Today, Teacher Beat heads to New Orleans for the National Education Association’s annual Representative Assembly. We’ll follow that by a jaunt up to Seattle for the American Federation of Teachers’ biennial convention.
We’ll have coverage of the keynote addresses, special awards, interesting internal tidbits, and, as always, a dash of color. Because, let’s face it, with thousands of teachers converging, and Dr. Seuss hats, fabulous accessories, and “collaboration meters,” there is always some color to be had. (I am still holding out for a conga line.)
In all seriousness, I’m sometimes asked why we should pay attention to the NEA and AFT conventions. The answer I usually give is that there is really no better way to understand how teachers’ unions work than to attend these meetings. You could probably write a doctoral dissertation on the sociology of teachers’ unions as evidenced by how they set their own principles.
Sometimes the resolutions give a good sense of how the unions view external policy developments. Even more interesting are those items that highlight differences within the unions on issues. Remember, state affiliates in the NEA and local ones in the AFT have quite a bit of autonomy, and there is little that the national offices can do to “make” them toe the party line.
With all of the moving parts, it’s difficult to go into these events with a solid idea of what the news will be. But there are always a few narratives that spin themselves out over the course of a convention. Last year, for instance, marked the first time the NEA seemed to fully embrace the union label.
And a lot of things have changed in the edu-reform space since the last AFT convention, in 2008. AFT President Randi Weingarten has covered a lot of bases, and she’s already put a mark on her tenure with shifts in philosophy on issues like the use of test scores in teacher evaluation. And affiliates in Philadelphia, New Haven, and Pittsburgh, among others, have new provisions on pay and evaluation that bear watching.
Now, if you’re a delegate attending a convention, please feel free to stop by the press table and introduce yourself. This isn’t just my jealousy of Mike Antonucci, who has a veritable fan club at this point; it’s that I think you have important stories to tell. (There are some rules about when and where I can conduct interviews if you want to chat formally, but we will make it work.)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.