Amazing! No, truly amazing!!
I'm referring to our local leaders, our local presidents.
As I write this column, I've just returned from a 21/2-hour teleconference call with NYSUT local presidents. I have my laptop; I have my dark chocolate, and I have my glass of red wine. Most of all, I have the renewed sense of strength and conviction that comes from the fortitude and solidarity exhibited by those who asked questions and expressed their views on the call.
Yes, there was anxiety in some voices; anger, too. Yes, there was caution in other voices, as well as confusion and hesitation. But most of all, there was conviction, dedication and knowledge. They asked about laws, regulations and procedures; they asked about rulings, decisions and precedents. But they asked from a position of preparation, awareness and steadfastness. They spoke from a position of strength.
I now know more than ever why some principals fear teachers having a voice in what makes for a good observation — they like the good old days when they were in charge and teachers were to be seen and not heard. I know why a segment of school superintendents want the governor to set a common standard for teacher evaluations — the idea of a locally designed process only works for some superintendents if they define the process. And, for too many school boards, well … that worn-out joke still lingers — the meaning of shared decision-making is that they make the decision and then share it with you.
If they look hard enough, they can always find a law firm that will define collective bargaining the same way!
Not much is different in Albany, which is why you find so much talk about increased testing, meaningless standards, inaccuracies (how many times can you say "38th" in a misleading way?) and linking state aid to teacher evaluations. It's akin to linking apples to oranges, built on the assumption they grow on the same tree. Too often, this city finds it easier to proclaim omnipotence than to recognize the value of hard work and the importance of the practitioner who labors day in and day out in classrooms, hospitals, libraries, public agencies and not-for-profits — dedicated to those they serve and not to artificial benchmarks.
Local presidents are driven. They are looking for knowledge and for strategy. They have the highest esteem for their labor relations specialists who provide them with leadership in understanding local considerations, and they admire the ability of their regional staff directors to provide a broader perspective. They have a tremendous amount of respect for the expertise of our educational research department, under the brilliant leadership and tenacity of Vice President Maria Neira, and her staff's ability to provide the preparation needed to be convincing in knowing how to do things right.
As part of the give-and-take and question-and-answer teleconference, we also laid out some aspects of our current strategy and invited local presidents to share their thoughts and to participate in a quick "snap poll" to measure their reactions.
Overwhelmingly, local presidents supported our media plan to convince the public that the practitioner, not the bureaucrat, knows what works best in the classroom. They were adamant about breaking the misguided link between state aid and performance grants, a process that creates uncertainty and financial stress at a time when school districts can least afford it, given the unfair burden already created by the tax cap. And they committed to getting their APPR plans done as expeditiously as possible. But getting it done right means limiting tests so they're not a burden to students and are fair to teachers; allowing for more than one way (multiple measures) to understand what constitutes effective teaching; and having a voice through collective bargaining in determining what teaching for excellence truly encompasses.
The chocolate is gone and the glass is empty. Reflection, however, lingers. Reflection on the pride these leaders exhibit when they speak with such passion about their members and those their members serve.
They understand that their — our — members are the key to unlocking the American Dream for countless thousands of students across our state. They might not realize it, but in reality they model that dream for all of us as they live the values of leadership and advocacy — providing a voice for others each and every day.
We all thank them for that work.