Sunday, June 8, 2014

After Eavesdropping on Your Conversation: Regarding Current Teachers and the Problems Confronting the Chicago Teachers' Union and the Illinois Education Association

The following insightful letter is a response to the previous post. It is from a good friend and colleague:

“If I were an active, I would be experiencing exasperation and ennui as well. But this is not to say that actives are not also angry. People cycle through emotions, or feel some emotions at the same time. Anger may morph into exasperation and ennui. Most people cannot or choose not to sustain anger for long periods. And there are good reasons for that, if we are to believe the neurologists and neuropsychologists. No one who is sane lives anger 24/7. 

“But here I must throw in a big disclaimer: I have only spoken with a handful of actives. So I really do not know what the majority are thinking or feeling. (Who does?) What I imagine is that actives are busy trying to keep their jobs; trying to deal with parents, students, and administrators; trying to circumvent or subvert the system without drawing too much attention to themselves; trying to negotiate this depraved new world; and trying not to lose focus on their main professional responsibility – helping and enjoying kids. As for the remains of the day – well, I would hope they could relax. (Do we expect them to be on high alert?)

“So you believe the current model for IEA is not working but the current model for CTU is working. You believe change is necessary in the leadership, structure, the very culture of IEA. These times are calling for it. But it's not quite accurate to compare the CTU model with the IEA one. We do, in fact, share problems.

“However, Karen Lewis has on her hands a more complex and compressed scenario: school closings, frustrated parents watching their communities crumble, buildings in total disrepair, kids from fragile and vulnerable neighborhoods, kids who have no adults or too few adults nurturing them. 

Tinderboxes everywhere. She does not have to pick up flint and steel. Her justifiable anger has been present for a long time for many and complicated reasons. The rank and file have been nourished by it. And they have always had an easily targeted public enemy number one to focus on: the mayors of Chicago. A salient enemy does wonders for unifying the rank and file. No doubt Karen Lewis does not have to walk very far or speak very loudly to the media midgets. They snort it up – half of them eager to see her fall and the other half eager to see Rahm fall. 

“How do we move the IEA to a better model of operation? How do we ‘promote an organizing model with a strong dose of internal union democracy and increased member participation’ and rid ourselves of ‘a business model that views union membership as an insurance policy where decision-making is concentrated in a small group of elected officials and/or paid staff’? How do we ‘start creating and promoting a different kind of active IEA member’ and ‘adjust’ the ‘ennui and exasperation’ of the suburban actives’?  (Adjust it to?)  Most importantly, how do we stop the muffling of teachers’ voices over time? 

“How, specifically, do we accomplish this? Well, I don’t know. But what I believe is that individual teachers have different ideas about what they feel they can change and what they feel they have to accept. (Exasperation and ennui: What can I do! it’s in the hands of the courts.)

“I also believe that individuals change their world when they see a personal need/urgency to change it. But that does not mean that they all recognize/feel the urgency at the same time. And it is a complicated and messy business to identify and prioritize what needs to be addressed when one is living in the whirl and tumult of the moment in a classroom full of kids.

“The problem is endemic to IEA. The problem is not only the structure but also the particular personalities of the leaders we have at this time. The problem is we are scattered and not concentrated like CTU. The problem is we don’t have an easily accessible media in place. The problem is we do not know what the majority rank and file feel/think. The problem is teachers are jugglers with too many clubs being tossed at them right now.”

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