The End?

From my earliest years as an educator I’ve seen my career ladder as union instead of administration. Despite all the times I’ve considered getting out of education altogether, the other types of jobs/careers I’ve applied for, and the energy I’ve spent on uncovering other avenues of earning a living wage, being a union member has kept me in the game. I’m not just saying that; I am literally an educator at this time solely due to the potential opportunities open to me as a member of the NEA.

All that, however, may be changing. Last night I realized I may not have what it takes to be a union leader.

Over the years I’ve watched other union leader educators, many of whom I deeply admire and implicitly trust, make concessions I always felt I could never make. I’ve sat on the sidelines and taken the hard line approach, finding alternative methods of achieving the same ends I “knew” were right. Some of my inflexibility – a characteristic I’d never otherwise identify myself as having – probably comes in part from knowing I’m not the one who makes the ultimate decisions since I’m not the one “in charge”. There is no real downside to my refusal to budge, to “cave”, to negotiate, because I’m not the one signing the final draft. It is completely acceptable for me to be the hardass because no harm can come from it, in essence.

Last night I learned differently. Last night I learned that it wouldn’t matter in some cases, because in some cases I’d still refuse to sit at the table and work on a deal I know in my heart is wrong, or pointless. When the other side is not willing to see reason, or we’ve come to an impasse, I cannot bring myself to play along, go along to get along, go through the motions so later I can say I did all I could to make things better.

At this point it’s no secret that the Delaware Department of Education has set an ultimatum before the Christina School District by way of a non-negotiable timeline for setting forth a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the establishment of plans to make three district schools “better”. In a public meeting, after intelligent discourse and acknowledgement of the futility of the situation, the elected school board members voted to sit in negotiations with the Department of Education in a good faith effort to bring this situation to the best possible conclusion.

The problem is we’ve already done that. Through months of meetings with educators, union leaders, families, community, administrators, and board members, the Christina School District has done its due diligence as a team to craft well-reasoned plans that would benefit the students of the identified schools. Officials from the district and the union came to agreement for the aspects of the plan that required contract modification. Everyone seemed to be united in the best way to proceed to affect real change in our schools. Sure, there are those who are not 100% pleased with the result, but in this case compromise is not about winning. In this case, compromise is about getting as close as possible to the best result for everyone to be successful.

And here’s where I realized I can’t do this.

I’m not willing to compromise my integrity and ethics to engage in what amounts to little more than a display of power. I’m not willing to allow a bad policy to destroy the communities it’s purported to save. I’m not willing to attend a negotiation when the main topics that need to be agreed upon are pre-declared non-negotiable. I’m not willing to allow my staff, admin, and students to be pawns in Chutes and Ladders: The Résumé-Padding Edition.

I’m calling it as I see it. I can’t do it. As a result, I believe I’m not cut from the cloth that makes a truly great union leader.

And if that’s what it takes to become one, perhaps I don’t want to be. I’ll leave that work to my betters.

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13 Responses to The End?

  1. Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    Well said Jackie! Last night was painful to watch.

  2. kavips says:

    Well, what you saw is nothing new. It happens at every union negotiation I’ve ever seen… or read. The Pullman Strike, was “our way or else”. The Coal Companies of Matewan: ” our way or else”. In fact, throughout the 20’s,30’s, 40’s, management always only had one option: ” our way or else”…

    And in the big negotiations today; primarily auto manufactures and unions, and sports teams, the only ones with enough money to negotiate, management does the same… “Our way or else…”.

    Sometimes you just have to take the “or else.” It is what gave us a 5 day work week. It is what gave us 40 hours and then Over Time. It is what gave use company benefits. It is what gave the generation before ours, a chance to enjoy life in their retirement years, instead of having to bag groceries or stand on a street corner with a sign, till the day they die…

    All those cases were because when the ultimatum came… “our way or else”… They said, I guess we will have to do the “or else”… And they outlasted….. Because of their courage we have a great society (did) primarily paid for us at today by the wealthy’s expense…

    When management takes the “our way or else”, it is because they are under the assumption that no one will choose the “or else ” option… Whenever there is a history of easily going down the “or else” path, management as was during the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s,, is a lot more squeamish over pulling that option out.

    No one says as a leader you have to compromise with an uncompromising opponent… They just ask that you lead, and do what is best for them…

    • jax2816 says:

      kavips – thank you for your detailed response. I completely understand what you are saying, and I agree that the best union leaders I know are ones who can manage the negotiation to get the best possible deal for their folks. My problem is that I question whether I have that talent. My belief is I’m too inflexible, that I don’t want to give when I know it’s wrong to do so. I’ve always been able to stand behind someone else making the decisions. What happens when it’s ME making them?

      Also, if you were willing to share with me your preferred purveyor of spirits, I’d be happy to slip a bartender some cash to buy you a drink next time you go in! Obviously that would mean the person would need to know you as kavips, but I’m sure bartenders hear worse things than a blogger’s real name 😉

  3. kavips says:

    Maybe I glossed over my prime point. Sometimes the right thing to do is NOT negotiate, period. .. I think from what your make up is, you are the perfect person for this task.

    One of the best pieces of wisdom I ever heard, was that we are made as we are… What we are, basically is why we are here…Example: If we are a pacifist, pacifism is what we should be doing, not waging war. If we are a warmonger, then pacifism is our undoing. we will be failures of it.

    One of the most interesting things about life is how for some unknown reason, those people uniquely made up for the upcoming situation at hand, are serendipitously inserted right before their trial begins. No one else could even come close to accomplishing what they did. Washington, Lincoln, FDR come to mind.

    What we need now is someone uncompromising… on this end. They certainly have it on the other….

    (And thanks for the offer.)

  4. 4equity2 says:

    I, too, am compelled to respond. My decision to remain in the classroom and to not seek adminstrative positions was cemented by the behavior of so many of my ranks who moved up that “ladder”. The position demands a denial of self that I am neither prepared nor willing to pursue. A denial of independent thought, and sometimes, even of what is simply right or wrong. And, that this required not only a public denial, but that I would be charged also with convincing others to “board the train”, to “play the game”, was, and still is, abhorrent to me.
    Many who came before me have sung the same song. I coverend my ears, and refused to hear. I would make a difference. My voice would be heard, I would serve, and prove my worth. I had something of value to contribute.
    I have been called a “quick study”, but in this, I was a slow learner. Very slow. I remained an idealist long past my youth.
    I carried that idealism into the union, firmly believing that power could be found there. Power to move. To change. I fear I am wrong again.
    I attended Town Hall meetings regarding teacher compensation, hoping to be a voice of reason, a voice for the myself, my colleagues and those who come after. I firmly believe those meetings were never intended to be information gathering. No one from the state was seeking to be informed of what teachers wanted. They were only seeking to let me think I had a voice. They were pretending.
    It’s all been decided. it was before the first town hall meeting. Even our union president questioned my lack of confidence in the state. My union president.

    I don’t want to be party to any more games. any more scams or shams.

  5. minnehanh says:

    Mike, et al,
    In this game of cat and mouse with DOE we all know, and have known since September 4th on the steps of Warner, who has the power and who is more than willing to wave that power in the faces of those who don’t have it. This is a story more correctly about abusing power over those who do not have it. There are those who are granted power through the ballot box. They have a special responsibility above and beyond those who simply assume that the power rightfully belongs to them. When those who are granted power by their electors abuse it that is a travesty. We are watching that unfold right now in Delaware.
    Tomorrow I am sitting down at “the negotiating table” with DOE. Is it a real, true, negotiations? No, and I know that. DOE is not interested in finding a middle ground which gives up something on their side so that the other side can gain something. They want it all. They want to be judge, jury and executioner and your governor and my governor have given them, unfairly to my mind, exclusive rights over the game. DOE wants to show that they have the power. Not the knowledge. Not the interest in furthering education in Delaware. Not the caring for the neediest of our students. They do not care one whit about any of us: not the parents, not the teachers, not the kids in the schools, certainly not the members of the elected school boards which they deem irrelevant to the equation. All that they care about is getting everything the way they wanted it in that original MOU thrown down on September 5. Not collaboratively developed. Not agreed to. Not demonstrating equity for each “side.” Nope, none of that. Just getting everything they want. It must be amazing to consider yourself an educated person, or at least to hold a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, and believe solely only in yourself and not give damn #1 about those most in need of a helping hand. (that would be Ms. Schwinns’…..and my… by the way, alma mater, Berkeley)
    Sitting down at the table is not necessarily about winning. We know we aren’t going to win a thing tomorrow. Maybe we can stave off a cataclysm for another day. But psychologically the game opens tomorrow. To know that the people holding the power, and make no mistake, it is not us, see our students as nothing more than widgets on a conveyor belt, is revolting. These little widgets aren’t scoring enough points someplace to survive. On a test. On a rubric which the guys holding the power themselves constructed, knowing the widgets can’t get the points.
    Maybe we win when we shine the light on them. Maybe we win when more and more people beyond their inner circle begin to see the games they play and the little that they care. Maybe that is where the win is.
    When I was growing up and deciding the direction I wanted to go as an adult my father told me something fairly simplistic at the time, but it has never left me. “You have had a privileged upbringing. Your responsibility is to see that those who don’t have that can get a chance. Be a teacher.” And you know, I’d never thought of being a teacher. I have never regretted the choice. I will not regret it tomorrow. I never left the classroom to be an administrator. I could have. But the kids are in the classroom. I was an active teachers’ union member because I could help the teacher in the classroom who was there for the kids. And I think I did. I can still do that on my school board. Will I have the power tomorrow? Nope. But I know that before I sit down at that table. But I have the advantage of wisdom, and knowledge that there are people out there who care and depend on what I can do for them. Nobody cares about DOE. And I wonder whose fault that is?

  6. kavips says:

    minnehanh, Your dad was a smart man.

  7. Prop Joe says:

    Jackie… The fact you continue to question whether you have the skill/will is a decent indication that you actually have both of those. Real leadership, in my experience, has come from people who are constantly questioning themselves and reexamining how they view and handle things.

    • 4equity2 says:

      Prop Joe, What wisdom is found in your observation!!
      You can bet there isn’t much of that self reflection and questioning going on in the minds of Markell, Murphy, Schwinn, etc.

  8. minnehanh says:

    Yes, Kavips, a very smart man~

  9. meg says:

    minnehanh, not only are you a teacher (always) but a wonderful writer. Your heartfelt comments bring tears to my eyes. Your father would be proud to know that you have done and continue to do what he advised.

  10. Joanne Christian says:

    I’d rather have my integrity than an invitation. I was afforded far too great of a life BECAUSE of the education I received in Delaware,and I couldn’t take one cent in service for the love, appreciation, and respect I held educators and the system here, when as an adult I could give back. It’s because of those past educators and system here, I involved myself heavily to maintaining and improving what was ours to share and deliver. The invitation to recklessly offer childrens’ futures on a campaign of chaotic, unproven, unfunded, uneducated, unending, inflexible, unchallenged, unyielding demands in exchange for a photo op, sound byte and even fewer federal funds—well,somehow just doesn’t represent what I was taught. But, I know we can do better. So whoever you are blog writer, we may not want to sit at the table with them anymore, or have been asked to leave the table. But, you better believe I will be crying “foul” on any and all in the system who know better and should be doing better. “Just desserts” can happen, and like it or not–I’m here for the clean-up, because we know it’s going to have to happen–but I’m taking names now of who has either been at the trough, messed up or was complicit in this disaster, or didn’t have the “manners” or decency to say “not in my house”. Group think obviously isn’t just for teens wanting to be “liked”. Sleep well.

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