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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The MTEA, New Ideas, and Me




This is Sarah, again, and tonight I am going to write about some of the union issues raised earlier. I am concurrently working on my next two posts, too, so this is kind of a part one of a trilogy.

I have been involved in the MTEA since I ran for Building Representative about five years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with the MTEA and its workings, let me explain.

As I attempt to explain this, I see what I don’t know; please forgive me. Within the MTEA are all teachers, educational assistants, safety assistants (security), book keepers and accountants, social workers, psychologists, and maybe secretaries (??). The cooks are definitely in another union (SEIU, I think), and the administration (assistant principals, principals) has a union, but theirs is very weak.

Since there are several thousand teachers, every building has one building representative per 25 teachers, who should attend MTEA meetings, answer questions and distribute materials on a building level. Building Representatives approve the budget, any MTEA Constitutional changes, and approve or disprove resolutions during the year. I have been a BR for four or five years.

When I ran for BR, my “position” was that the MTEA needed to support the PROFESSIONALISM of teachers. I stand by that, but I have certainly learned a lot in the process. There is no easy black and white solution like I used to believe before my direct involvement. Additionally, the MTEA is pretty busy fighting some of the initiatives being put forth by the current superintendent and school board—initiatives that when studied in detail, are horrible for public education. It is pretty difficult to fight the administration, the school board, and the editorial staff at the Journal Sentinel in the current political climate. I would like to give you a couple of examples in my next posting.

Now, however, I would like to address some of the ideas thrown out there by Stephen. For the record, I like the ideas and think they are fantastic…but since I am involved in the MTEA, I know that life is pretty complex. Sadly, we have bigger fish to fry.

The first priority of any union is to take care of its workers. This superintendent and this school board are not interested in the PEOPLE who are on the “front lines” with the students. Their first priority is…well, I am not sure. I have theories..but…??

Jay has written over and over about the health care plan that was offered to the board by the MTEA, and that plan, which would have been beneficial to everyone, was rejected. Now, the MTEA is swamped, and I do mean swamped, with the repercussions of bad health care decisions. Additionally, there are decisions being made daily that trample the rights of all members (especially safety aides) that the MTEA is fighting. They are a little busy right now.

This may be why some of Stephan’s ideas won’t be heard as loudly as perhaps they should. I am skipping the math (I will return to that) and going to the tuition reimbursement idea first.

What a great idea. A few other districts do reimburse tuition. Stephan is right, teachers could use the money for the mandated education, and it’s expensive. I want to start my second Master’s and the biggest factor that is holding me back is the cost. In fact, I will do you one better and tell you that we better start looking at the individual institutions that provide those Master’s Degrees, too (subjective, very subjective...but I wish we could set up some system to do this). I received my Master’s at Alverno College, and you, gentle readers, need to know that if you want a program that will kick your butt, go to Alverno. Conversely, there are a lot of fast track programs that may not offer a lot along the lines of rigor. They, in my opinion, should not be reimbursed in any way, and for that matter should not be acceptable as a Master’s Degree for a raise in salary. There are other school districts that limit the acceptable programs (Muskego is one, I believe), and I would love to see MPS do the same.

But, let me caution you--$1,000 every five years is not even a drop in the bucket. My next Master’s Degree will cost $1,500 three or four times a year (that’s rounding down if I started today), and will take two or three years. That $1,000 is nice, but really not much in the face of a good graduate level education.

Stephan then raises the point of equity in state funding. Actually, the unions are on this. I have been at almost every MTEA meeting for five years, and I attend the WEAC (Wisconsin Education Association Council—the state union) Representative Assembly as well. Believe me, equity comes up time and time again. Governor Doyle has been working on this, the state democrats have looked at it, WEAC writes about it—we (teachers) all know that the problem exists. I talk about it out there in the world.

So, why haven’t we all heard abut it? Well, the Journal Sentinel isn’t too interested in an expose. When I read the newspapers up north, their biggest worry seems to be “not sending our money to Milwaukee.” There is a culture in the rest of the state that says this: “Milwaukee Bad.” There is little support for the city and children of Milwaukee outside of Milwaukee proper (not everyone, of course). Using my own parents as an example, there has been a drastic change in attitude in the 12 years I have been teaching here. When I started, my parents (Dad especially) could not understand what “those teachers are doing down there.” Now that they hear the stories of the poverty, the realities, and the struggle, they get it, and they know that we are working hard. Relatively few people in the rest of the state have offspring or siblings working in MPS; so few people hear the stories. Sadly, equity is not going to be easy, and a big reason is because the lack of equity benefits pretty much everyone but MPS and some very rural districts up north.

Now, back to math (and special education, too—that is actually a bigger problem in all school districts). I would assert that paying teachers of math, science, special education more would be lovely—again, in the ideal world. My concern is that math teachers (and science) are not necessarily math majors at the middle school level. Heck, I am certified to teach math, but you don’t really want that above maybe the sixth grade level. However, if you are going to offer math teachers more cash, I might just hop over to math, if my principal lets me, and teach it. I have an elementary education certification, after all, that allows me to teach any subject from grades 1 through 8. I suspect that unless there are some real stipulations, you would see a shift of teachers to math, and sadly, that shift will not necessarily be fair to kids or adults.

But, let’s say that we are going to pay math teachers the most. Okay…don’t get me wrong--I love my math-teaching friends, and we need the best math teachers we can get. But frankly, for work time alone, I am going to argue on behalf of the English/writing teacher. It’s hard to get students to do math. It’s also hard to get them to write. Correcting math—difficult. Correcting writing—sweet Jesus in July, does anyone have some extra time to come and help me??? Please? Additionally, if we start looking at whose curricula is more or less valued in education, we might as well throw the music and art teachers out the window, because as we fund schools, they are so undervalued, it’s ridiculous. Where does it then begin and end?

Of course, one could argue that if we pay teachers for what they teach, that would improve the teaching of specific subjects. Certainly that makes sense. Pay the math teachers more, and the special education teachers, too, and the science teachers. In the "real world," doctors make more than janitors, and when one becomes a janitor, one knows that ahead of time, just like as a history major (first major), I knew I wouldn't ever hit it big--in or out of teaching. I get the argument, but if we REALLY want schools to reflect the value of society, maybe we should pay the physical education teachers the most, since they teach the future NFL and NBA teachers what they need to know to get the big money (there is no subject where one learns how to inherit from rich daddy, is there? If so, those teachers could really hit it big).

Or, maybe schools, school districts, unions, and teachers should strive to refect what society SHOULD BE instead of what it is.

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