On a single day last month, two events contrasted promise and disillusionment in the field of education. One event, in the suburban community of Suffern, celebrated what's right in education and the second, in the mid-west city of Chicago, put a spotlight on how dysfunction can debilitate an educational system.
I visited Suffern (you can read about the visit here) to meet with teachers from the Rockland County area to discuss the AFT's exciting new initiative, Share My Lesson. AFT President Randi Weingarten — who accompanied me on the visit — calls it, "the single most important tool the AFT has launched in more than a generation."
Share My Lesson — an online repository for lesson plans, innovative ideas and best practices — provides free resources for educators at a time when resources and the tools we need in our schools are hard to come by because of tight budgets. The site creates and fosters a professional atmosphere and a respect for educators — qualities lacking in so many ways in the online community.
I urge you to go to www.sharemylesson.com to register and try it out!
Just as important, Share My Lesson is a very public commitment on the part of teachers and their unions to working collaboratively and collegially to create an educational environment that helps students succeed. It is the "solution-driven unionism" promoted by Randi that I wrote about in this space last month. It is about being proactive in ensuring the best for our professions and those we serve.
On the same day we unveiled Share My Lesson in Suffern, educators in Chicago walked off the job.
Share My Lesson's celebration of the voice of the practitioner is a far cry from the conditions unilaterally imposed on Chicago teachers by a heavy-handed school administration controlled by a dictatorial mayor. When our sisters and brothers in the Chicago Teachers Union were forced into a strike — Chicago's first in 25 years — it was in large part a response to conditions that devalued their professionalism and experience.
In so doing, the mayor and his administration put the education of that great city's children at risk.
Many years of disrespect for the educators of Chicago by mayors and administrators in whom trust had been lost culminated in the immediate events that precipitated the strike. At the core of that disrespect was a complete disregard for the voice of the educator. Likewise, at the core of the successful end to the strike were union solidarity and the support of the vast majority of the community and public school parents who stood with their children's teachers to demand fairness and excellence in the classroom — in essence, a demonstration of mutual respect and trust shared by practitioners and the community they serve.
In a third community, Charlotte, N.C., that same sort of respect for the voices of educators, organized labor and the middle class came across very clearly during the Democratic National Convention, where I had the privilege of representing you as a delegate. To be certain, there are issues where we part ways with President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan. But, without question, the current administration shares our commitment to public education and respects the role of education in strengthening our nation and our future. Most importantly, in areas of agreement and disagreement, there is a fundamental belief in the value of educators, the importance of their voice and the positive role unions play in public education.
President Obama's record in the White House is testament to the fact that he believes in equal opportunity and understands the importance of a strong middle class. He issued the policy protecting undocumented young people from deportation, providing them a path to a college education. He increased college Pell Grants, put a sharp focus on the role poverty plays in student learning and championed a federal investment in education that saved the jobs of hundreds of thousands of educators, including thousands here in New York.
Contrast this with Obama's opponent who continually blames teachers and their unions for all that he sees as wrong with public education.
His focus is clearly to dismantle public education and to promote privatization wherever possible.
NYSUT has consistently valued collaboration, the sharing of ideas, thoughtful debate and respect. These values are central to Share My Lesson, are sorely needed in Chicago and are embraced by the Obama administration. They're also the values that help our students succeed.