Jess Wender-Shubow joined interim superintendent in visiting 9 schools and BEEP to welcome back educators. Here are her remarks, in case you missed them.
Good Morning and welcome back! It’s a privilege to serve as BEU president and to represent our 1200 members. It was a pleasure to meet new educators last week—let’s welcome them with a round of applause. I also want to congratulate Ben Lummis for his appointment as interim superintendent. We are ready to get down to work with you as a partner.
BEU educators, you are such a special group. Your dedication and skill are the heart and soul of the schools, and this is worth remembering as we begin the year. Your vision as educators draws families to Brookline and they, along with your colleagues, deeply appreciate you. Frankly, everyone who lives in Brookline has long benefited from the reputation of our schools that is thanks to you. However, this year, BEU educators can have an especially powerful impact on the character of our school system. Our contracts expired on Saturday and the district is beginning its search for a new superintendent. This year, your expressed pride in your vision for public education and your unity, and your unyielding determination to organize with your fellow union members to have that vision supported in successor, binding agreements—and quickly—can help attract superintendent candidates who are ready to pursue that vision with you. If there were ever a time to be an active union member, this is it!
We are committed to making your voice count. Enabling you to be in the room during bargaining sessions as silent representatives will help you give your input and help with problem-solving after. We intend to begin sharing your vision for our schools whether the School Committee welcomes it or not, because there is no time to waste. Thus, we urge you to come to the School Committee meeting on Thursday, September 26 at 6:00 so we can speak to the needs of our schools. We also encourage you to come to a BEU Barbeque at Larz Anderson the following afternoon, September 27, to connect with one another and relax.
I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to hear about BEU educators’ compelling vision of public education. In union forums and other discussions, I have heard you speak of the joy of discovery (the ah-ha moments), of the wonder of creative investigation by students who have been allowed to pursue a passion. I have listened to an aspiration that our students of color be supported in finding their own individual and cultural voice and history, and heard described by you inventive discussions among colleagues about a variety of ways that a particular student’s academic, social and physical needs might be met. What these examples share is a coming together of whole human beings, students and educators alike, whose creative, self-expression is valued.
No one disagrees with this vision. What teacher, administrator or parent would ever say, “I want our children and our teachers to experience education as stressful overload marked by standardized, deadening routines and drudgery?” Yet, sometimes there are unintended consequences of well-intentioned plans. We are told by our central administrators that standardized testing and rigid protocols, either mandated by the state or by the district, are but a minor piece of what we do. However, it is not only there that standardization, which undermines creativity, takes hold. Our members report that the central administration’s scheduling and combined expectations of paperwork, emails, school-wide responsibilities, meetings, and curriculum requirements are packing far too much into a 24-hour day. The overload is requiring educators to jettison what is undoubtedly more time-consuming, creative and truly individualized teaching and learning in favor of more cookie-cutter, and therefore timesaving, approaches.
With your involvement, we can do something this year to help fix the problem with binding agreements—this expectation of constantly being expected to do more and more, which makes doing anything well difficult, if not impossible. In addition to this, we need to end the expectation that more and more should be done with less. We begin this school year without as much as the 1-year, wages-only agreement that the School Committee was first to suggest that we negotiate this summer. Instead, they offered a .4% wage increase for some educators after budgeting 2% for all units, and then claiming that they hadn’t.
Hundreds of our members have made clear that they want paraprofessionals to earn a living wage so that positions are filled and stay filled, and students get the support they need—and it’s not fair to make teachers pay for that. In addition, members say student loads and caseloads must be limited in size and sections equitably assigned. Prep-periods must be honored and not usurped by meetings, and time away from the classroom lessened. We hear again and again: “Let me teach!” Called upon to fight for the schools our students deserve, we are determined to strengthen health and safety language (stress-filled schools are a health concern), to limit standardized testing, and to negotiate implementation of Restorative Justice practices to ensure that it is done well.
Winning visionary collective bargaining contracts depends on unity and depends on you as educators participating in the contract campaign and speaking up and speaking out, because your word is respected and you know what our students need. Of course, everything a union does depends on member participation. Labor law allows us to act together to provide one another with “mutual aid and protection” but it doesn’t happen if no one steps up do it. This summer, for example, your grievance team addressed unfair schedules and enforced our right to a fair evaluation, winning back a teacher’s job, having another evaluation changed significantly, and pursuing the question of unfair treatment of members of color.
Please be sure to read your BEU Briefs weekly for news, contract information and announcements of workshops on your rights. Our power is in unified, collective action: if you have been a rep or served on a committee, attended a BEU Action or a BEU event, please stand up so we can see what “union” means. Give everyone a round of applause!
As union educators, you are part of something much bigger than Brookline and its school system. You probably know something about the continuing, growing wave of teachers’ strikes around the country. To honor and extend the pride in teaching this movement represents, we ask that you wear Red for Ed tomorrow (and probably again later). But the press has not always conveyed how historically important this movement is:
Today, organized teachers are revitalizing public schools and other public institutions. Through strikes and other types of collective action, they are rejecting the notion that schools should run like, or by, businesses. Instead, they are speaking out civilly but firmly, insisting that the rich diversity of their viewpoints and experience be honored in democratic public institutions without threat of discipline, dismissal or reprisal. Teachers are infusing their movement itself with the kind of joyful self-expression that they seek for their students and fellow educators. What better symbol of these values can there be than hundreds or thousands of educators united and feeling protected enough by one another to sing Twisted Sister’s “We’re not going to take it,” accompanied by a marching band!
This movement is demanding an end to the privatization of public schools, and is supporting the rights of other public employees, too. They are insisting that business and the wealthy instead pay their fair share into the common till so that public schools and other public institutions can be properly funded and in a racially equitable way. Members of MTA, our statewide union, along with other advocates for public schools, had a win this summer when the legislature finally added $269 million in funding for schools, but we have further to go — and our school committee should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us. Corporate education reformers want to limit any additional funding and hold it hostage to more testing and top-down control.
In closing, we as union educators are heirs to an important legacy rooted in a joyous form of solidarity. In 1912 twenty thousand strikers, mostly women, walked out of the Lawrence textile mills. Their organizing meetings were simultaneously translated into over thirty languages. Their strike leadership team of 50 reserved spaces for every nationality in the mills. Business leaders marked the women as unruly racial and gender inferiors who needed to be managed at school and workplaces using top-down hierarchies, no-excuses discipline, and production driven by scientific management, but the women had a different plan. The women joyously danced on the picket line and flirted in a good-natured way with the Harvard boys, armed and sent in as a militia to intimidate them. They were brave because their union affirmed the dignity of all working people, no matter their status, pledging to defend them according to the principle that “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.” We owe to their union, the Industrial Workers of the World, credit not only for a legacy of solidarity rooted in gender and racial diversity, but for being the first people in U.S. history to organize free speech campaigns. These campaigns were explicit defenses of cultural diversity and free thought, and they won protections on the job and more broadly. Teachers, primarily women, also began organizing unions at this time, and they benefited from First Amendment protections defined as “academic freedom” that the IWW fought for and won, a right which they upheld for one another. Equal and better pay and academic freedom gave the term “professional” its substance. Like the Lawrence workers, teachers didn’t accept paternalism and they didn’t want to be patronized.
Let’s celebrate this legacy of solidarity this year—please hold up the signs together for a picture then post them in your room for later use! Have a good start! See you soon!