I Want Three Things

First rule of production: everyone wants three things – make it fast, make it cheap, make it great. Pick two.

For this speech, I pick fast and cheap – I’ll work on great. For my class, I’ll stick with just great.

Here are my opening remarks to the Faculty Association at our fall plenary meeting.

Hello everyone and welcome. I appreciate your coming at this unusually early hour, and in return we will keep this as efficient and as aware of constraints on your time.

First, thank you all for entrusting me with the leadership of this body. I do not stand here alone. With me are Barbara, Sunnie, Chris, and the many men and women who sit on the Rights and Responsibilities and Negotiating Committees.  Their willingness to volunteer their time to help the whole is inspiring.

I was fortunate this summer to be the recipient of Enrichment funds; for that I thank the Association’s negotiating committee of the current contract. I spent a lot of time with teachers from other independent schools who were amazed that we have sabbaticals, enrichment funds, tenure (gasp) and an active and healthy faculty association.

Collective bargaining is unusual in our world.

According to the NAIS website – “Some independent schools have internal teacher associations but there is no independent school teachers’ union. In a few rare instances, however, independent school faculties belong to national public school teacher unions.” There we are – rare.

And in the world of public schools, teachers’ unions are taking the heat for almost everything wrong in schools in the wake of No Child Left Behind and in the soup with Race To The Top – one representative organization opposed to teachers unions in the District of Columbia sees unions as being responsible for our failing International Competitiveness, Blocking Education Reform, Bargaining Away Quality of education, and Protecting Bad Teachers (someone added from the room “Global Warming!”).  Merit Pay, Under-performing Teachers called out in the local press.

But teachers know that no one teacher stands alone in educating a child. Here’s my awkward metaphor for the year. My daughters are all students at the Actors Gymnasium, and this summer as a part of the production of Hephaestus they got to watch the amazing seven man pyramid get built. On a high wire, four people on the bottom, two in the middle, with one at the top. Wow! Sure someone is at the top, but who is responsible for getting that man at the top? All six of those below him and every trainer and teacher and parent – so many people all the way to the person who fed them each breakfast that morning.  Like these acrobats, we all of us stand on the shoulders of the teachers who have taught our students before us. So, how could we ever know who is entitled to pay based on ‘merit’?

So, we as a union are choosing a difficult path, but there is power in the collective that we do not have as individuals.  We need to be careful to think about the entire body of teachers, not just our individual parts of the world we inhabit.  I want to caution you against “making a deal” with an administrator – direct dealing, that what that is called, undermines the strength of our union.

But the association works for us all, full or part time teacher, member and non. We invite all of you to join and remain a part of the association. We aren’t as high profile during the years when we are not negotiating a contract, but we work quietly for individuals and groups who have issues with working conditions. For those who are interested, we do have membership information available today.

If you are a new member of the faculty and you have not received a copy of the contract, please let me know and we will make certain that you have one.

This year, we are poised, holding our collective breath for the hat trick of school self analysis – the convergence of the ISAACS self study, the creation of the long range plan, and the negotiation of a new faculty contract. This will either be amazingly productive, as the synergy of these leads us to new insight, or it will kill us all. Hypothetically, of course.

Issues perennially on the table are evaluation – and for those of you who are in an evaluation year, please know that we are here to assist in the event you feel as if you are not being evaluated at all or not being evaluated fairly.  Additionally, class size and its creep upward has been identified as a growing issue, particularly in grades JK-8.

We teachers have a responsibility to the school. We must keep an eye to the mission and be courageous in pointing out practices that seem to erode at the base of our mission. Again, here is a place where the association can help.  Our principal talked about fear and courage yesterday – well, that’s easy to say – but if you feel like you are alone, fear usually knocks out courage in the first round. I will tell you that I have a good relationship with the principal, and it has been a long time since I was afraid to tell him things that I thought he should hear.

And the administration and board know that we all have the same goal: a lively, functioning, vibrant school with one foot firmly rooted in our progressive legacy and the other stepping into the future. Okay, back to the awkward circus metaphor – Yes, it’s a stretch. We need to be flexible. And we have to know that we can’t have everything. Ultimately the class size creep comes down to tuition dollars, whether they admit it or not.  We have to ask ourselves, what can we do without (and I’m not talking benefits here) to keep those classes where we know they need to be to give our students the best possible education? What are the things that we do as an institution that distract from the mission? We teachers are the ones who can best identify those distractions from the real focus, our ability to educate our students and stay true to the progressive mission of the school, and not the external pressures of performance and competition.

You’ve all been amazingly patient. Thanks – and now, I want to extend the offer of conversation to all of you. Please find me if you have something you want to talk about: a problem, a solution, an idea – We have a few minutes to take comments and questions before we adjourn.

Photo of Madame Yucca, Strongest Woman on Earth by DoubleM2

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