Amember recently told me a story about reclaiming voice and power in her school. The principal had targeted certain teachers
because their grade level had the lowest standardized
test scores in the building. Taking teachers from
that grade level aside one at a time, observing their
classrooms and micromanaging their practice,
she was creating fear, uncertainty and a sense of
helplessness — until, that is, the educators started to
share stories with each other about how they were
The conversation strengthened their
connections and allowed them to develop a common
understanding of what
was being done to
them. The next time the
principal contacted them
individually for meetings,
they spoke to each other,
made a plan and went
together to speak to her
about their demands. The
balance of power, this
teacher told me, shifted
as soon as they walked as
one into the principal’s
As I speak to local leaders and members, I
hear over and over that we are being stripped of our
professional autonomy and forced to comply with
practices — especially in terms of test preparation
and “data-driven instruction” — that are hurting
our students and crushing our souls. But the story
of grade-level teachers going together to talk to that
principal tells us that we can fight back — if we
communicate, connect and act as one.
In another conversation, the talk turned to the
impact of the Friedrichs case, which is currently
before the U.S. Supreme Court. An adverse decision
in Friedrichs would require public-sector unions
to provide collective bargaining and grievance
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Letters to the Editor
MTA should take action to organize
educators working in charter schools
To the Editor:
The Fall edition of MTA Today was right to
focus on the pernicious impact of charter schools
on our students and educators, and on the fight to
preserve the charter cap.
However, our union of 110,000 professionals
can do more than one thing at a time.
At the 2013 MTA Annual Meeting, we voted
to make active MTA membership available to those
who work in public charter schools. Members
knew that improved conditions for charter educators
would target the profit motive and hurt the charters’
bottom line. In one act, the MTA would be adding a
new tool to the fight, disrupting charter profiteering,
supporting educators and strengthening our union.
Yet that vote has simply not been translated
into action. Charter teachers from Fall River to
Worcester have risked their jobs to approach the
MTA for help.
They want to organize, to grow our ranks, to pry
charters from profit.
The MTA said no, so these educators are going
to other unions for the help that the MTA promises to
give to educators.
The MTA needs to respect its members’ wishes,
recognize this lever against the charter industry
and fully join the fight. And it needs to start now.
Wareham Education Association
representation to everyone in a unit regardless of
whether they paid any dues. It would, simply stated,
allow for freeloading — and it could subsequently
put the viability of our union at risk.
In the course of the discussion, we talked about
the kind of fellowship that firefighters bring to their
union. I have been reflecting on that, thinking about
the isolation educators often feel in their work and
how it is exacerbated as a result of our accountability
system and the sheer magnitude of the work we are
asked to do.
We need to break through that isolation and, in
doing so, break through our fear. We need to connect
with each other in our workspaces and grow the kind
of fellowship that comes with shared stories and
shared actions — with feeling our power when we
act together for the hopes and ideals we care about.
How do we do this? Just as those teachers did —
by talking to each other.
The MTA has invited local leaders to work
with their members and field representatives to
design communication systems that support member
conversations in order to identify the immediate
issues that matter most, build plans for action, and
organize to win at the local level. We are asking each
of you to start these conversations and develop the
connections that will make us stronger together.
One conversation at a time. One building at a
time. One local at a time.
This is how movements grow. It is how unions
have traditionally built their power. It is how we will
rebuild our power. And we are going to need the full
strength of our membership and our relationships
with our students, parents, brothers and sisters in
labor, and communities if we hope to preserve public
education in Massachusetts.
We are the targets of an all-out assault on our
unions and our public schools. From the national
attack being waged by the Koch brothers-funded
Friedrichs case to the Wall Street-funded ballot
initiative seeking to raise the cap on Commonwealth
charter schools, this is a critical year for the MTA
and for public education.
Great Schools Massachusetts and Families for
Excellent Schools, two organizations funded by
billionaires, many from out of state, are eager to lift
the cap on charters here in Massachusetts. They hope
to undermine public education in the state where it
began as part of a larger plan to take down public-sector unions and privatize the public good.
Ours is a critically important mission. We
need to recall the values and ideals that brought
us to this work and that keep us in it every day —
In solidarity, and in anticipation of many great