Teachers, parents, and students in Vernon are gathering for a show of solidarity and a “walk-in” at Rockville High School tomorrow to draw attention to the need for the state to fully fund education for all students.
It’s part of a nationwide effort to support public education. Schools in Manchester and Bridgeport will also participate in the walk-ins sponsored by NEA and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.
The Vernon Education Association (VEA) expects teacher participation to be high—but that’s not due to luck. It’s because of CEA support for the local Association’s efforts to listen and respond to members’ concerns.
“After we learned how to hold organizing conversations last year from CEA Training and Organizational Development Specialist Joe Zawawi we went out and talked to a significant number of our members,” said VEA President and Rockville High teacher Peter Borofsky.
Zawawi held trainings in over 100 CEA local Associations last year on how to build lasting relationships through structured one-on-one conversations. Local leaders who have held these conversations have found them to be a very effective way to gather information, identify teachers’ concerns, and ultimately effect positive change for members.
In Vernon, one significant issue that came up in many conversations with high school teachers was a lack of time to form social and emotional connections with students.
“We have a rotating A/B block schedule where we have four blocks a days. Educators teach six of those with a planning period each day,” Borofsky said. “We came up with a proposal for teaching five blocks, with a block dedicated every other day to student enrichment, intervention, and support. We’re currently working collaboratively with the Board of Education to develop the new model, and we’re excited to implement it next school year.”
This early success has convinced Vernon teachers of the potential an organizing model can hold for local Associations and the exciting possibilities going forward.
“We’ve already had some positive conversations with administrators about concerns teachers have around teacher evaluation and testing, and we look forward to further discussions on those issues,” Borofsky said.
From conversations to member organizing
After successfully implementing the skills he learned from the CEA training on holding one-on-one conversations, Borofsky was eager to learn more.
“I wanted to learn how we in Vernon can move in a direction to make more changes,” he said.
Borofsky and other CEA members and staff, including Danbury teacher Tim Nott, joined colleagues from around the Northeast at the NEA Northeast Organizing Institute in New Haven this summer.
After learning how to have member-driven conversations, the CEA members and staff participating in the institute fanned out across New Haven County, going door to door to CEA members’ houses in a half-dozen different towns.
Borofsky visited teachers in East Haven, including Kathleen Pyne. He listened intently as she articulated her concerns about infringements on teacher prep time and the excessive data collection that has overtaken public schools. “Both work against the betterment of our students,” she said.
Pyne complimented Borofsky on his listening and interviewing skills. “I felt engaged. He was very much on point,” she said.
Nott visited members in West Haven, including North Haven teacher and West Haven Board of Education member Karen Pacelli. The second grade teacher expressed concerns about over-testing students, tying testing to teacher evaluation, and the trend toward pushing higher and higher expectations down to lower grades in a way that’s not developmentally appropriate.
“The big takeaway for me was just that, being a teacher from Danbury, I hadn’t thought about other districts going through the same issues that we face,” Nott said. “It turned out that the teachers we talked to were just as concerned about the things that I worry about, like Common Core, teacher evaluation, testing, and the time constraints teachers face.”
He added, “It was nice to hear other teachers’ stories and know that we’re all in the same boat—that was really enlightening for me to hear as a new educator. We think we’re all different but in the end we all have similar issues.”
Members drive CEA and local Association change
One-on-one conversations with local leaders are an important way for members to make their concerns and issues known, but they’re certainly not the only way. There are many opportunities for members to have their voices heard at the state and local levels. CEA recently sent a mailing to members’ homes seeking input on legislative priorities and is holding County Forums around the state this October to hear from members on important education policy issues.
The 43,000 teachers who make up CEA are at the forefront of education and are therefore the authorities on what works in public education in Connecticut. Teachers know best of all what students need to succeed, and that’s why their voice is so crucial.
“Teachers are dedicated to their students and sometimes we just want to stay in our classrooms and keep our heads down, but over time corporations and education bureaucrats have taken over,” Nott said. “Common Core and all this testing were implemented without much input from educators. We are professionals, we have a voice, we know what’s best for our students and communities. We have power to make change as educators and we need to utilize our voices and communities to make change happen.”
Click here to learn more and sign up for a CEA County Forum. For CEA organizing training or any other training from CEA, contact your local president or UniServ Representative.