Teachers are under attack. We know how our profession is being dismantled, our job protections are being systematically removed, and our working conditions are becoming ever more deplorable.
Many teachers are suffering serious depression, anxiety, and health problems as a result of these attacks. We are suffering.
And yet, I continue to hear some teacher activists make disparaging comments and display underlying hatred towards our fellow teacher colleagues.
The other day, in a CORE meeting, there was a panel on Opting Out of testing. During the panel, a student shared how her activist teacher convinced many of the Middle School students to Opt Out. However, she also explained how they had to do this action “behind their teachers’ backs.” I do not know the details of this action, but it raised a red flag to me.
What do we think about teacher activists who despise their colleagues? Who do not bother to listen to colleagues and organize them?
We hear it all the time. “The teachers in my building won’t DO anything.” “These teachers just don’t get it!” Complaints about biases and misconceptions, even racism or sexism. And I have to wonder, what have YOU done to organize in your building? Have you bothered to listen to your brothers and sisters fairly and respectfully, to attempt to understand where their ideas might be coming from? Frankly, our union has been absolutely consumed by electoral politics for nearly the whole school year while the rank and file has been suffering under ever worsening conditions. Who is listening the teachers’ pain? And why should teachers risk their careers for whatever activist concern is in vogue? Who is teaching the teachers?
Teachers are a diverse bunch who bring with them all the same biases and prejudices as any other segment of society. Not everyone among our ranks has a deep analysis about race or critical pedagogy or issues like testing or education justice issues. But the best way to challenge people on their ideas is to bring them into the movement. It is through the struggle that we learn.
How we treat one another matters. We will never all agree, but we can approach one another with respect and caring. Karen Lewis often challenges members to ask the question, “Does this unite us, does it build our strength, and does it give us power?”
And when I see some of the nasty comments about fellow rank and file teachers both in our activist spaces and online, I think the clear answer is “No, this does not unite us, it does not build our strength, and it does not give us power.” There is nothing more divisive than the haughty self-righteousness of activists who “know-it-all”. That smug, arrogant tweet or teacher-bashing comment in passing is simply not OK. Someone took the time to educate you on the issues that matter. Give others that chance.
I keep thinking, what does it mean for people in the Caucus of Rank and File Educators to show outward contempt for actual rank and file educators?
So activist teachers, please remember to be patient and kind when working with fellow teachers and staff. Yes, challenge others. But save time and energy to get to know our workers on the ground, to build relationships, to have those challenging conversations in a context of trust.
And remember, to attack our colleagues instead of organizing them is anti-union.
Let’s focus on who the real enemies are: The 1% who seek to destroy our profession, the neoliberal ideologues pushing austerity, school closings, and privatization, the union busters and those employed by the corporate reform movement. Let's keep building solidarity in the many inter-related fights for justice happening around our city and around the globe.
A contract fight is coming. It’s time for unity and strength. CTU! CTU! CTU!