Troubling Signs at the WTU

I saw a serious sign of what I think ails the Washington Teachers’ Union when I walked briefly over to the Franciscan Center at 14th and Quincy Streets, NE, not far from my house, where a combined general WTU membership meeting/reception/comedian entertainment/holiday party was taking place this evening.

I think that this sign explains, in part, why the percentage of teachers voting during both rounds of the recent WTU leadership was so low.

The problem?

I saw almost no young white or Asian or Hispanic teachers. And, to be frank, I didn’t even see very many young African-American teachers. Nor much in the way of older white, Asian, or Hispanic teachers, either.

After a not-very-careful look at the heads and faces, I got the feeling that if I had actually stuck around and sat down, the number of white teachers in attendance would have gone up by somewhere between 20% and 100%. (Do a little bit of mental math: if one person comes in, and that makes the number of people in group W increase by 100%, then how many people were in group W before that person arrived?)

I fear that this means that those in attendance at this meeting were not very representative of the rank-and-file teacher corps in DC Public Schools. Younger teachers, be they white, black, Hispanic, or Asian, don’t seem to be stepping up to take leadership roles in the WTU, at least not in Saunders’ slate, which I guess was probably more represented at this meeting (though I don’t know that for a certainty). Perhaps they don’t have the tradition of activism and militancy that a lot of future teachers acquired who grew up and attended college in the 1960’s and 1970s, during the Vietnam and Civil Rights eras? Do they feel that the WTU leadership is out of touch with what they need?

At a lot of DC public and charter schools that I visit, there aren’t very many older black teachers left at all. They have generally retired, and have been replaced by young teachers (and a good fraction of those are TFAers, many of whom have no intention at all of staying in education, and 89% of whom are gone after 3 years). They find, of course, that almost all of the vaunted ‘reforms’ and ‘accountability’ that Michelle Rhee and her acolytes have imposed, simply mean lots of additional demands to perform the impossible, with less and less support. And, once they fail to achieve the impossible, they are then blamed, and are labeled in the media as being part of the problem, just like the veteran teachers that they are replacing. So they burn out… but could really use a union that advocated sanity and didn’t sell out and beg for more whippings in exchange for possibly imaginary pay increases.

It’s clear to me that if the WTU is actually going to be able to represent teachers in a positive and forceful way, so that it can help lead public education away from the clutches of the billionaires who want to take it over, then it needs to start working on its own composition.

Unions in the past that have failed to do this, have generally lost.

Dividing and conquering is a useful tool for a tiny ruling class: look what the British Empire was able to do for a couple of centuries. But it doesn’t work if you are the working mass of the population. United we stand, divided we fall.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve never particularly felt that Asian or white teachers were particularly welcome in the union leadership. As for younger teachers, I can’t imagine that any TFA or DC teaching fellows would feel welcome as well given the amount of crap they get from “veteran” teachers. Yes, it is true that most will give up teaching, but at least give them a chance.

    Given that, it isn’t surprising that there weren’t many of these members at this gathering. I certainly don’t feel that the union does a particularly good job of representing me, but my efforts of pointing that out have generally fallen on deaf ears.

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    • Actually, I have never felt that the WTU has done a particularly good job of representing anybody, be they white, black, green, or polka-dotted. And this is also true in just about every other union in the US. In old-fashioned labor terms, most American union leaderships have *sold out* to management and to the system.
      It’s really hard to resist the urge to sell out even on the local school level: for example, it’s so much easier for a local school building representative to ‘go along’ with the evil, soul-less dictates of the principal than it is to really represent the interests of the teachers (and, by extension, to fight for what is best for the students).
      It’s up to the rank-and-file membership of every union in this country to wrest control of their local and national unions away from the sellout leaderships and to get them to represent the workers once again.
      Just like during the 19th and 20th centuries.

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