaining are seeing this as a means to reform schools.  But when we talk about educational reform, a plethora of issues arise.  How much do we pay teachers compared to other countries?  What does an effective teacher look like and how does s/he get compensated?  How are teachers evaluated?  What is the most effective class size?  What curriculum best suits our children?  How do we prepare teachers for the classroom?  How do we attract the best and brightest college students into the profession? We don't know...but we do know that collective bargaining doesn’t really have anything to do with these issues, and so the anger at teachers because of their collective bargaining rights is misdirected.

Collective bargaining ensures decent working conditions and fair pay.  It has a trifold effect, benefiting employees, employers, and the general work force.  Because of collective bargaining, arbitrary and unilateral actions against teachers are eliminated.  Protocols for grievances are set into place, and prompt and fair responses occur.  Employers have a starting point for resolving issues with employees, and can be more effective in handling conflict.  Channels of communication are opened and teachers play a more active role in decision making, collaborating with their administrator.  Because of collective bargaining undertaken by unions, the standards for all jobs have been raised.  Laws that involve child labor, the 40 hour work week, social security, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, and health and safety standards all derive from the work of collective bargaining.

Some opponents will say that these are items of the past and that unions are outdated, but really--if we lose the right to bargain with our employers, is there anything in place that will assure that we will not revert to old ways?  We are a nation who has a difficult time learning from history.  Furthermore, when you are dealing with public servants such as teachers, who exactly is the employer that makes the decisions under this bill?  The principal?  School board?  Superintendent?  Voters?  As a taxpayer, I would feel more comfortable knowing that my teachers were being paid, evaluated, and hired or fired because of a deliberate bargaining agreement that has been thoroughly discussed and negotiated by a number of stakeholders than by an administrator who does not need to account for his or her actions.

Lest you think me a hardcore supporter, I am the first to admit that unions are not perfect. I battle over the pros and cons of being a member each year before I sign my membership forms. In this time of scrutiny and unrest, teacher unions, in particular, need to self-assess and think about reinventing themselves. Perhaps the unions we needed when child labor and work week laws were instituted are outdated.  The NEA and the AFT need to consider what a 2011 teacher union should look like, and local chapters should drive this reform by boldly negotiating contracts that are more trusted by the public. Flexibility has been lost, and rigidity interferes with reform. While teachers need the support and protection of our unions, at times we have found too much, and we have all witnessed incidents when adults were protected at the cost of what is best for students.  But these instances are rare, and when they crop up, they often illuminate bad administrative actions, rather than bad unions. Yet, administrators are rarely called under such scrutiny.

Proponents for better schools need to focus on being constructive—reform can be radical, but it still needs to be propelled by reason and not anger.  And the reform needs to be focused on what is really the issue, and I assure you, collective bargaining is not the downfall of education. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Delaying Activism...Just One More Day.

I have an email box filling up with alerts about issues that teachers will be facing if certain laws are passed in the legislature.  I'm grabbed in the hallway and told about a school that is being closed.  A superintendent calls me and tells me about a teaching contract that wasn't passed in her district.  An old acquaintance bumps into me in the grocery store and complains about teacher unions.

I worry about teachers and the state of education night and day and know I need to be proactive.

But here I am, on a Wednesday night, still at school, and while I start to research compulsory education pros and cons and international education structures, preparing for what I want to write about emphatically and loudly, I find myself drifting off into computer land...and soon I am planning my next project for 6th grade reading...emailing the woman from Sudef about the book my students are about to create and ship to Sudan...practicing some new bits of technology before I perform it in front of my students...coming up with more ideas...getting excited about my job.

It feels complacent.  But so much more comfortable...Tomorrow I will be an activist.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Abolishing the Department of Education?

Our state government is on a mission to pass a flurry of bills this year—votes that are coming so rapidly, it feels impossible to keep up.  Just last week, the house worked on 250 bills and amendments in a course of three days.  As overwhelming as that is, it is important that we as teachers and parents pay close attention to what is happening in Concord.
Retained in House Committee right now is Bill HB 219, which proposes a “bill [that] establishes a committee to study the abolishment of the department of education” (HB 219).  This bill caught my eye as I was reading through several of the other bills that are being considered about education.  Abolishing the Department of Education?  I understand that the bill is simply proposing a committee to study the abolishment, but the fact that we are even toying with the idea is alarming.

The committee will be charged with the duty to “submit proposed legislation for introduction in the 2012 legislative session, relative to the abolishment of the department of education and the transfer of all functions, powers, duties, and responsibilities to the state board of education” (HB 219).

I am curious about how this would work. 

The Department of Education in New Hampshire is currently divided into three major divisions: 
·The Division of Instruction (in which accountability, special education, technology, school health, and integrated educational programs are included). 
·The Division of Program Support (in which credentialing, data management, nutrition program and services, and school approval and facility management are included). 
·The Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning (in which adult education, career development, social security disability determination services, guidance and counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and youth workforce are included).

These are some pretty big responsibilities.  This means the Department of Education is responsible for assisting public schools in everything from ensuring all children receive a lunch to maintaining data on federally mandated testing scores to working on dropout prevention strategies to special education laws to much, much more.  If you visit the DOE’s website (http://www.education.nh.gov/) you will see it is pretty transparent about the work that goes on—minutes and agendas for all committees are available, so you can get a fuller view of what exactly does occur here.  By considering the work the DOE undertakes as insignificant enough to be brought upon the shoulders of one board shows the naiveté that many policymakers have about what exactly goes into quality education.  Education is made up of many layers that are not always evident from the outside. 

In essence, it may seem fiscally sound to transfer these duties to the State Board of Education.  But the State Board of Education is made up of seven unpaid members who cannot be professionally engaged in school work and meet six times a year.  In fact, all current seven members have full time careers elsewhere as lawyers, CEOs, and consultants.  While I have had the pleasure of meeting our Board and appreciate its dedication to education and believe the members to be thoughtful, deliberate contributors to the state of education here in New Hampshire, I am quite unclear as to how they would handle the responsibilities that the three major divisions in the DOE make up.  In the end, as a matter of practicality, programs would have to go, and we would watch our schools steadily decline due to the lack of support and direction.  We would see a disparity in education across the state as some communities picked up the slack and others simply could not.

I am confused by the rhetoric and messages that are coming from our government—both on a state and national level.  On the one hand, our leaders are demanding better schools.  And I agree, they can and should be improved.  But on the other hand, our leaders are expecting us to commit to doing this while they create a detrimental, discouraging environment that lowers morale.

Reform is one thing. Destruction, entirely another.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why I Love My Job This Week..

1.  While sitting in my classroom late in the evening, grading papers, I hear a boy come down the hallway and greet the janitor with a, "Hey man, what's happening?"  followed by the sound of a high five.

2.  Perched on high school bleachers with my son in my lap, I watch previous students who have blossomed into these amazing performers sing alongside my current students at our Cultural Arts Night, setting such a fine fine example for them.

3.  A card sits on the front desk for a dear colleague who injured herself, filled with the most heartfelt, sincere words and sentiments.

4.  A boy kindly (and aptly) corrects my comma usage in a piece of writing I share with the group.

5.  The classroom is so silent you could hear a pin drop as I read aloud the assassination scene from Chasing Lincoln's Killer--27 sets of eyes on me, breath held.  Who knew nonfiction could be so engaging and suspenseful?

6.  A group of girls practice their 1920s flapper dance moves for the spring musical in my room at lunch.  Every day. They practice their lines.  They do the Charleston.   Their theater director has instilled inspiration.

7.  We laugh every day in 7th grade.  Loudly.  But I can hear them laughing across the hall in Social Studies too.  Perhaps louder?

8.  A student beams at me when she receives the 93 that she says I gave her, but really she worked hard for and earned.

9.  A parent calls, just to say thank you.

10.  A group of students pops their head in the math teacher's room on 3/14 at 1:59 exactly to wish her a Happy Pi Day!  (3.1459...)

 Just reminders of why we do what we do...and why we love it so much.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Professional Standards Board

I was alerted yesterday afternoon that I have been named to the Professional Standards Board for New Hampshire.  This may sound entirely boring to many of you, but it is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me this year!

The PSB meets 5 times a year and is made up of 21 members--classroom teachers, higher education representatives, and lay people--who serve 3-year terms and its duties include recommending policies to the the state board of education about pre-service education, professional growth, initial & re- certification, para-professional training, revocation of credentials, and performance evaluation.

This kind of work fascinates me, because the question of teacher preparation and teacher effectiveness is becoming a nationwide conversation.  Are universities preparing our teachers for what really happens in the classrooms?  How are teachers showing that they are maintaining professional relevance?  I am honored to work with such a group and so excited about what we will tackle over the next three years!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NH Partnership for Education Conference

Today I had the pleasure of speaking at the NH Partnership for Education Conference, an annual conference put on by the NH Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC).  This year's theme was "Schools and Beyond--The Power of Family-School-Community Partnerships."

Just when I think I am comfortable with a topic, something always changes my thinking, and for that I am forever grateful.  Today I walked in prepared to address educators about how to create classrooms with no walls--how to extend student learning into the community and help encourage parents become more active participants in education.  But only half of my audience was made up of educators.  The other half consisted of librarians, community members, parents, afterschool program directors, administrators, and family/home liasons.  At first I wasn't sure how to proceed, but when these people began to talk, it became clear to me.

Parents and community members want to know HOW to extend classroom walls...they want to know how they can help and not be "another thing" for teachers to juggle.  They want, desperately, to be involved and to invite students out into the world.  They want these partnerships.  I've been preaching that teachers need to create these partnerships, but today was a reminder that the educational process has many stockholders in it, and all of those stockholders need to have a voice. Sometimes all of our desires are the same...but we forget to communicate them.

So teachers--remember to make time to extend your students' learning into the real world and invite parents (because they truly care about their children's education, whether they show it the way you would like them to or not) into your classroom experiences.
And parents--ask your teachers how you can support them.  How can you bring relevant material to the classroom that you are passionate about and tie it into what they are already learning?

Together, we can create partnerships that benefit all involved parties and remind the world what is good about education.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Teaching It Forward Scholarship

I believe in education. So when I was given the opportunity to grant a full scholarship to the University of Phoenix through the Teach It Forward Scholarship Program, I couldn't believe it.  I have thought long and hard about whom I would like to give this to, and have decided to go back to my own educational roots.

First, let me tell you a bit about myself.  I grew up very poor-no running water or central heat--by parents who raised me to believe that there was no other choice but to go to college.  I give them credit for setting this mindset, and because of this, I was the first person in my family to graduate from a 4 year university, let alone obtain a Master's degree.

But getting through college wasn't all that easy, as two weeks before my 18th birthday, my freshman year at Clark University in Worcester, MA, I discovered that I was pregnant.  I returned home to have my baby girl and dropped out of school.  Five years later, on her first day of Kindergarten, I started my pursuit of an English Education degree at Plymouth State University.  While I attended school, I waited tables and tutored students in writing and grammar.  The two of us lived in income subsidized housing and received child care assistance, healthcare assistance, and food stamps.  There were months when I was $9 short for rent, and there were nights when we ate from the food pantry.  But I also have romantic memories of curling up on the couch and reading Portrait of a Lady or Les Miserables to my daughter, trying to get my course readings done and be her parent at the same time, and using her as my main subject during my poetry class. 

Looking back, I couldn't have done it without the support of my community, my church, my friends, and my family, and I always wanted to give back somehow--I hoped that someday I would be able to help another single parent go to school.  I never expected that that would happen so suddenly. 

Through the generosity of the University of Phoenix--an online school that has satellite campuses in New Hampshire, I am able to present a scholarship for full tuition to somebody I choose.  And I am opening this to single parents.  Any single parent in the state who is interested in this opportunity, should open the application link to the right on my blog and read through it very carefully.  Please also go to the University of Phoenix's website and explore the available programs in New Hampshire.  Fill out the application carefully and either mail it to my school address:  3 School Rd. Holderness, NH 03245 or email it to me at  nhteacheroftheyear2011@gmail.com by April 8.  I will make a decision by April 15th in order to meet the university's deadline of April 22nd.

Pass the word to all single parents that you know--I truly want this to go to somebody who will complete his or her degree and give back to his or her own community in the future.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

State Board of Education Meeting--a Message for Educators

Yesterday I had the pleasure of addressing the State Board of Education.  While bit of an intimidating situation (seven board members in a horseshoe with me sitting next to my coordinator at a table in front of them--it felt as though I was on trial), it was an honor to speak to them, and I want teachers to know that after much consideration of what to say to such a group, I represented you.  I told your stories and expressed your concerns.  I wanted the opportunity to be about all of my colleagues throughout the state, not me.

The message was well received.  As intimidated as I was, after I had a chance to answer their questions and hear their comments, it was a reminder that behind those desks and suits were regular people with very similar concerns as us.  We have an incredibly dynamic commissioner in Virginia Barry and the other board members are inquisitive, thoughtful, and deliberate, truly wanting to act as advocates for our profession.  I am so appreciative of their service and grateful that I had the opportunity to dialogue with them about the issues in our state.

They reminded me that in this climate we need to remember that there is hope.  That what we do is so incredibly important, and that we cannot allow negativity to seep into our classrooms. 

Standing alongside three of the 2011 NH Teacher of the Year finalists, two previous NH ToYs, and the State Board of Education members on Wednesday, March 9, 2011.  Concord, NH

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ten things on my mind today...

1.  I need a name for my newspaper column.

2.  Two hour delays in which you lose your plan period and have to start a new unit and are late because you had a dead car battery are not a nice way to start school again.  But drowning your sorrows in hot cocoa & Milanos with your son at the coffee shop helps.

3.  Parents do truly want us to be superhuman.  And when you're simply human, they write nastygrams...

4.  Tonight will be a long, difficult night at Plymouth Elementary School as we toll over the budget and saving teacher positions.

5.  Our grades are now online.  Hmmm.

6.  I hope the teachers are receptive as I start visiting schools.  Very nervous about that.  What do I say?

7.  How can I start a school in a Mayan village in Mexico...?  It's practically all I think about.

8.  PhD or EdD?  Macaroni & cheese or Chop suey?  Treadmill or icy roads?  Decisions.

9.  I need a publisher for my students' Sudanese book.

10.  Too many conversations today with teachers who feel like their options are burn out, complacency, or change of career...why is it like this?

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Rested Brain...& A New Newspaper Column

I am just landing back in reality after a self-admittedly indulgent, warm vacation with my family in St. John that will probably mean we eat only rice, beans, and pasta for the next 6 months and my kids will have clothes with holes in them that ride high above their ankles...but it was much needed for my family life, my marriage, and my professional brain.  I'm feeling a bit more centered and had many long beach talks with my husband that helped me really focus on what I (we, actually)want to do over the course of the next year and over our lives in terms of education and our own personal balance.

With a refreshed outlook and renewed energy, I have returned to find that my first newspaper column was published in Foster's Daily Democrat, and will soon be published in The Record Enterprise.  My email box was full of warm response, mostly from parents, and I thank them for that.  I am so honored that they took the time to read my ramblings!

I'm behind in my posts...I feel like I need to write about recent events in Wisconsin, NH trends in education voting, the event my students shouldered a couple of weeks ago that raised money for Sudan and their next steps...

For now, here's the link to the new article; I'll update as soon as I'm totally reentered!

Foster's Daily Democrat Article