Monday, July 01, 2019

If You Don't Think You Need a Union, You Are Too Stupid to Teach

I'm just blown away by some of the nonsense I read around the net. I found out I needed a union years before I was chapter leader. I had a pretty uneventful trial by fire when I started out. I was an English teacher, and I could never get a job teaching English. One day someone decided I'd be a good ESL teacher, even though I didn't actually know what ESL was, and I took to it. I even turned down my first appointment as an English teacher.

I think it took me six years to get tenure because of that. I decided I really wanted to be an ESL teacher. I even took half a year off, supporting myself by playing guitar in the Worst Irish Wedding Band on Earth. I survived wearing a Kelly green jacket in public, working for an out of tune singer who wore a $99 white polyester suit because he fancied himself Kenny Rogers (quite popular that year), so I can survive anything.

The first time I realized how absolutely vital union was happened maybe fifteen years ago, before I was chapter leader. I had two students in my ESL classes who were fluent in English. I couldn't understand why they were there. These kids were very different in some ways. One was arrogant and impatient, giving me a hard time about everything. The other was sweet and cooperative, always listening and trying to find ways to participate. What they had in common was that when asked to produce writing, they simply would not.

The one kid would scream, and storm out all angry. The other would kind of look down. I wrote a few words out for the more cooperative one. Mother. House. I got nothing. I told one guidance counselor, who's no longer working at our school, and he was all, "What do you want me to do about it?" I told someone else, maybe the head of guidance at the time, who was suitably horrified.

The principal didn't believe it. He wanted the kids tested in their first languages. I told him I had talked to one of their mothers, who told me yes, he has this issue, and then asked me to help him. That didn't matter. The principal went ahead and had language teachers test them. It turned out, given their languages used the same alphabet as ours, they couldn't decode in those languages either.

I had called Micheal Winerip, the then-education columnist in the Times, to complain about something he wrote about ELLs. I told him this story as well. He asked if he could put it in a special ed. story he was writing. I wasn't sure.

"Do you have tenure?" he asked.

I did, I told him. He said it would be fine.

It wasn't. When Winerip placed the quotes from me (which never appeared in the eventual article) in a fax to the DOE, I started getting called into the principal's office at odd times. Check in with me at the end of the day. I'd sit and wait for him to scream at me about how ungrateful I was, after all the things he had done for me. (For the record, he had never done anything for me.)

I was called in to sit through various meetings in which it was determined this one's ass was covered and that one's ass was covered. Most importantly, the principal's ass was covered. On the last day of school I had to sit in the principal's office with a pretty heavy stack of books I was bringing home for the summer. It was vital that he berate me before I leave.

I am 100% certain he'd have fired me if he had half a chance. This had nothing to do with how I'd taught. Though he'd been my principal for years, he had not set foot in my class to watch me teach once. He once came it to show some Very Important Visitor something or other. He made it a point to say hello in Spanish. I told him we spoke English in my classroom. He then said hello in Chinese. He was quite versatile in saying hello.

It was odd, because his successor once did the same thing, saying hola. I just looked in his direction for a moment and he said, "Oh my gosh, I'm sorry." There's a tremendous difference between a thinking, conscientious school leader and that other kind. Unfortunately, we have a veritable army of that other kind traipsing around Fun City. Blanche DuBois always trusted in the kindness of strangers. I trust in my brothers and sisters to stand with me in my time of trouble, and they can trust me to do the same for them. I trust in the power of union.

Everything else is BS from people who hate us and everything we stand for. If you'd sell us out for a bag of silver, you'd do the same for your students. You're unfit--too selfish and stupid to do what we do. And if you, as a role model, renounce union, you're setting a bad example for both your colleagues and students.

That's not at all why we're here.
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