Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Forum is Open

Dear Readers-

Here is how you access the Teachers of Change Forum.

1)  Go to http://teachers4change.forumotion.com/

2)  Click on "Register" on the Blue menu bar.  NOTE:  You do not have to be a member to read the forum, but you do if you want to post your own topics or responses to the topics of others.

3) Read the "Terms of Service" and click "I agree."  These are not my terms, but the company who hosts the forum.

4)  Fill in username, e-mail and password.  The box is kind of hard to see for each field, but I promise it is there on the right hand side of the screen.  Use whatever username and password you desire.  The e-mail address has to be valid, but you can get a new one for free if you wish to remain completely anonymous. Click "SAVE"

5)  Re-type your password and copy one of those automation protector thingies (this one isn't too hard to read, thankfully.) Click "SAVE"

6) You will receive a confirmation e-mail in the account you entered in step four.  Click on the provided link and off you go!  I may or may not have to verify your membership.  If I have to approve you, I will do so tonight.

The forum is to be a place for free and open discussion among the teachers of DISD, with the goal of improving the experience of both student and teacher within Dallas ISD.  I encourage all to come and participate, those who agree with me and those who do not, and have your voices heard!

Mr. Jones.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Where do we go from here?

Dear Readers-

After taking a few days to collect my thoughts and review the aftermath of the Sick Out, I have come to a few conclusions.

First off - where did it go wrong?  The answer was so simple that it eluded me for a few days.  I asked too much too soon.  People were afraid, and I knew it, but I asked them to confront their fears before they were truly ready.  As WFAA reported, many people told them that they came in because they were simply afraid not to.  As a result of this fear, the number of teachers who missed work on Wednesday was lower than any normal day, and the district quickly spun that statistic as a victory.  Fear is stronger than words.

The district was also afraid.  They were scrambling on Monday and Tuesday to develop a plan in case the Sick Out was successful.  They recognized that teachers are unhappy and there was a part of them that worried that this would be the day that the teachers stood up and declared their frustrations.  However, they kept silent and hid their fear, while I called our fear out into the open.

Sometimes aiming high is what you want to do, but in this case it was not.  I shot for the top of the mountain when I should have climbed it one meter at a time.  In the end, I have set us back, and now the trustees will feel emboldened by Leap Day's events.  Yes, we have been knocked down, but I do not believe the bout is done quite yet.

Fear was not the only reason people showed up for work.  There are those who disapproved of the sick-out movement as a whole.  While some did not approve of my methods, I sincerely doubt there is a large number of our districts teachers that disagree that the trustees and the district have been bullying its teachers for far too long.  I put those people in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation; either they called in and supported a protest that they disliked, or went in on Leap Day and became a pawn in the districts spin on the Sick Out.  To those people, I apologize.

I have learned quite a bit from the events of the 29th.  I have had my chance to regroup and now I feel it is time to move forward.  The following are some of the changes that I am making-

1.)  During the course of this week, I will create a forum to accompany this website.  The DISD Teachers for Change Forum will be an environment for conversations about the improvement of the conditions for both students and teachers in Dallas ISD.  This will hopefully bring more people into the conversation.  Perhaps one of the victories that can be claimed by the Sick Out was that the news stories brought our situation to people's collective attention, and I hope the forum will capitalize on that.  Once it is complete, I will post a link both here and on Facebook.

2.)  Future actions will be brought up in the forum for open discussion.  If we are to have any success in the future, teachers as a whole need to be more organized.  Moving towards organization will limit our options on what can be done, but it will improve our chances of success.

3.)  No more Union bashing (at least, not from me.)  I have some disagreements with the Union, but in the end our goals are the same.  I hope that, now that the Sick Out is past us, the Union could be an ally in the fight to improve Dallas ISD.

4.)  The development of a plan of action.  Previously, my plans had no steps beyond the 29th, so that set back left me a little dazed.  I will be asking for input on the development of a plan that will help move us forward in the future.

-Mr. Jones.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Commentary on the Leap Day Sick Out

Dear Readers-

As many of you have already heard, the district is reporting that the number of teachers calling in today is 13% below normal.  Am I surprised by this?  Absolutely not.  In fact, it would not surprise me if a number of people who came in today did so to avoid any form of retribution.  I have been addressing the issue of fear throughout this last week because I knew if anything could shut down this movement, it would be the fear.

In the end, the fear won.

The news media is already calling the Sick Out a failure, and based on numbers alone I would have to agree.  There is no denying that I had hoped for a greater participation, but before I raise the white flag, I would like to point to a few successes:

-For a few weeks, much attention has been paid to the working conditions within the Dallas Independent School District.  Teachers have had the opportunity to voice their concerns, express their dissatisfaction, and highlight the disrespect they have experienced at the hands of the board.

-The district, at least for a day, was shaking in their boots in a way that the union could never have achieved.  From their 11th hour plea to principals to develop some form of action plan for the Sick Out, it was apparent that a cage or two was rattled.

-Some of us found our voice.  Many people who have been on the sidelines and watched the union try their hand at "representing" us have continually found AFT/Alliance's inability to produce results frustrating.  For once, they felt as if someone was trying to do something.

If the district's self-reported absence numbers are true, then it is safe to say that the Sick Out will produce no changes.  Of course, I was under no illusion that there would be some massive revolution in district policy as a result, but I refuse to remain silent any longer.

The results of today's sick out are disappointing, but I remind myself of what I always tell my students who get nervous or are reluctant to perform a task because, as they say, "It's too hard."

"If you don't try, I promise you, you will not succeed.  There is no shame in trying and failing, because at least you had the courage to try.  Give it a shot, try your best, and you may surprise yourself."

Those of us who are absent today have at least one card to hold in our pockets.  When the next change comes down, the next unfair policy is voted on behind closed doors, and our colleagues grumble and groan, we can pull out that card and hand it to them.  It would read:

"Quit complaining.  
I tried to do something.  
You shook in fear and did nothing.
Now take your medicine."  

-Mr. Jones

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quick response to the legal question

Regardless as to whether or not you agree with my interpretation of the law, our legal system is founded on the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." The burden of proof lies in the accuser. If someone claims that you are participating in an "illegal work stoppage" they must prove their claim. You do not have to prove that you were not breaking the law, they must prove you were. How will they prove you were not sick?

Do not give in to the fear mongering. District policy does not require a doctor's note if you are absent for one day. If asked, you were sick. End of story.

I will post again tonight.

Mr. Jones

Monday, February 27, 2012

Let's Talk Laws

Dear Readers-

I want to address a common concern/criticism that has arisen since the beginning of my blog.

Critics have suggested that my calls for action on the 29th violate the law and that all teachers who call in on Leap Day are participating in an illegal work stoppage.  We all know that Texas's labor laws are some of the most oppressive in the nation, but regardless, let us look at this criticism.

The law in question is Texas Government Code Sections 617.001 - 617.005.

617.001 - (a) Simply defines the term "labor organization" as it pertains to this section of the code.

617.002 - (a)This section states that public employees may not enter into collective bargaining agreements regarding wages, hours and conditions, and (b)any such contracts are void.  Interestingly enough, it also states that (c) a government official cannot recognize any organization as a bargaining agent for any employee group.  I wonder how the union interprets that one....

617.003 - This one is the one that really concerns us here, so I will provide this one in it's entirety before I break it down.

(a) Public employees may not strike or engage in an organized work stoppage against the state or a political subdivision of the state. (b) A public employee who violates Subsection (a) forfeits all civil 
service rights, reemployment rights, and any other rights, benefits, and privileges the employee enjoys as a result of public employment or former public employment. (c) The right of an individual to cease work may not be abridged if the individual is not acting in concert with others in an organized work stoppage.
Alright, let's go subsection by subsection.

(a) - The key in this one is the phrase "organized work stoppage."  So we can approach this from two different angles.

Pursuant to section 1 201 of the Uniform Probate Code, and organization is a group of people working together, working towards collective goals and controls its own performance.  Examples of organizations are corporations, business trusts, partnership, estate, trust, joint venture, association, or government.  Organizations can be legal or commercial identity.

"Teachers for Change" is the name of a blog, not an organization.  This is just me, and only me, fielding e-mails, posting to Facebook, doing interviews and posting on the blog.  There is no collective involvement.  So the term organization does not apply to what I am doing.

So is the sick-out organized?  What membership rosters do I have?  None.  When the media asks how many are participating, my answer is only speculation.  All I have done is share my opinions and ideas and hope others follow.

Let's look at "work stoppage."  A work stoppage is an organized cessation of work, as during a strike.  What I am proposing is a one day sick-out, not a strike.  The work of Dallas ISD will not cease, in fact, it will carry on without us present (though at an admittedly lower quality.)  In no way is the Leap Day Sick Out organized or a work stoppage.

Therefore (b) does not apply.

But if you doubt me, let's look at (c).  Concert means to arrange something by mutual arrangement or coordination.  What coordination has taken place?  Have you and I sat down and discussed plans?  Have you and I come to any personal or collective agreements?  Have any of you had any input into the posts I have put on this blog, or reviewed any of my statements? (Considering my failure to catch typos, perhaps I should have sought input...)  I have stated my peace, some of you have agreed or disagreed, but at no time have I ever used the blog to create a collaborative effort.

We are not organized.  This is not a work stoppage.  And at no time have we been in concert with each other.  Whether or not you agree, the law is law, and neither I nor any other teacher who call in on Wednesday are breaking it.

I look forward to the comments that are sure to follow.  But please, people, try to avoid personal attacks and stick to the topic at hand.  Sometimes it has been very hard to follow my rule of not deleting comments. I love dialogue.  I cannot tolerate stupidity.

617.004 - This is the "right to work" portion of Texas law.  People cannot be denied employment because they do not belong to a labor organization.

617.005 - This section protects the rights of employees rights to present grievances about wages, conditions and hours (such as what I have been doing).

If you want to see the code in its entirety, click here.

Sorry for the long post, but one last note.  Thursday, March 1st is a National Day of Action for Education.  When you came back to work on Thursday, I would encourage you to come clad in black to demonstrate your support for those fighting to improve our nation's education system.

Thank you,

Mr. Jones.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Letter to the DISD Trustees

This is the e-mail I sent to the Board of Trustees.

To the esteemed members of the Board of Trustees for the Dallas Independent School District-

I am known as "Mr. Jones," and I am sure you are all aware of what I have asked my fellow teachers to do on February 29th.  I had hoped that by this point the board would have made some statement, whether via e-mail or in a public fashion, in regards to the disrespect that has been demonstrated towards the educators of DISD. However, you have yet to reach your hands out to us and begin a dialogue on how we repair our relationship and how we move forward.  

That is disappointing, but not unexpected.  After all, the actions of Mr. Flores and the remainder of the board have made it very clear to us that the opinions of the educators are not a welcome addition to any conversation.  It is a pity, considering we both share the same goal of providing a high-quality education to the students of our district.  

If you do not wish to ask the questions, then I will provide you answers to the questions you should have been asking us from the beginning.

Question:  "What have we done to upset you so?"

Answer:   Thank you for asking.  Let me start by reminding you that we educators understand that the district is in dire financial straits.  In fact, it appears as if every school year finds us in a predicament involving our finances.  Seeing as how we know that the district must make some cuts in order to repair its damaged budget, we have watched our colleagues walk away from the profession (or be escorted out by security with their dignity in shambles.)  We have all grit our teeth and watched our insurance premiums rise in concurrence with a pay freeze.  We have sacrificed two of our paid personal days and come to work when ill.  We have paid for more supplies out of our own pockets and said farewell to stipends and duty pay.  This we have all done and, with the exception of some teacher lounge grumbling, remained silent.  However, we feel insulted by the district's recent decision of extend the working day by an additional forty-five minutes.

Question:  "But we do not understand.  Why has the forty-five minutes upset you?"

It is simple.  Recognition.

Teachers get very few, if any, rewards for what we do.  Our pay is less than spectacular, we do not feel valued by the general public, and sometimes we fell like the punch-line to a bad joke.  We do not ask for much because we love what we do, and we find our own rewards in the every-day miracles that can occur in a classroom.  We do not expect the public at large to understand us.  

However, we expect more from you.  We expect you to thank us for the sacrifices we have made to help you solve your various budget crises.  Whether it was a cut in state funding or the simple mismanagement of $80 million plus, we have laid parts of our livelihoods down upon the chopping block.  Is a thank you too much to ask?

I stead of "thank you," we received a "Screw you!  You are not doing enough!  You must do more!  Henceforth you shall spend more time upon campus!"

Question:  "But why call on a sick-out?  Why not just tell us?"

Answer:  One guy did, remember?  Poor guy spent almost a week wondering if he was going to have a job when he woke up.  No thanks.

Question:  "But we need teachers to do more, and the forty-five minutes will be used..."

Answer:  Let me stop you right there.  First of all, you had no clue what the forty-five minutes was going to be used for.  You voted on it without any clear plans as to how it would be utilized.

No let's back up for a minute and logically think about this.  You have a large number of teachers who spend an hour, or more, beyond their contract time doing school related functions every day.  Whether it is taking papers home to grade, sponsoring clubs (which provide no stipends, remember?), preparing lessons, producing materials, holding parent conferences, tutoring outside school hours or during lunches, etc.  Now you mandate that said teacher must stay at work for an additional forty-five minutes.  Insulted by the insinuation that he/she does not do enough for the students, he/she decides to limit their work to keep within the new "mandated time."  Therefore you have now actually lost fifteen minutes of productivity from this individual, even more if they decide never to tutor during lunch.  That is only if a teacher works just one hour over the current time, but many work more than that.  You get the idea.

In many ways, you stand much more to lose from mandating the forty-five minutes than from the current hours you have in place.

Question:  "Is that really all you are upset about?"

Answer:  No, but it is the only thing that you can easily rectify right now.  The others are far more complicated.  I know we could find the money to give teachers their increases this year if the board was willing to look for it, but you could at least set the relationship between educators and trustees back on track with a simple reversal on this one policy.

Question:  "Where do we go from here."

Answer:  Where ever you want us to go.  We can start going about things the right way; working on solutions to our districts problems collectively rather than looking to scapegoat one another, or we can continue down our destructive path.  It think we both owe it to the students of DISD to put our broken district back together.

I beg all of you to please extend this single olive branch to your teachers.  Reverse the forty-five minute extended day and recognize us as the key component in the success of our kids.  Let's finally begin moving in the proper direction:  forward!

Thank you for your time,

-"Mr. Jones" 

Last call...

Dear Readers-

The time is upon us.  For many of you, this is your moment to decide if you take a stand, or if you let this moment pass.

I have asked teachers to call-in on Wednesday, February 29th to protest our districts continuous downward spiral, and while I have had quite a number of you express your support, I have had fewer who would state that they too will miss the suggested date.  While I am glad to see many of you are considering taking a stand, I have to say that I am disappointed in how many of you are giving in to the fear.

I doubt there is little I can say or do at this point that would change very many minds.  Some of you say you will call in on different days in a "staggered" sick-out.  Others have chose their own personal dates to be out, while a former teacher calling him/herself "The Watchful Eye" has suggested we call-in on STAAR testing days (although I see the point behind this last suggestion, I do not agree as I can foresee the problems our kids will face with testing irregularities.)  In many ways I applaud the fact that many of you are willing to do something.  However, our strength will only come if we speak in one loud voice, instead of many small ones.  I believe if we do not come together as one, we will be much easier to ignore.

It is unfortunate that we have to do this on our own, considering the number of us that shell out some of our hard-earned money to Alliance/AFT.  However, Alliance has proven themselves to be ineffective in our recent struggles. Let us look at the effectiveness of our beloved union.

*On the date I came forward to suggest a sick-out, Alliance/AFT had the courage to step forward and "neither condone nor condemn" my actions.  Although they sent me a nice e-mail saying they wish me well, they have helped the district stoke fear in their members by reminding members that "we don't know what the district will do to you if you participate."  Wow- a union helping the district sow disunity.  Thank you, Alliance!

*Alliance has been happy to claim credit for getting Mr. Drake reinstated, although his decision to come forward and share his story with the media play a substantial role in his victory over the bullying tactics of Edwin Flores.  I am sure if a sick-out produces change, they will be quick to claim some credit as well.

*While Alliance has been "representing" us, we have had our days reduced from ten to eight, our wages frozen, our benefits reduced and our contribution to insurance increased.  The board has extended our work day and bullied teachers.

*Alliance claims to be the voice of the teachers of DISD and, according to their webiste, "Your Official Voice for Change."  Given all they have "accomplished" over the last three years I must ask, "Who's changes?"

Tonight I will send an e-mail to the members of the board, and I will produce its contents on this blog.  If our "official voice of change" cannot produce results, perhaps an unofficial one can.

-Mr. Jones