Monday, July 30, 2018

On the Cool Kids and the Organizers

According to this chart, it's barely cool at all to be a cool kid. First of all, calling someone a kid is a little demeaning. And being "cool" is kind of superficial. I'm reminded of times I sat in rooms with people lecturing me about what my priorities must be. Sometimes I walked into these rooms voluntarily in my free time. How can people tell me what my priorities are before they even know me? They must be extremely cool to have that ability.

My priorities are formed day by day. As chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, I get to hear what people's priorities are virtually all the time. I get my highest volume of complaints about the evaluation system. Even people with supervisors they love, supervisors everyone loves, feel under the gun most of the time. That's not helping anyone at all, not the teachers, not the supervisors, and certainly not the kids we're paid to serve. I don't know exactly which drugs Reformy John King was taking when he initiated this. If anyone knows please advise us so we can avoid them.

I know other city schools are not like mine. Our school isn't perfect, but our issues are vastly different from those of many other places. Unlike schools in danger of closure, we're in danger of explosion from sheer overcrowding. Our generally good reputation is a dual-edged sword. We have people in rooms without windows, people who rely on room air-conditioners that are so noisy they preclude communication. Not only that, but when they're on they still don't work very well.

I hear complaints from people in buildings that are under-represented or not represented at all. That is really troubling. A likely intentional side effect of Bloomberg's small schools staffed largely with newbies is the dearth of not only institutional memory, but also teachers with tenure. I wouldn't recommend a probationary teacher become chapter leader, but of course people can step up whenever they wish.

The question then becomes what happens if no one does? That's a thorny issue, and it's certainly not limited to schools full of newbies. Who is crazy enough to want the job of chapter leader? It's pretty simple--if no one will step up to enforce the contract, the contract will not be enforced. If the school is really full of newbies, I guess it falls on the district rep. If not, well, you'd better step up.

I had a conversation on Facebook with someone who said he was never paying dues again. I asked why, and he said his chapter leader sucks and allowed this and that to happen. I believe that, because it's far from the first time I've heard such a story. But the remedy for a crappy chapter leader is to oppose him, and we all had the chance to do that last May. Did this member step up? Of course not. Though May is past, you can still recall an incompetent chapter leader by organizing the teachers in your building. If you do that, though, you'd best have in mind someone else for the job.

Conversely, you can sit around and curse Michael Mulgrew for not coming over, waving a magic wand, and solving all your problems. I prefer the former. In fact, I'm on an ESL committee in the UFT, and a young teacher came to one of our meetings late last year complaining of a chapter leader who seemed to be in bed with the principal. I told her that this was a perfect time to oppose him. She came back the following month and told us she got a friend to do that, and her friend won. I was happy to have played some small part in that.

You can't always win, but you can always work toward it. I'm kind of fascinated by the contrast between building ideas and power in this chart. I don't really see them as mutually exclusive. We are educators, and it ought to be somewhere in our DNA to trade in ideas. Ideas motivate us. They're no substitute for getting out and talking to people. But I'd hope they kind of inspire it. I'd argue the ideas are what moves us off of our couches and into the arena. Without them, what would you discuss when organizing?

Social media, I'd argue, also goes hand in hand with getting people to show up. It's a powerful weapon, which is why scumbags like Trump's thugs want to do away with net neutrality. As a blogger, I'm not gonna trash talk social media. Any influence I may have anywhere likely comes from this place right here. This blog and people I've met through it have been what's formed my outlook and caused me to step up as chapter leader and in UFT politics.

As to the chart, I'm most touched by the note on excluding those who may not sufficiently agree. I saw that trait in leadership for years, and to me it pretty much defined them. I now see that loosening somewhat, even as the ostensible opposition in MORE issues what is tantamount to a loyalty oath--if you don't support their contract demands, don't bother running with them. I actually ran with them, and won. This notwithstanding, I was not consulted at all on their contract demands, and I'm not altogether sure what they may be.

Instead, I'm on the actual UFT contract committee, which I find a lot more interesting than I'd expected. I've agreed not to discuss specifics, but I will say that I'm a lot less cynical about it now than I was when I first started attending. While I hate Janus, I think it's done something many of us have been trying to do for years with little success--it's opened up leadership's ears. Would I have liked to see that sooner? Of course. Could there have been a more positive motivation? Yes.

But I'll take what I can get and run with it. Personally, I'm a whole lot more interested in results than trying to be a cool kid.
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