MTA President Barbara Madeloni, left, stands
with Vice President Janet Anderson outside MTA
headquarters. They took office in July.
Photo by Laura Barrett
N ew association leaders were elected at MTA’s Annual Meeting of Delegates on May 10. They are President Barbara
Madeloni and Vice President Janet Anderson.
MTA Communications Specialist Laura Barrett
interviewed them together at MTA headquarters on
July 17, two days after they assumed their new posts.
The questions and answers that follow have been
edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: Why did you run for MTA president and vice
MADELONI: It has been a lifetime journey.
I grew up in a family where activism and social
justice were a key part of our lives together —
boycotting grapes in California and marching
against the war in Vietnam and taking part in civil
rights work. So that has always been a deep part of
who I am.
For a time in my life, I thought that the best
way to help people would be in a more individual
context, through psychotherapy. I got my doctor of
psychology degree and did that work. Eventually I
came to understand that wasn’t enough. I had people
who were coming in frequently because of the social
context of their lives.
I became an English teacher at Frontier High
School in South Deerfield and Northampton High
School. I loved that work, and I felt like being an
English teacher was a place to grow democracy and
grow empathy and imagination. But I came into the
field at the same time Ed Reform was closing down
the ability to do the kind of work that mattered to me
in the classroom.
I then became a teacher educator at UMass
because I thought maybe that would give me more
freedom to do that work. I discovered that teacher
education was also a place where possibilities for
creativity and critical thinking were being closed
off by a sort of hyper-accountability regime. I began
to understand that I needed to be part of something
bigger outside of the classroom and that the union
was a place that I could do that.
I became involved with Educators for a
Democratic Union, which is a progressive caucus
within the MTA, where people were gathering
who were asking, “How does the union resist this
corporate reform? How can the union address the
larger social issues that our students, our families and
our teachers are facing?” I was invited to run because
we felt that the things we were talking about would
resonate with a broader membership. We discovered
that they did. So I’m here and I’m excited to be able
to bring more member voices to the MTA.
ANDERSON: I grew up in Dorchester in a
family where unions were highly valued, and so was
public education. I received most of my preK- 12
education in the Boston Public Schools. My father
was a Boston firefighter. At his second job, he was
a member of the Teamsters. Both of those led me to
become a public school teacher and very active in
my local union.
I held several different roles in my local union.
I’ve been teaching for 25 years. I feel educators
and public schools have been under attack the last
few years, and so I decided to run for vice president
because I believe this association potentially has a
powerful voice in public education. I believe we can
create positive change, and I want to be part of that.
Q: What is the purpose of public education?
MADELONI: It’s a question that doesn’t get
asked enough. We behave as if the point of a public
education is to get kids to be really good test-takers.
Even the language of “college and career readiness”
seems broad, but it is actually very narrow in terms
of our hopes. And it doesn’t include democracy.
We want people who are thoughtful and creative
and empathic and informed and able to ask really
hard questions of each other and themselves. It
really is to develop the whole child so we can enter
the world as the fullest human beings possible and
figure out how to be with each other in democratic
ANDERSON: The original reason was to
make sure we had an educated population so that
democracy would survive. That’s still a good reason
to have a public education system, but we must
ensure that public education is taught by highly
skilled professional educators and that the supports
are in place for each child to be successful in our
Q: You both have mentioned testing as a big issue …
ANDERSON: I’m not so sure it’s the test that’s
evil; it’s what is done with the test. Assessment is
important so you can refine your instruction and
find weaknesses and work on them. When we use
the test to label children, label schools and label
communities, that’s the problem. When we become
obsessed with the test — when we are taking tests to
get ready for the test — it becomes very frightening.
When we’re restricting children’s access to a full
curriculum because we want to get them ready for
the test, that’s the real issue.
MADELONI: Teachers assess constantly. You can
walk into any classroom and say to the teacher, “Tell
me about this particular child. Where is she? What
is she doing well? What are her struggles?” That
teacher has an answer that includes the child’s home
life, emotional life, intellectual development and
social development. A test doesn’t give us that. A full
assessment does. We need more time for teachers to
do that really good assessment work.
Q: How do we change that when there’s a big
federal government that has invested a lot in school
accountability, all with the intention — or at least
the rhetoric — that this is focused on poor kids
and making sure that they don’t fall through the
MADELONI: Poor children are not coming to
school ready to learn because they’re hungry and
they haven’t slept well and they’re anxious for their
family. We have to name that as an issue, and we
have to then organize with parents and the larger
community to say, “We have to address poverty and
economic injustice in this country.”
ANDERSON: I had a little boy as a student
a few years ago. He came from a very troubled
background. He would often put his head down and
fall asleep during the day. He stayed up late at night
worrying about his parents. He was a really good
kid. He used to get in trouble with the adults, but
the other kids in the classroom loved him. He was
always nice to the other kids.
The MCAS came around and he put his head
down and he wouldn’t pick it up. I was getting really
anxious about the fact that this kid wasn’t taking
the test. I felt myself getting angry at him. Then I
thought to myself, “I should not be angry at this kid.
This is not his fault.”
There are just so many things people aren’t
taking into consideration when they make decisions
for kids. There are a lot of challenges out there that
policymakers don’t understand.