One thing from my last meeting with Dan McMinimee has been bugging me. At one point, he essentially called me a liar, which—if I had been lying—would have been fair enough, since I’d pretty much called him the same. The thing is, anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m sort of freakishly honest. Not brutally honest. I won’t express a negative opinion about your haircut unasked, but really, I just don’t lie naturally. I had a tough time doing the whole Santa Claus thing, because, you know…
See, I told Dan that all we talk about at JCEA is kids, and yeah, he basically called me a liar. He seemed so sure, and honestly, I was shocked. At first, I thought, “Geeze. The very concept of focusing on kids is really this unthinkable to him?”
But I’m not the kind of person who just takes a glib, unexamined position. (I had to laugh internally when a colleague was explaining to me how “complicated” this whole school board thing is—like I don’t research both sides of everything ad nauseam before I take a side. I know the key arguments of both sides well, and if you think this is a “union” issue, you need to study up. If you know what’s really going on, it isn’t complicated. It’s a “schools are yet another great place to push a free-market ideology” or “schools are a place to teach children” issue.)
Anyway, on closer examination, I want to clarify my statement that all we talk about is kids:
Conversations at JCEA begin and end with our commitment to kids. We believe passionately in public schools (and yes, that includes home-grown, quality public charter schools). We talk a lot about the importance of public schools in any democracy. We talk a ton about the kids we teach. It is no coincidence that many (though certainly not all) of the most active members of JCEA teach vulnerable kids—at risk, low-income, special ed, etc. Our kids are lost without strong neighborhood schools, and to us they are people with names and faces. They live in our hearts every day.
But in between—sure, conversations go other places. We talk about the Tea-party attack on public schools, waged primarily by attacking teachers couched as attacks on “unions.” Why do we talk about this? Because this attack is hurting our kids.
We talk about negotiations and what will happen to our contract. Why? Because our contract protects kids from being buried in class-sizes or teacher loads so heavy they get lost in the shuffle. Because the contract keeps our voices in the decision-making for our students. Because we want teaching to stay the kind of profession that attracts people who will love kids as we have, but if young people never see their way clear to the kind of salary they can raise a family on, good-bye committed teachers of the future.
Have we talked about a strike? How can we not? It’s what the board majority wants most in the world. Teachers don’t want to strike. We want to negotiate in good faith. In the secret confines of JCEA, those teachers who teach vulnerable kids worry desperately what will happen to those families if we strike, but we also worry just as desperately about what will happen to public schools if we don’t fight for them with everything we have. Talk about complicated.
We talk about what we can do to get the general public involved. How do we get JeffCo small business owners, and retired folks, and folks with no kids but who care about the quality of life in JeffCo and the nation to take notice and care enough to act—go to school board meetings, write letters, talk to friends and neighbors. Why do we talk about this? Because it takes a village to raise our children, and our village is patently under attack.
So I guess these things are not directly children, but they are 100 percent about children.
A new aspect of conversation about negotiation for us is the board majority’s insistence that these talks occur part of the time during the school day. It was pointed out that the teachers on the negotiation committee have students. Every day that they are forced to miss school for negotiations, they are unable to teach their students. Negotiations may very well occur during the high-stakes test window. Our kids need us. We need to get them through these high-anxiety tests, and then they need our instruction. Julie Williams kept saying, “But their leave time is paid.”
THE MONEY IS NOT THE POINT!!! The teachers on the team have made it clear—they want to volunteer to do this in their free time because they need to be with their students. Paid or unpaid, they do not want to leave their kids. The board majority just didn’t get it. They kept coming back to the idea that the leave is paid. They simply cannot wrap their minds around the idea that kids could possibly be anyone’s first priority. Because to them the negotiation process is all about ideology, they are unable to conceive of any other paradigm. Negotiations being about a good learning environment for children? About preserving neighborhood public schools because kids need them? It just doesn’t compute.
I think Dan and I just come at this from very different angles. He cannot imagine a group of adults so focused on kids that it’s all they talk about, and I can’t imagine a group of teachers not having kids at the root of every conversation. To him, when we talk about negotiations, we’re talking about money for us. To me (and the vast majority of teachers, including very active JCEA members) it’s about great schools and great teachers for kids.