Teaching Profession Opinion

Stepping Up to Serve on My Union’s House of Representatives

By Phylis Hoffman — November 23, 2014 3 min read
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Time, do we ever have enough time to get everything done? I wish I could be one of those smart cute teacher bloggers who has a binder or a file folder for everything and with everything in its place. That’s not me, and even if it were I am sure I would still have a long list of things needing my attention. I think every classroom teacher could say the same thing. I remember walking out around five pm with a teacher at my school and we were both commiserating on how we could be in our classrooms until midnight several days in a row and still not get everything done.

So why then, given all the demands on my time, especially considering the job of instructing students as the most important part of my work, would I be so foolish as to run for a seat on my union’s, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) house of representatives?

I feel like our profession is under attack and I think that feeling is pretty accurate. Look at all the states where teachers have lost some, if not most of their collective bargaining rights. In my state of California we are still reeling from the Vergara decision. Just a couple of weeks ago we had the now infamous TIME Magazine cover which literally used a picture of a bad apple to represent educators.

I know many have criticized my union because they feel for the last several years they have been too reactionary, and not forward thinking enough. For example, the union knew for quite a while that a new teacher evaluation system was needed but the work of getting it done, and more importantly piloted, was a classic case of coming to the party too late.

So where are we now? We have an interim Supertintendent, Ramon Cortines, and a new UTLA President, Alex Caputo Pearl, and by the start of 2015 we will have a “new” house of representatives for UTLA, so now is the opportunity for change. Our contract expired in 2011 and we have not had a raise since 2007. The union is focused on winning a campaign for the Schools LA Students deserve. Thousands of teachers across the district and myself showed up after school this past Thursday to rally and show our support that the average classroom teacher in the district wants and deserves a raise, reasonable class sizes, and school nurses, counselors, librarians at every school. We would also like a transparent and timely way of dealing with teachers who are accused of wrongdoing. Right now teachers accused of doing something wrong are removed from their school and “housed” until the district completes an investigation which can last anywhere from several weeks to months. All of the above are compelling issues that need to be resolved in the coming months but after this I hope to be a voice for my fellow teachers that urges the union to begin to look at issues that will affect the state of education in California for a long time to come.

With common core standards rolling out almost nation wide the next thing we as a profession need to address is consensus on what makes an “effective teacher.” My union has endorsed the premise that all teachers are equally good. While in theory this sounds like a reasonable ideal it is not benefitting all the extremely hard working and dedicated teachers out there in our schools. We can’t celebrate our highly effective teachers, so this allows the status quo to stay up and running. We cannot gain public confidence in our profession until we come to consensus to define what is an effective (and highly effective) teacher. Defining what it means to be an effective teacher will allow us to start to create meaningful career pathways for teachers in this state.

I made the decision to run for a seat in my union because ultimately, I had to ask myself: If not me, then who? If not now, then when? I am not Pollyanna. I don’t think that joining my union’s 350-member house of representatives will cure the ills of education in this country, let alone in my state. But what’s the old saying, “If you’re not part of the solution then you’re a part of the problem.”

The opinions expressed in Teaching While Leading are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.