AFT convention: Teachers ask, “When did we become the enemy?”

aft

DETROIT - "Some of you are thinking that the big opening today is not in Detroit but in London. But don't ever forget that behind every sprinter, marathoner, gymnast or swimmer is a teacher."

That is how American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten began her keynote address to 3,000 delegates as the AFT opened its 2012 national convention in Detroit's Cobo Center Friday morning. She drew a standing ovation.

The nation's teachers, the majority of them unionized and working in public schools, have been the bedrock for the success stories of people from all walks of life. With so much to be proud of, delegates here wondered, "When did we become the enemy?"

Weingarten said teachers have been targeted because they are in the front lines fighting to save public education.

She noted that the nature of teachers' work, tied to families and based in communities, puts them at the intersection of two important social movements - the movement for increased educational opportunity, and the movement for advancing economic dignity. Weingarten outlined the AFT's commitment to "solution-based unionism" - working to solve the challenges faced by schools and the communities they serve.

As an example she said the union has started community programs that make available to students and their families health, mental health, tutoring, counseling and other services.

Another initiative she cited is a web-based project called "Share My Lesson" that she said will be a "digital file cabinet" of the best teacher lesson plans and ideas freely available for all teachers.

Weingarten spoke of the AFT executive council's unanimous endorsement of President Obama. She said the candidates the union is endorsing in many cases aren't perfect but "they have felt the same winds of change that we have, and are attempting to deal with them in a way that honors and respects America's working families."

The two candidates for president couldn't be more different, she said, and the stakes are too high to sit this one out. She mentioned Romney's support of school vouchers and the Bush-era tax cuts for the very wealthy, his plan that would turn Medicare into a voucher system and his plan to double out-of-pocket costs for seniors, his opposition to the Obama's stimulus program that saved the jobs of 300,000 teachers and more.

"Mitt Romney says he would preserve the Department of Education only so he'd have a club to beat back unions. Should Mitt Romney be our next president?" asked Weingarten.

The delegates responding with a deafening "No."

At noon, hundreds of delegates went to rally in front of the offices of Detroit's emergency school manager, Roy Roberts. Weingarten said Roberts has used that power to gut school funding, pink-slip every teacher, and slash teacher pay. He has refused to negotiate with the teachers union to solve the deep challenges that Detroit schools face. 

Weingarten told the delegates she had sent Roberts a letter Thursday, demanding that he meet with her and local AFT leaders, and within hours of receiving this letter, he agreed. This happened not just because of the letter, she said, but because the teachers made it known that they were prepared to turn out in force, she said.

The teachers rallying outside Roberts' office reinforced the message Weingarten delivered inside: "Only by working with educators, parents and the community will we be able to rebuild a strong Detroit for our children."

On a positive note, Weingarten said that despite a brutal economy and a right wing out to destroy the union, AFT membership is larger than two years ago.

Photo: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten addresses the AFT convention in Detroit, July 27. Courtesy of Nathan Goldbaum, communications coordinator, Chicago Teachers Union.

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.

Comments

  • As an anthropologist it's apparent that teachers have become the target of the "blame game". The "teaching crisis" is a cultural crisis where we are all responsible for the declination of learning. There has been an "outcomes obsession" where evaluation has become far more important than learning- indeed, grades seem to have replaced knowledge and skills. It's the culture.

    Posted by Daniel Cring, 08/06/2012 11:35am (2 years ago)

  • I usually vote republican, but I was urged by my union to vote deomcrat for the CT governor race. Dan Malloy won by a close margin. Sure enough he completely went back on his word and attacked teachers in CT.

    On many fronts we need to blam ourselves. We had anemic turnouts at the majority of our union events when trying to fight back. Regardless of politics we need stronger leadership and a less apathetic membership. They don't seem to gut the police and firefighter contracts like they do ours. We make ourselves easy prey.

    Stop blaming parties and start standing up for your rights. In 1978, 274 teachers were jailed in CT when striking after not getting a contract. Now, most teachers can't be bothered to show up to a meeting.

    By the way, aren't President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan strong supporters of Charter Schools?

    Posted by Vincent Dizenzo, 08/04/2012 10:50am (2 years ago)

  • As an anthropologist it's apparent that teachers have become the target of the "blame game". The "teaching crisis" is a cultural crisis where we are all responsible for the declination of learning. There has been an "outcomes obsession" where evaluation has become far more important than learning- indeed, grades seem to have replaced knowledge and skills. It's the culture.

    Posted by Dan, 08/04/2012 10:36am (2 years ago)

  • NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Teacher Evaluations!!
    I was a teacher and why didn't I get representation?

    Posted by Nancy Wilson, 07/28/2012 6:21pm (2 years ago)

  • John Rummel has given us a nice summery of the convention of AFT.Citizens take their lessons from teachers,including in union power and economic dignity of working men and women.Teacher's strength numerically and qualitatively has determined the strength of cultures in history of mankind.
    American Federation of Teachers is a pride institution of United States of America.It is unfortunate that most Republicans are targeting them as an enemy.I hope a section of them revolts and takes to a saner decision on Nov 6. The outcome will depend on how far and wide can the teachers and students disseminate their lesson to voters.Progressive Americans are indeed proud of the timely guidance the American Federation of Teachers,
    and its other sister federations have handed the Nation.As Vice president Joe Biden said the other day Teachers are not here for money,but because they love educating the kids as their mission of life. Ramakant.

    Posted by Ramakant Sharma, 07/27/2012 7:47pm (2 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments